“Force”, the invisible agent of nature that provides all living things with motion, was a major obsession for Leonardo - the movement of turbulent water, curling hair and leaves that grow in swirling curves were all manifestations of the same natural force. In order to convey a sense of inherent energy in works of art and engineering, such phenomena must be fully understood
As he grew older, Leonardo became increasingly aware that the forces of nature could sometimes go haywire. When it did, man and animals were powerless to defend themselves against the overwhelming destructive power of the elements.
He records tales of earthquakes swallowing seas and forests sinking down into the earth accompanied by torrential floods. Once he observed an enormous cloud over Milan “shaped like a huge mountain” which caused “a stupendous storm of wind”. He composed long and detailed descriptions of storms and compiled instructions regarding “the Deluge and its demonstration in painting.”
This drawing illustrates what happens when the “terrestrial machine” runs amok. In the upper drawing, the forces of nature hurl down raging winds that whip up stormy waters, causing them to crash onto the huge rocks below. In the lower drawing, huge trees are uprooted from the earth or snapped like twigs, as men and animals are dashed to the ground in the wake of a terrifying storm.
Leonardo’s representation of the invisible forces of nature is strikingly modern, both in terms of its graphic ingenuity and expressive power.
In Leoanrdo's words
I have seen motions of air so furious that they have gathered up and mingled in their course the largest trees of the forests and whole roofs of great palaces, and this same fury made a hollow opening with its vortex motion and excavated a gravel pit and transported the gravel, sand and water more than half a mile through the air.
In this drawing, which is one of a series on the theme of “The Deluge”, Leonardo explores the power of nature with great imagination.
In the bottom right-hand corner, horsemen encounter a hurricane and are blown off their feet and forced to the ground. Beyond them are trees uprooted and bent to the ground by the wind.
Above, rain pours down from a gigantic water spout and in the clouds storm gods drive the forces of wind, lending a mythical flavour to the drawing.