Leonardo's Writings on the Deaf: Friendship and Art Practice in Early Modern Milan

Research output: Chapter in book/report/conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The chapter investigates art practice and disability in early modern Milan by focusing on Leonardo’s writings on deafness. Included as part of a series of argumentations aimed at emphasising the predominance of painting over sculpture, poetry, and music, Leonardo’s observations predate the writings of the Milanese polymath Girolamo Cardano, the first intellectual to advocate in favour of deaf education. The chapter retraces Leonardo’s association with Cardano’s father, Fazio, and highlights the connection between the Florentine master and Cristoforo de Predis, the most accomplished miniaturist in late fifteenth century Milan and a prelingual deaf. The study contends that Leonardo’s writings had a long lasting impact and, to further this point, it presents the testament drafted in 1624 by Luca Riva, a deaf painter active in the workshop of Camillo Procaccini. Comprising ten brown-ink drawings bound together in a small volume, the document is the oldest known testament made exclusively of visual elements. Presented to the notary Pietro Antonio Calchi, a close friend of Riva and a follower of Cardano’s theories on deaf education, the document testifies to the key role that friendship and social connections played in facilitating the integration of members of the deaf community.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFriends with benefits: Italian artists and friendship in early modern Italy
EditorsKelley Di Dio, Ilaria Andreoli
PublisherBrepols Publishers
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 28 Mar 2024

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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