Da Vinci’s Paleodictyon: the fractal beauty of traces

Andrea Baucon


The origins of ichnology are located in a land of convergence between Art and Science, in a historical period – the Renaissance – during which the scientific method had its birth. Trace fossils were studied and graphically represented by preeminent naturalists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Konrad Gesner, Johann Bauhin and UlisseAldrovandi – who defined ichnofossils as “exceptionally beautiful”.

In this study, the representation of trace fossils in the Renaissance is explored by employing a method widely used in studying visual perception – fractal geometry. In particular, this paper focuses on the reasons for the aesthetic appeal of traces and proves that (1) the aesthetic perception of traces is closely tied to their fractal dimension, and (2) many traces are aesthetically appealing because they have fractal behaviour. 

In particular, graphoglyptids and chondritids display significant fractal-like features that are linked with their constructional program and function. Such fractal traces are hierarchically structured and their whole geometric structure can be regarded as an expression of self-organization processes producing correlations between different orders of scale.


History of science; Ichnology; Fractal, Leonardo da Vinci; Extended organism

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