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La Verruca

  • Carlo Pedretti (a1)


In an article on the date of Machiavelli's Mandragola published recently in this journal, Sergio Bertelli makes reference to an unpublished document concerning Leonardo da Vinci as a military architect. This is a letter that the field commissary Pier Francesco Tosinghi wrote to the Florentine Republic on June 21,1503, reporting Leonardo's visit to the fortress of ‘La Verruca’ on the summit of the Verrucano mountain, about three miles from Pisa. ‘Leonardo da Vinci,’ writes Tosinghi, 'himself and company, came here and we showed him everything, and we think that he likes La Verruca very much, being well fitted to his taste. Afterwards, he said that he was thinking of having it made inexpugnable. But this is something to be set apart for the time being, for the main need is at Librafatta, which is not a small undertaking, nor one to be underestimated.



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1 Bertelli, S., ‘When Did Machiavelli Write Mandragola'?,’ RQ, 24 (1971), 317326 .

2 Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale, MS. Ginori Conti 29/108, 110. 13. The Italian text is given by Bertelli, op. cit., pp. 325-326. It should be noted, however, that the original has the spelling ‘Verruca’ (and ‘Verrucha’), and not ‘Verrucola.’ Machiavelli and Leonardo used both spellings interchangeably. The other locality mentioned by Tosinghi, Librafatta, is the modern Ripafratta. (For other excerpts from the same document see nn. 18 and 22 below.)

3 Canestrini, Cf. G., ‘Documenti per servire alia storia della milizia italiana,’ Archivio storico Italiano, 15 (1851), 269271 . See also n. 19 below.

4 Beltrami, Cf. L., Documenti su la vita e le opere di Leonardo da Vinci… (Milan, 1919), no. 126 . For a full discussion of Leonardo's project of diverting the Arno River for strategic reasons see my forthcoming Commentary on the Literary Works of Leonardo da Vinci, notes to §§ 1001-08. As a supplement to Richter's classic edition of Leonardo's writings (cf.J. Wasserman's review in the Burlington Magazine, 112 [1971], 162), my Commentary to about 2,000 Leonardo texts includes a discussion of Leonardo's studies of machines for the excavations of canals, explaining a series of such studies as pertaining to the Arno project at Pisa in 1503. Hints at such studies are even on a sheet of drawings for the Battle of Anghiari (Windsor, no. 12328“), and I have shown how the two famous drawings in Cod. Atl. 1v-8,v-b were originally joined together so as to represent the traditional type of excavation machine and the one devised by Leonardo as operating on the same canal. Leonardo's innovation was based on the principle of the counterweights, for he was having the workers jump inside the empty crates to cause the loaded ones to be lifted. My account of the Arno project includes unpublished reports by Biagio Buonaccorsi.

5 Villari, P., Niccoló Machiavelli e i suoi tempi … (Florence, 1877), 3 vols. Solmi, E., ‘Leonardo e Machiavelli,’ Archivio storico Lomhardo, 17 (1912), 209244 (reprinted in the author's Scritti Vinciani [Florence, 1924], 199-337). Villari's classic work on Machiavelli contains important references to Leonardo but it is not even listed in Verga's Bibliografia Vinciana (Bologna, 1931). In in, 343-344, n. 3, Villari quotes a passage in Guicciardini's letter to Roberto Acciaioli of September 15, 1526: ‘Scrissi a V.S. a’ 13 delpresente; gli mandai una lettera del Machiavello del campo di Cremona, uno disegno di quelle trincee, fatto non per mano di Lionardo da Vinci, etc.,’ specifying that ‘non’ is really in the original, and offering therefore the explanation that Guicciardini was ironically referring to a drawing that was anything but a work by Leonardo! This document, which was misinterpreted by Solmi (Scritti, p. 235, n. 1), shows that in 1526 Leonardo was still remembered by both Machiavelli and Guicciardini for his proficiency as a military architect.

6 Cod. Atl. 74r-b,v-c. See Richter, § 669, and my comment to it.

7 Modena, Archivio di Stato, Estense, Pittori, busta 4. Richter, § 1348.

8 For a full discussion of this problem I must refer the reader again to my Commentary mentioned in n. 4 above. Agostino Vespucci is well known as the publisher of Machiavelli's Decennak. See Wilkins, E. H., Jackson, W. A., Rouse, R. H., ‘The Early Editions of Machiavelli's First Decennak ,’ in Studies in the Renaissance, 10 (1964), 76104 . A possible reference to him is in Leonardo's memorandum in Cod. Arundel 132v: ‘el vespucco mj vol dare uno libro di giometria.'

9 Solmi's paper ('Pagine autografe di Nicoló Machiavelli nel “Codice Atlantico” di Leonardo da Vinci,’ Giomale storico della letteratura Italiana, 54 [1909], 1-15) originated a lively polemic between Luca Beltrami and Gerolamo Calvi on the question whether Leonardo himself could have written all the material which I am now identifying as having been written by Agostino Vespucci. For a summary of the question see G. Calvi, I Manoscritti di Leonardo da Vinci dal punto di vista cronologico, storico e biografico (Bologna, 1925), pp. 250-253. Calvi was indeed right in recognizing that the account of the battle of Anghiari and Leonardo's letter to Cardinal Ippolito d'Este were written by the same hand. (The account of the battle has been recently identified by Peter Meller as a free translation of a Latin text by Leonardo Brum.) Another note by Agostino Vespucci is in Cod. Arundel 274 ('Stefano Jligi Canonico / de dulcegno, etc.’), a sheet of Arno studies of about 1504.

