There’s No Place Like Home!

A place like home?

A place like home?

On April 15th 1452, at the 3rd hour of the night, no less. Leonardo’s birth was so recorded by his grandfather. Now that’s precise.

Where he was born is another story. Personally, standing in the landscape where Leonardo played as a child is enough for me. It seems appropriate to celebrate he is everywhere and no… where.

There is a record of the family using the font still existing in the parish church of Santa Croce for his christening. After that … there’s no place like home. Really. No. Place. It is impossible to know the location of the house where Leonardo da Vinci was born.

An honest tourist attraction would have to say: ‘Leonardo was born somewhere near here in a cottage like this one, give or take a few miles, although we wish it was here, we’re pinning him to earth for the sake of tourism.’ A farmhouse unmarked in its time is lost in a network of stone foundations five-hundred years old, maybe longer. Leonardo’s childhood home could have been standing two-hundred years by 1452.

Historical fiction has to jump serious leaps of faith. History never recorded Leonardo’s mother’s full name. She comes down to us as, Caterina. Women, in general, were insignificant. Their names were absorbed (read overwhelmed) by a list of their husbands ‘dynasty’ when they married. But apparently, Caterina had no such dynasty worth recording. Ever. Not even by her son.

Leonardo was probably born in a house in Tuscany, near the village of Vinci, no distinctive than any other. He lived ‘cheek by jowl’ with his mother, stepfather, five step-siblings, three cousins, an uncle and aunt and grandparents. What an obscure census report tells us, is he had a sister named Lisabetta.

What are the odds? Leonardo had a sister named Lisa! And many have observed Leonardo resembles the ‘Mona Lisa,’ as a sister just might.

What if’s began to flutter for me. I wondered … had she been the sitter for the Louvre’s ‘Mona Lisa?’ The most famous woman in the world being a woman whose identity was lost but for one mention in a faded document was too intriguing a storyline, and so I turned her life into a fanciful trilogy.

What if Lisa of the Louvre had a different story to tell? What if she were trapped in her portrait? What if she were to tell a woman and a boy who happened by in the Louvre? What if the three had an extraordinary connection than first met the eye? What if there was a ‘Second Lisa?’

LEONARDO SLEPT HERE! - Clos de Luce, Amboise, France

LEONARDO SLEPT HERE! – Clos de Luce, Amboise, France

However, in the case of the manor house Clos Lucé, we can be sure of the proud declaration, ‘Leonardo slept here!’  

Is it known for sure in which room? No, that can only be a calculated best guess, but we can say ‘Clos Lucé’ (its new name) was his last home and offered the last roof he slept under and was most definitely where he died. Although we cannot say with any certainty within a mile, which patch of soil or marble floor he was buried under.

His gravesite beside the church of St Florentin was desecrated in 1802, and his bones, along with his neighbors, were buried in a mass grave in a corner of the churchyard. Which corner is a wild leap of faith. Which bones, if any, would be impossible to authenticate even with modern forensics. Leonardo died in 1519. His resting place is unknown. Finito.

Tourists seem to need a shrine and to gaze at a plaque saying here he is, so there is one, but in truth, after the upheaval of the revolution, the churchyard where Leonardo was buried, was raked over and robbed of its most famous citizen. So much for fame.

Fragments of a damaged stone marker unearthed from a refuse pile in 1863, is tantalizingly inscribed: DEO (space) DUS ( space) VINC, but sadly, that’s it that’s all. Birth and death leave fragile footprints. It’s the life lived in-between which is worth celebrating.

If you want to follow Leonardo’s footsteps you must traipse the countryside around Vinci and walk the streets of Florence, and the Via Zenale in Milan. The site of his ‘once bequeathed property’ in Milan (scooped by the smarmy little creep, known as the ‘little devil,’ Salai, at Leonardo’s death) is located across from a massive fitness centre.

Reputedly, within a block or two of this site were the aristocratic stables of elite horses Leonardo used to sketch. Ironically, hundreds of years later, that site became the headquarters of an elite car manufacturer.

So, from the stables of the horses Leonardo used to visit, to horsepower, to physical fitness, traces of his original vineyard address is, by my reckoning, an apartment building and a parking lot, as near to destroyed as one can get.

If you need to walk mile in Leonardo’s shoes then you have tall boots to fill, and you will need to hunker down at the university of hard knocks and study whatever is around you, under you, and above you, at all hours of the day and night.

