Leonardo, A Very Special Child

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Leonardo, A Very Special Child,

by Ton Pascal

 

Leonardo-Da-Vinci-   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. 

davincidiaries

 

   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.

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restored virgin   Paintings like  “The Virgin with The Child and St. Anne”, “Mona Lisa”, and  “St, John the Baptist” reflected his inner turbulent mind. He had an emotional attachment to these three paintings.

Mona-Louvre

   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.

St.John-This is the one

   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”.

 

Ton Pascal

 

 

Images:

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 

 

Leonardo da Vinci’s Masterpiece

“Leda And The Swan”

Leonardo wasn’t a prolific painter. Because he believed that the original idea was the most important element in any artistic, creative process, he often only did the drawing studies, notes, or a detailed cartoon, and that not too often, of what his mind was feverishly creating. The completion of the work in question, be it a machine, a weapon, an ornament, a monument, or a painting, wasn’t his prime concern. And that put a lot of people off, as was the case with Pope Leo X, his reluctant patron from 1515 to 1516, who could hardly stand Leonardo’s sight. The Pope once remarked on this particular behavior of Leonardo to a Cardinal: “The man is useless, he never finished a small commission I gave him last year and he is already daydreaming something else. He expects me to give him the commission to complete Bramante’s work on Saint Peter’s Square and the Basilica, can you believe it?”

 “Leda And The Swan” by Francesco Melzi, copied from Leonardo’s original, ca. 1508-1515. Oil and resin on wood, 130 x 77.5 cm. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy.  Leda remains an extreme example of Leonardo's love of twisting forms.

“Leda And The Swan” by Leonardo da Vinci, also called ‘the lost painting’, is one of history’s great art losses. All the period documents, sketches, and copies of the painting are unanimous about its beauty, the masterly composition, the complex emblematic symbolism, and the impressive dimensions of the piece, which would have been around two and a half meters high by two meters wide. It was Leonardo’s biggest and most important piece to date. He started it around 1503, after he had fled Cesare Borgia and gone back to Florence. It was copied by most of the Florentine painters of that time and even Michelangelo did his own version of the subject around 1525.

The mythic story was still alive and well, and reemerged prominently with erotic overtones in the Middle Ages, thanks to the literary renditions of Ovid and others Ancient Greek writers.

Most of the earliest depictions show Leda quite explicitly copulating with Zeus, disguised as a Swan. No human couple had ever been portrayed by any master artist of the same period in the same way. 

Also lost, is Michelangelo's painting of the pair making love, commissioned in 1529 by Alfonso d'Este. (On the left) It was last seen in 1536 at Fontainebleau.  Michelangelo  gave the painting’s original cartoon to his assistant, Antonio Mini, who used it for several copies before his early death in 1533.

 

 

The great popularity of this subject in the sixteenth century was due to a fact that it was then more acceptable to depict a woman having an act of copulation with an animal than with a man.

From the Greek mythology comes the story of Leda and the Swan. In the legend, Zeus, the omnipotent Olympus god, in the form of a swan, seduced Leda on the night of her wedding to Tyndareus, King of Sparta.

From this double liaison, Queen Leda bore two eggs, from which hatched two sets of twins. In one egg was Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra, and in the other, Castor and Pollux. The other version of the same legend, says that from these encounters Leda bore four children. First she laid two eggs. In one egg was Helen and in the other was Castor, sired by Zeus, half gods themselves. Afterwards, by natural childbirth and therefore human, she gave birth to Clytemnestra and Pollux, fathered by Tyndareus.

 

On the left is a sketch of Leonardo’s studies for Leda’s head. On the right is Raphael’s drawing, coped from Leonardo’s original Leda. The high full breasts are the center of a sequence of curves moving freely in space. These twisting curves contrast with the unobstructed, frontal axis of the hips, showing Leonardo’s love of his contrapposto composition. (When a figure stands with one leg holding its full weight and the other leg relaxed) Known only to Leonardo, each line has its own enigmatic significance. Both drawings are now at the British Royal Library, Windsor, which possesses over 600 of Leonardo’s drawings.