10 See my Leonardo da Vinci: The Royal Palace at Romorantin (Cambridge, Mass., 1972), pp. 3240.

11 On April 2, 1504. Cf. Le legazioni e commissarie di Niccolb Machiavelli, ed. Passerini, L. and Milanesi, G. (Florence, 1876), III, 9193 . See also Scritti inediti di Niccolb Machiavelli, ed. Canestrini, G. (Florence, 1857), pp. 167170 .

12 For the accounts by Nando De Toni, Parronchi, Reti, and others, see my Leonardo da Vinci inedito (Florence, 1968), p. 11, n. 4. See also the article by Andre Chastel in Revue de VArt, 15 (1972), 8-28, in particular for fig. 18 (fol. 24v), which includes a sketch inscribed: ‘cassero dj / pionbino / adj 20 djno / venbre 1504.’ This shows that Leonardo's project at Piombino consisted of a system of ditches and passages linking the city gate to the fortress (not the citadel) as well as to a large tower to be built outside the wall on a rocky projection of the terrain. Related notes are on fols. 9 and 11v.

13 Fol. 2 reproduced in my Leonardo inedito, fig. 29.

14 Machiavelli, N., Legazioni, Commissarie. Scritti di Governo, ed. Chiapelli, F., volume primo, 1498-1501 (Bari, 1971). The forthcoming second volume includes the material pertaining to La Verruca.

15 Madrid MS. 11, fols. 7v-8, reproduced in my Leonardo inedito, fig. 8.

16 Cod. Atl. 44r-b,v-b. A recent survey of the actual remains has enabled me to ascertain that the drawings have no relation to La Verruca. See also n. 23 below for an early description of the ruins. I am grateful to Professors Alessandro Parronchi and Piero Sanpaolesi as well as to Signor Alberto Tozzi for their assistance in this matter.

17 A Chronology of Leonardo da Vinci's Architectural Studies after 1500 (Geneva, 1962), pp. 99102 , and figs. 55, 56, 57.

18 Florence, Archivio di Stato, CI. x, dist. 3, no. 107, c. 47v (Machiavelli's autograph). Villari, Cf. P., op. cit., 1, 598599 . Machiavelli's reference to La Verruca as having been ‘always a continuous nuisance’ might have been intended to recall the incidents of 1495 as reported by Giovio in his Historie (1568 ed., 1, 85 and 149), who explains the strategic importance of the fortress as an observation post for the Pisans. An entry in Landucci's Diary shows that the news of the capture of La Verruca reached Florence on June 19: ‘E a di 19 di giugno 1503, ci fu come avevano preso la Verrucola.’ The exact date of the event is June 17-18, as shown by the official papers (ASF, X di Balia, Cart. Miss. 75, cc. 52 and 54). See also the opening paragraph of Tosinghi's letter of June 21 (n. 2 above): ‘ ac excell. Princeps, et Domine noster singularissime. Restasi ad fare risposta a una di v. ex.tia de xvm per la quale quella si rallegra conesso noi della havuta della verruca che veramente e stata cosa mirabile e aquisto grandissimo et sanza spesa sipuò dire nissuna.'

19 Gaye, Cf. G., Carteggio inedito di artisti… (Florence, 1840), II, 61.

20 Ibid., doc. no. XIII: ‘E’ sara exhibitore della presente M.° Luca del Caprina, el quale noi mandiamo costa per conto della verrucola… . Et però vi ingegnerete non si perda punto di tempo, et parendovi el sopradicto Luca ad proposito ad condurre tale opera, come si dice, non ce lo rimandiate indrieto, ma subito commincerete ad lavorare, dando a noi delle cose che vi mancassino notitia particularissima.’ Leonardo is not mentioned in the official papers pertaining to La Verruca, but a revealing paragraph in a letter of July 1, 1503, shows that Caprina was sent to carry out a design already approved by the Republic: ‘Habbiamo visto oltra ddi questo quanto ci scrivete circha alia Verruca Non voliamo manchare di dirvi che ‘1 Caprina non è suto mandato costì per dare il disegno da ffortificare la Verrucola, ma per aiutare condurre quello che fussi disegnato fare: perche nostra intentione è tale disegno proceda da cotesti signori, Governatore et condoctieri, a' quali, come valenti huomini et huomini experimentatissimi, vogliamo prestar fede et non ad altri.’ See also letter of July 5, 1503: ‘Quanto alia Verrucola vi ricordiamo che voi sollecitiate lo adforzarla, presupponendo che habbiate preso el modello da cotesti signori condoctieri’ (ASF, X di Balia, Misc. 74, cc. 68v-69 and 73v-74, as given in the forthcoming second volume of Chiappelli's publication).

