Leonardo da Vinci’s involvement in the competition for the design of the dome of Milan Cathedral offers a window onto many aspects of architectural practice and management in early modern period. The competition, which he entered in 1487, five years after arriving in Milan, was his first direct experience as an architect. Like Donato Bramante and Luca Fancelli, he was one of many consultant architects on the project, without a permanent position on the Cathedral’s building site. Although the authorities ultimately rejected his proposal in 1490, for Leonardo the experience was nevertheless enduring. The confrontation with other experts and with the technical aspects of architecture prompted continued study over the following years, particularly into the principles of statics. This paper will examine Leonardo’s possible collaborators as well as his knowledge of the building-site and its earlier history (including the project by Gabriele Stornaloco in 1391). It examines the forms of drawing and wood modelling he employed, as well as the materials and construction techniques used on site. The paper takes as its starting point the well-known and enigmatic drawings of the project in the Codex Atlanticus and will offer a new reconstruction of Leonardo’s proposal.
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