The hand of Leonardo Da Vinci on all Jesuitic Churches.


Basilica, Venice, Accademia, 238 v.
Basilica, Venice, Accademia, 238 v.

After my post speculating on a link between a mysterious sketch by Leonardo Da Vinci appearing on the upper corner of a page kept in Venice and a possible connection with Saint Paul church of Macau [ ] further researches have uncovered fresh evidence supporting my hypothesis.

The façade of the Church of Madre de Deus of Macau (known as Saint Paul) was built between 1620 -1664(1) thought to be a direct evolution of the Chiesa del Gesù in Rome, the Mother church of the Jesuits. Similar churches are visible not only in Macau but also in Antwerp, Diu and Goa. The Chiesa del Gesù in Rome was built following the plans of Giacomo Barozzi known as Vignola (2), then Giacomo della Porta took over from Vignola in 1571 because of a change of mind of Cardinal A. Farnese.

Chiesa del Gesù, Rome
Chiesa del Gesù, Rome

Indeed the new design by Giacomo Della Porta(3) had an heavy influence on all type of façades of all Jesuitic churches, including Saint Paul of Macau. The closeness of Leonardo Da Vinci’s sketch is here even more obvious, more than with Macau’s Saint Paul, but this could be explained by the fact that the Macau’s façade was changed after the departure of Carlo Spinola to Japan.

We know that Carlo Spinola (the architect of Saint Paul in Macau) was in contact with Giacomo Della Porta, because Della Porta had worked not only in Rome and Milan but also in Genoa, the city where the Spinola’s family had its seat.

The problem was for me to connect Giacomo della Porta to Leonardo Da Vinci. The connection is indeed possible and it looks historically sound. The teacher of Giacomo della Porta was Cristoforo Solari (1468 – 1524) an architect close to Leonardo – Leonardo mentions Solari in the Codex Atlanticus- and as a matter of fact the Leicester Codex (bought by Lord Leicester in 1717 from Guglielmo Ghezzi) which then became known as Hammer Codex, and today as Bill Gates Codex (4) by Leonardo Da Vinci comes straigh from Guglielmo Della Porta (1515 – 1577) a sculptor and a relative of Giacomo della Porta. They were coming from the same small village of Porlezza, on the Lake of Lugano, right on the border between Italy and Switzerland. Ghezzi had noted on the cover of the Gates Codex that he had bought from Guglielmo della Porta: “I did pay him  as if it was made of gold.”  He had found it in Rome in 1690 inside a chest containing manuscripts and drawings by Guglielmo Della Porta(5)

Complete sketch kept at Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice. Ref. 238 versus (213 X 152 mm.).  The words are discussions on gravity and weights. The recto of the page is also a study on the same subjects. The Basilica seems to have been added years later by Leonardo, finding an empty space on the page.
Complete sketch kept at Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice. Ref. 238 versus (213 X 152 mm.).
The words are discussions on gravity and weights. The recto of the page is also a study on the same subjects. The Basilica seems to have been added years later by Leonardo, finding an empty space on the page.

It is therefore certain that Giacomo della Porta had seen several of Leonardo’s notebooks, not only the Gates Codex, including the drawings of the church kept at Venice’s Gallerie dell’Accademia.

The three architects who spread the Italian Renaissance style throughout Western Europe were Vignola, Sebastiano Serlio(6) and Palladio.

About Sebastiano Serlio we can make another contact with Leonardo. Benvenuto Cellini bought a codex by Leonardo Da Vinci in France from an ‘impoverished noble’. Cellini says in his memoirs that it was full of wondeful architectural and prospectic drawings and he had shown it to Sebastiano Serlio, who was writing a book on architecture. Serlio begged Cellini to borrow it to him but he never returned and lost it. Cellini buried him a second time writing that Sebastiano Serlio was able to undestand the drawing of Leonardo only up to a certain point, the point that his limited intelligence allowed him to.

Giorgio Vasari wrote in his biography of Guglielmo Della Porta that he was instructed by his uncle Jacopo to study ‘le cose di Leonardo’ the things of Leonardo, which presumably included manuscripts and drawings.(7)





1. César Guillén Nuñez Macau’s Church of Saint Paul. A Glimmer of the baroque in China. Hong Kong University Press, 2009.

2. Giacomo (or Jacopo) Barozzi (or Barocchio) da Vignola (often simply called Vignola) (1 October 1507 – 7 July 1573) was one of the great Italian architects of 16th century Mannerism. His two great masterpieces are the Villa Farnese at Caprarola and the Jesuits’ Church of the Gesù in Rome.

3. Giacomo della Porta (c. 1533 – 1602) was an Italian architect and sculptor, who worked on many important buildings in Rome, including St. Peter’s Basilica. He was born at Porlezza, Lombardy and died in Rome.

4. Bill Gates bought what was known then as Hammer Codex in 1994, for 31 millions of USD. Today he could resell it easily getting ten times that price. It is made up of 36 double leaves and it is mainly dealing with water currents, vortex and astronomy.

5. Giorgio Vasari ([1568], VII, p. 422 wrote that Guglielmo della Porta he copied “con molto studio … le cose di Lionardo da Vinci” copied with great care…the things of Leonardo Da Vinci. Guglielmo in 1531 moved to Genoa with his father.

6. Sebastiano Serlio (1475 – 1554) was an Italian mannerist architect who was part of the Italian team building the Fontainbleau Palace in France.

7. The Codex Leicester. Introduction by Carlo Pedretti to Christie’s Sale on 12 December 1980. p. 17.






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