21 Ibid., p. 62: ‘Iuliano de Lapis Commissario Vici, 10 Octob. 1503. Exhibitore della presente sará Lorenzo da monteaguto, il quale noi habbiamo electo in luogo di Maestro Luca del Caprino, per dare perfectione alia opera della verrucca.’ For the Villa Tovaglia see my Romorantin Palace, pp. 24-25. A letter by Antonio Giacomini of June 7, 1504, shows that Antonio da Sangallo the Elder was inspecting the fortifications of Librafatta (Ripafratta) and that he was planning to stop at La Verruca on his way back to Florence: ‘Tornando in costa fara la via della Verrucola, per vedere se vi manca nulla’ (Gaye, Carteggio, n, 65). As the chief military architect in the service of the Florentine Republic, Sangallo is mentioned several times in the correspondence pertaining to the Pisan campaign. Later he was joined by his brother Giuliano. On September 11,1509, Gonfaloniere Soderini himself was to instruct Giuliano about the fortifications at Pisa with advice which reflects theories postulated by Leonardo in 1503-1504: ‘lo vi ho ricordare che oggi le mura delle fortezze si fanno basse, et e fossi larghi e profondi, e pero habbiate lochio ad non inalzare tanto che si habbino poi le mure abassare; che sarebbe cosa brutta et a voi di gran vergogna’ (Gaye, Carteggio, n, 111). The method of besieging a fortress as discussed in a series of Leonardo's studies for the Battle of Anghiari (Windsor nos. 12275,12337, C A . 24v-a and 360v-a) was successfully employed not only by Lodovico Sforza in 1500 but also by Trivulzio at Brescia in 1515 as a method by then ‘conosciuto da tutti’ (Giovio, Historie, 1568 ed., 1, 447v).

22 Machiavelli, N., Scritti inediti, cit., p. 157, n. 1 (without reference to its position in the archives). Tosinghi himself, as Guiducci's predecessor, had requested to be relieved of his duties for reasons of age. See his letter of June 28 in the same collection as mentioned in n. 2 above: ‘Come sa la ex.tia v. l'ultima volta che io li chiesi licentia quella mi scripse che spedita la impresa della verrucha io harei lo schambio: ora la verrucha è havuta, et però di nuovo suplicho che quanto più tosto si può mi sia fatto lo schambio.'

23 Repetti, Cf. E., Dizionario geograficofisico storico delta Toscana (Florence, 1843), v, 701 . See also in, 460-463. The best account of La Verruca is in N.F. Pelosini, Ricordi, tradizioni e leggende dei Monti Pisani (Pisa, 1890), pp. 10-24. This contains a description of the ruins of the fortress: ‘The fortress is square in plan, the south side with two corner towers, the opposite side with two smaller bastions. These and the bare rock are so well joined together as to appear out of the same mould. The donjon, which used to tower over the higher part of the fortress, in the center, is now completely fallen into ruins. Still visible are the assembly ground, the ruins of the garrison rooms, the roofless church made of square stones, the mine-holes in the towers and bastions, the water tank and the vaulted store-rooms underneath the assembly ground. The way to the north-east entrance is as hard and difficult as can be imagined. The path that from the small plateau of the Abbadia leads up to the steps is steep and rugged. What one calls steps is a tortuous and intricate passage through pointed rocks, over which is often necessary to climb helping oneself with one's hands and feet; and one has to be careful both on the way up and the way down. The actual entrance is a small rectangular opening like any door.’ The account includes the record of a marble tablet inscribed A . DI . DODICI . GUGNO . Mem, which was once attached to the western bastion, and which was last seen in a private collection in 1791. This would show that the fortress was exactly four centuries old at the time of Leonardo's visit. Finally, the account (p. 14) specifies which sections of the east wall could be identified as 1503 restorations. The twelfth-century chapel is still standing.

24 First act, scene 2, in the dialogue between Nicia and Ligurio, with a pun on the word ‘carrucola,’ a pulley, and the name of the fortress ‘verrucola’ according to a spelling which is frequent in the documents and in Leonardo's notes.

25 See my Leonardo inedito, pp. 21-22 and fig. 9, for a text and illustration in MS. L, fol. 21 (Richter, § 1054, with a wrong illustration). For a possible echo of what I would call a ‘Verruca type’ of landscape compare the Windsor drawings nos. 12405 and 12406, which may date from a few years later. Nos. 12387 and 12397 m a y also be included in the series, 12397 being on the same type of paper as the studies for the Battle of Anghiari. One of the much later drawings of the Deluge series, Windsor no. 12385, includes the detail of an outlying fortress on a rock on the left, showing the same topographical relationship as La Verruca to Pisa. Compare the map no. 12683. This is perhaps a coincidence, and yet one of Leonardo's notes for the Deluge series (no. 12665) refers to the sea waves at Piombino. The ruins of a fortress embedded in the rock are also visible in another drawing of the Deluge series, no. 12388. And I believe that even Leonardo's earliest drawing known, the Uffizi landscape of 1473, represents a scenery of the Arno valley not too far from La Verruca. See my Leonardo, . A Study in Chronology and Style, London, 1973, pp. 9 ff.


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