If you need to leave flowers on his grave you may as well plant a tree somewhere that could use one. Nature was his country. Birthplace and tomb are unnecessary for an immortal artist. There is no true marker here lies the great Leonardo, but he embodies the letters R.I.P … RENAISSANCE IN PERPETUITY

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Leonardo’s secret hiding place?

the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral, Florence

the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral, Florence

Verrocchio's orb for the Santa Maria del Fiore

Verrocchio’s orb for the Santa Maria del Fiore

The golden orb for the top of Florence’s Duomo, the Santa Maria del Fiore (Saint Mary of the Flowers), was under construction in the studio of Andrea Verrocchio when Leonardo da Vinci arrived there as a twelve-year-old apprentice.

 

The orb is a hollow ball constructed from bronze and copper plates, eight feet in diameter. It could have been an ideal hideaway for a shy new arrival to use as an escape from the foreign bustle of a working art ‘factory.’ By all accounts, Verrocchio’s studio was a hierarchy of workers ranking from age, experience, and natural talent. A thirteen year-old boy used to the quiet sanctuary of idyllic country freedom may have found the transition to city life, daunting.

The orb was raised into place in 1471, after sitting unfinished for years, when Leonardo was seventeen. He would have lived and worked beside it for almost four years. A painting exists of a ‘Tobias with Three Archangels’ by Biagio d’Antonio Tucci, with the orb’s installation in the distant background. I love such miracles. A five-hundred year-old snapshot of what the artist saw. A frozen day we can actually see.

In my historical fantasy, ‘Second Lisa’ a fictional biography of Lisabetta, Leonardo’s kid sister, I premise the seventeen year-old Leonardo, helped install the orb. He has left notes regarding welding, and sketches of Brunelleschi’s designs for winches and screws, and the hoists and scaffolds that were used to raise the orb to the lantern of the cathedral. Leonardo wrote a memo to himself in one of his manuscripts: Remember the way we soldered the ball of Santa Maria del Fiore.

I find it amazing to gaze 350 feet in the air and imagine the boy Leonardo clambering on a scaffold, welding inside the great ball, dizzy from the toxic fumes of copper and mercury.

The cupola with tourists

The cupola with tourists

Two-hundred and thirty-one years later, after many direct lightning strikes over the years, the copper ball finally succumbed and fell to the ground during a severe electrical storm and had to be replaced.

Verrocchio had a few workers engaged in the installation. Who better than a light and nimble teenager eager for recognition who may have been goaded into volunteering for such a task? Can you see Leonardo up there as close to the sky and his beloved birds as any Florentine was likely to get?

 

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Leonardo’s Pocket Camera

One of Leonardo's 'cameras'

One of Leonardo’s ‘cameras’

Small ‘libricini’ (pocket sized notebooks) recorded whatever image took Leonardo’s fancy.

They were tied to his belt, and captured more detail than an ‘Instamatic.’ Notations of color, size, and even the weather was important to document, as it designated the quality of light.

No bigger than a pack of playing cards, Leonardo was able to take home glimpses of a fleeting pose or a line of poetry or the folds of a robe ruffled by the wind, or an elusive math equation that walking in the marketplace suddenly resolved.

“Observe people carefully in the streets and in the piazza and the fields. Note them down with a brief indication of forms, thus for a head make an O, and for an arm, a straight or bent line, the same for the legs and the body, and when you get home work these sketches up into a complete form.” - Leonardo da Vinci

- excerpt from ‘Leonardo da Vinci- flights of the mind’ by Charles Nicholl

And again: He writes questions to remind himself what to study:

a Leonardo 'libricini' (small book)

a Leonardo ‘libricini’ (small book)

describe how clouds are formed and how they dissolve, and what causes vapor to rise  - Leonardo

 - excerpt from ‘Leonardo da Vinci- flights of the mind’ by Charles Nicholl

Pick a ‘libricini.’ Any ‘libricini.’ Each one was full of tricks. What was up Leonardo’s sleeve? … Everything!

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The Saddest Words in Art…

The Louvre, 1911  after the theft of the 'Mona Lisa'

The Louvre, 1911 after the theft of the ‘Mona Lisa’

 NOW LOST These two devastating words have inspired most of my novels.

I write about missing art and the lost lives of artists and their forgotten models who, over time, have become the anonymous heroes and heroines of art.

While it can’t be helped that galleries and museums and houses sometimes burn to the ground and priceless art is destroyed. Some artefacts have been burned in ignorance (such as the last, stuffed, dodo from the Ashmolean Museum) and others from acts of violence. The vanity fires of the fifteenth-century spring to mind. Thousands of objects, including paintings and sculpture considered profane, were burned during the time of Savonarola’s religious cleansing.

But, it’s the confiscated (read stolen) items that still exist out there in actual space that captivates my imagination.

You can tell from the stark space between a lacklustre presentation of paintings displayed in a row, that ‘Lisa’ was not yet the star of the Louvre. Her abduction in 1911 transformed her from an ‘oh, hang it over there as it’s the same size’ to a front page news celebrity with her own glass case.

