For Da Vinci, drawing was his prime means of analyzing the phenomena of the living world. Painting was the synthesis. Analyzing in the way I use it here, however, is not ‘taking apart’ something observed or experienced, nor is synthesis ‘putting parts back together.’ Da Vinci’s method of analysis was by analogy. Rather than pick apart a phenomenon, separating what he perceived as its components, he created in a drawing a parallel world, an analog to reality. Working with analogs, he could emphasize the features of phenomena he considered most important. Da Vinci’s blobs—drawn masses of turbulent water or stormy air—are prime examples of his analogical method of analysis.
Looking at a rapidly flowing stream or a thunderstorm leaves a strong visual impression, but many aspects of what is actually happening remain hidden from or are simply beyond the reach of observation, either by the naked eye or instruments. They have to be inferred from what can be observed, and this is a matter of interpretation, of imagination. It is very much the method Albert Einstein used in developing his theories of Relativity, because he could not directly observe objects moving close to the speed of light, or the movements of stars in interstellar space. Da Vinci, in this way, created hypothetical worlds that revealed the hidden structures of nature. These, in turn, helped him create paintings of great originality that are imbued with a lasting aura of conceptual power. via