Leonardo, A Very Special Child,
by Ton Pascal
Leonardo da Vinci was a self-taught man. He never went to school nor had private tutors. From a very early age Leonardo’s genius mind never ceased to amaze the crowd of people that surrounded him, and the legacy continues to this day. His works demonstrates a recognition and understanding of the basic laws of physics concerning time and space, a subject little known until then. When he thought about an issue, his mind gave him the immediate solution to the problem.
Leonardo’s ideas, expressed in his backward writing, almost illegible to most readers, and looking like a secret code, could easily be considered an act of heresy. At that time the Roman Catholic Church was the only recognized, accepted source, and ruling body of the world’s knowledge and secrets. And of course, the ‘Church’ took the title of God’s Public Relations. The Pope, crowned and costumed as God’s Spokesperson, had the final word in any subject, be it sciences or social issues. The ‘Church’ considered everything happening in this planet to be a religious matter. Later in life, Leonardo paid a very heavy price for not accepting the ‘status quo’.
As a child, being illegitimate, Leonardo was certainly bullied and looked down upon by other children and their parents. When he became a famous painter, Leonardo’s social standing didn’t improve very much. No matter how nice or companionate his patrons and their associations were, they belonged to a higher and noble class. A bastard could be well received in their castles but not easily welcomed into their circle.
The young, well mannered Leonardo went out of his way to be accepted and prove to his birth-father, Ser Pierro d’Antonio, that he was an intelligent man and worth being recognized as his son. His birth-father rejected legitimizing Leonardo to his last breath, which drove the young man into a compulsive, bitter, workaholic.
Leonardo, despite his genius mind, was nevertheless a Renaissance Artisan and lived like a gypsy, moving often from one place to another. He had no home and hardly had time to finish his commissions. Freud also attributed Leonardo's obsessive work and development, as an artist and scientist, to the circumstances of his illegitimate birth.
A little known fact about Leonardo is that he had a very impatient nature and disliked physical or manual labor. But he used this shortcoming as a creative conduit for his busy mind. The simple act of waiting for things to happen, like oil or clay to dry or traveling distances set his mind in motion to find an easier way to achieve these tasks. And he often found them.
Leonardo always maintained that to him, as an artist, the most important act is the moment of the assignment’s artistic conception. To him, completing the actual task was nothing more than manual labor. He often argued that sculpture was boring work and below creative standards because it only required good manual dexterity, while painting was way up, on his scale, closer to the divine as it was a creative process and therefore a gift from God.
Even when he worked for the crazy Cesare Borgia in 1502, designing new fortification walls and weapons, he only did the sketches and explained the concept to the tyrant’s masters who would then build them while Leonardo moved on to other fancy creations.
When Leonardo managed to escape Cesare Borgia and went back to Florence in 1503, he became the most sought after painter in the town. He would create a very detailed cartoon of the work commissioned and then one of his several assistants would finish the painting. For the most part this was due to the incredible amount of personal commissions. Of course he supervised the works in progress constantly and added his personal touches here and there to complete his vision.
To suggest that Leonardo had mystic powers and his writings were full of riddles and prophesies doesn’t do justice to the creative genius of this man. Leonardo’s high mental power enabled him to create and see the object he had envisioned as fully operational long before he put the quill or chalk to the paper. Most of the time, several different, unrelated thoughts, succeeded simultaneously at a fast pace, which he had difficulty controlling. Almost every page of his writings is full of unrelated subjects written at the same time he was recording one of his creations.
Each one of them told a personal story and related to a challenging experience of his past, present or future. “The Virgin” was his past ‘coming out’ from the dark cave into a world of sensuality and secrets. The “Mona Lisa” was his present perception of this world imposed on his body and mind. The complexity of this painting, besides the fascinating story-book background, the many symbols added here and there, it has areas with as many as seventy-three layers of almost transparent paint giving the viewer a sense of depth, which is almost three-dimensional.
The “Saint John”, his favorite, was about Salai, his first love and torment of his present and future life. Leonardo used these paintings as his own experiment into new ways of changing time and space. New colors, symbols, dreams and everyday notes were added to them over the decades in an attempt to condition and bring more light to his tumultuous inner life.
That is the Leonardo you'll see in “Leonardo, The Last Years”.
1- Detail- Portrait of a Man – Atributed to Leonardo da Vinci – Tempera on Poplar board – Uffizi Gallery – Florence, Italy
2- A page from the Notebooks of Leonardo's Diaries.
3- The Virgin with Child and Ste. Anne.. By Leonardo da Vinci- 168 cm x 112 cm -Oil on poplar board. Louvre Museum
4- Mona Lisa. By Leonardo da Vinci- 77cm x 53 cm-Oil on poplar board. Louvre Museum
5- St. Jonh the Baptist. By Leonardo da Vinci- 69 cm x 57 cm -Oil on poplar board.(An unidentified painter added the wooden cross and the woolen skin later) Louvre Museum