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A map of Imola


RCIN 912284

A drawing of a map of Imola, showing the city enclosed by a ring. Four lines cross the plan, forming on the circle eight points of the compass, at which the names of the winds are written in Leonardo's hand, clockwise from one o'clock.

In August 1502 Leonardo was appointed ‘General Architect and Engineer’ to Cesare Borgia, son of Pope Alexander VI and marshal of the papal troops, giving him powers to requisition men for surveying and to order improvements to fortifications. Cesare lodged in Imola with his entourage in the autumn of 1502, and it must have been then that Leonardo made this magnificent map of the town.

Leonardo paced the lengths of the streets, as recorded on an annotated sketch of each quarter of the town (RCIN 912686), took bearings from the tower of the Palazzo Comunale at the central crossroads, and presumably worked out the layout by  geometry on a lost sheet, as no construction lines are visible here. The irregularities in the rectilinear street plan testify to the accuracy of the map, which may still be used to find one’s way around Imola today. But it has been noted that some details of the buildings were out-of-date, suggesting that Leonardo relied on an earlier survey of the town for the ground plans and property boundaries – though why he or Cesare cared about such details is unknown, for their primary concern must have been the fortifications of the town. Pen lines divide the circle into eight, each further subdivided into eighths by stylus lines, allowing bearings to be given with some precision. In the margins Leonardo wrote the distances and directions to other towns and cities, such as ‘Imola sees [vede] Bologna at five-eighths from the west towards the north-west at a distance of 20 miles [32 km].’

Text adapted from Leonardo da Vinci: A life in drawing, London, 2018

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