Leonardo went beyond the sexual intercourse. To him, this legend and connection, symbolizes the union of man and god, matter and spirit, as well as man and nature. He exemplifies this fecund union not only by the children, just hatched from their eggs, but by the abundant seeding plants and flowers that surrounds the couple. The columbine blossom on Leda’s left hand means that she is in her fertile cycle, symbolizing the rebirth of nature in the spring. Zeus Celebrated the birth of his children by creating in the sky, for Helen, the constellation of the Cygnus, the Swan, also known as the Northern Cross, and for Castor, and his mortal brother, he created Gemini.

 

Lomazzo, a sixteenth century writer, reports that Leonardo’s “Leda And The Swan”, was taken to France.

Cassiano de Pozzo, an Italian scholar, patron of arts, and antiquary, saw the painting at Fontainebleau in 1625. He describes it in full detail: "a standing figure of Leda entirely naked, with the swan. At her feet, two eggs, from whose broken shells come forth four babies. This piece, though somewhat dry in style, is exquisitely finished, especially in the woman's breast; and for the rest the landscape and the plant life are rendered with the greatest diligence. Unfortunately, the picture is in a bad way because it is done on three long panels which have split apart and broken off a certain amount of paint".

Cesare Sesto, ca. 1505-1510 copy of Leonardo’s ‘Leda And The Swan” He changed the background, adding his own personal touch, which was a normal procedure then, but the rest is the same as the original.

The Venetian playwright and librettist, Carlo Osvaldo Goldoni, visited Versailles in 1775, and couldn’t find any trace of Leonardo’s painting. He adds on his journal that he didn’t find Leonardo’s “Leda” even in the list of the palace’s pictures considered obscene and ordered destroyed by the vicious, self-righteous and most hated court royalty of the time, the secretly married, wife of King Louis XIV, Madame de Maintenon.

 

Four hundred years later Leonardo’s work was still inspiring artists and back on the public interest. In 1949, after the bombardment of Hiroshima, a young Salvador Dali, paid homage to Leonardo by unveiling his version of a Leda in the twentieth century. Dali’s “Leda Atomica”, a 61.1 x 45.3 cm, oil on canvas, was organized according to a rigid mathematical framework, following the "divine proportion" recommended to him by Romanian Mathematician Matila Ghyka.

Leda and the swan are set in a pentagon inside which has been inserted a five-point star. The five points of the star symbolize the seeds of perfection: love, order, truth, willpower and action.

Here, Leonardo’s symbolic message takes full effect. Matter and spirit coexist in harmony despite their opposing constitution. Neither Leda nor the Swan touch each other, nor does any object portrayed, as atomic particles never physically touch. Leda seems to levitate; everything is in suspended animation, even the water above the shore.

This is how Dali described his “Atomica Leda” himself: "Dali shows us the hierarchized libidinous emotion, suspended and as though hanging in midair, in accordance with the modern 'nothing touches' theory of intra-atomic physics. Leda does not touch the swan; Leda does not touch the pedestal; the pedestal does not touch the base; the base does not touch the sea; the sea does not touch the shore…”

 

Now days, the story of Leda and the swan, is almost forgotten and unknown by the general public. Last month a couple of seemingly unskilled and utterly righteous cops raided a gallery in London, England, for having a picture of “Leda And The Swan” on the window. The law enforcement officers claimed that the Gallery was promoting sexual aberrations and practice of bestiality. The owners were ordered to take the picture down immediately, or else… They took it out.

Is Leonardo’s masterpiece going to show up some day?  One never knows but I hope so… if we can keep these cops away.

Ton Pascal

 

“Intellectual passion dries out sensuality.” Leonardo da Vinci

“The memory of good deeds is fragile compared to ingratitude.”  Leonardo da Vinci

“He who does not punish evil, commands it to be done.”  Leonardo da Vinci