The Value and Limits of the Analogical Method in the Work of Leonardo da Vinci

Alessandro Nova

Recognizing Leonardo's extensive use of analogy, scholars have often criticized it as an obstacle to a truly "scientific" approach to the analysis of natural phenomena. Independently of recent re-evaluations of analogy as a cognitive instrument, this study differentiates between its various types, uses, and functions, revealing that the literal or absolute mode of analogical thinking in Leonardo's writings and drawings existed alongside metaphorical and heuristic modes. Though distinct from one another, these three models also mingled and interacted. A crucial aspect of this investigation is an appraisal of Leonardo's language, which took shape in the world of the Florentine workshops of the late fifteenth century. For instance, the term "analogy" was absent from his vocabulary, emerging only towards the end of the sixteenth century. Leonardo himself spoke only of "similitude" and "comparison". This project, therefore, combines art history with the study of language, philosophy, and the history of science.


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