Vincenzo Leonardi, Cassiano Del Pozzo and a dream to illustrate the world

Vincenzo Leonardi, L'Uccelliera

"Castrica passerina", Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

For some twenty years, Vincenzo Leonardi – the author of these splendid illustrations – collaborated with Cassiano Dal Pozzo (1588-1657), a famous member of the Lincean Academy and art collector from Turin.

With his “Museum Chartaceum” – a series of approximately 6,000 drawings, currently at Windsor’s Royal Library and in other collections in France, Naples, and Rome – Dal Pozzo wished to document birds and fish, vegetable essences, fossils and Roman, Etruscan, and Egyptian finds… he wished to illustrate the whole world.

As Cesare De Seta has explained, Dal Pozzo believed, “the best way to offer a systematic inventory of knowledge in every historical period and field was to illustrate this universe with drawings, watercolors, and etchings” (translated from “L’uomo che radunò i pittori al servizio di scienza e natura”, in “Corriere della Sera”, 7 June 1993).

We present here some images from the “Uccelliera”, a magnificent ornithological essay published in 1622. Quoting De Seta again, the book was “curated, under Cassiano’s vigilant supervision, by his top editor Pietro Olina, and illustrated with superb tables by Vincenzo Leonardi, a student of Antonio Tempesta, printed by Francesco Villamena.”

The “Uccelliera”, De Seta continues, was only “the first scientific outcome of a centuries-old tradition that goes back to Frederick II’s ‘Ars venandi’ […], with all bird species – local and exotic – described in systematic, ornithological files with ample historical and literary references.”

“It is a summa of the birds that make our planet more pleasant, seen not with fanciful eyes but with the scientific purpose of compiling a naturalistic taxonomy” (translated from C. De Seta, “Viale Belle Arti”, Bompiani, Milan 2006).

December 29, 2015