So, why would a present day artist ever plant their paintings in a casual art show, public display, or the walls of a busy local restaurant, hanging on a single nail, and not expect them to grow legs? Granted, the larger ones may have a chance to escape light-fingered ‘art collectors,’ and some paintings would be hard-pressed to give away, being less than covetable, but art with heart is a temptation.

The 'Buccleuch Madonna'

The ‘Buccleuch Madonna’

In 2003, Leonardo’s ‘Madonna of the Yarnwinder,’ known as the ‘Buccleuch Madonna’ was stolen from a Scottish castle. Two thieves posing as tourists made a lighthearted quip to a surprised observer saying, “Don’t worry, love, we’re the police. This is just practice,” and continued exiting through a window. The painting is approx. 19 in. X 14.5 in. It remained on the missing paintings list until 2007, and is now safe in a secure gallery.

Curiously, there are many copies of this work from Leonardo’s studio, but none contain a key detail documented by an eye-witness report during its creation. A basket is missing from all known versions, none of which is considered the prime original. Does this masterpiece wait ‘out in the open’ under dirt and varnish to be discovered, sold to the highest bidder, and become ‘lost’ to the rest of the world?

The ‘Mona Lisa’ was in the ‘small enough to stuff under a coat’ variety, and left via the museum door in broad daylight, in what Leonardo liked to call hiding the obvious in plain sight where it would be assimilated as nothing noteworthy to rouse suspicion.

Sometimes the words: ‘sold at auction’ are as sad as ‘now lost.’

The most subtle forms of iconography blend under the radar, and provenance often ends with a murky flash of ‘now you see it; now you don’t; now it’s lost; now it’s found; now it’s sold; now it’s… somewhere.’

Which rather lends creative meaning to the term: vanishing point.

 

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Nothing Up Her Sleeve

GINEVRA de BENCIStuff happens…

The lower third of this painting by Leonardo is missing. Where did it go? Was it destroyed through accident or by malicious design? What was this girl holding in her hands? I premise it was a bouquet of flowers that held a sinister secret.

Only the perpetrator or perpetrators of this crime know the answer, since the details of her sabotage are as lost as the damaged portion of the panel. It was cut down to form a square – an awkward and unlikely shape for Leonardo, who was committed to the divine proportions of the golden section. The sides may have also been trimmed to eliminate an odd ‘landscape’ format. To my mind, it is most unlikely for Leonardo to have painted half-a-tree, as seen on the right, in the uncropped original.

This painting reveals another hidden secret – a fingerprint made when the portrait was wet, has recently been discovered.

Ginevra de Benci details

‘Ginevra de Benci’ details of fingerprint

The Latin inscription, ‘virtuem format decorat’ which means beauty adorns virtue’ (perhaps a tad tongue-in cheek) on the reverse of the painting is off-centre which is further indication of a compromised original ‘format.’ Although I cannot speak for Leonardo (other than in my novels) he seems to be a symmetrical thinker. His inscription would most probably be centered to balance the overall shape of the panel.

back of the 'Ginevra de Benci' painting

back of the ‘Ginevra de Benci’ painting

 

Any guesses as to how this work of art came to be destroyed?

In my trilogy, Second Lisa, there is an original image, changed under bizarre circumstances of jealousy and rage, and it becomes a prime example of ‘momento mori’ (Latin for ‘remember that you will die. Often portrayed as a still-life painting of decaying fruit and flowers)

portrait of Cecelia Gallerani by Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo painted one woman holding a ferret. How much magnificent detail would be lost forever if it had been ‘edited’ by a vindictive hand? How many ‘Leonardos’ have been retouched, over-cleaned, and purposely disguised to evade ‘capture?’

Leonardo’s drawing of hands may have been a study for the Ginevra commission. They are attributed as a precursor to Mona Lisa’s serenely-composed hands. A marble bust, believed to be Ginevra, sculpted by Leonardos’s first master, Andrea Verrocchio, posed her holding a bouquet of flowers, and several savvy poets dedicated sonnets to her during her ‘most popular girl of the month’ status. Many referenced their ‘it girl’ to a flower.

marble bust of Ginevra de Benci by Andrea Verrocchio

marble bust of Ginevra de Benci by Andrea Verrocchio

drawing of hands by Leonardo da Vinci

drawing of hands by Leonardo da Vinci

In my novel Second Lisa, I place something more sinister in Ginevra’s hands, and the portrait’s ‘abductor’ is revealed.

This is why writing historical fiction/fantasy is so cool. An author can listen to their muse and characters can reveal truths that even surprise themselves.

Read an excerpt for Second Lisa in the BOOKS category of this website.

 

 

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Cherry White

Cherry White_web

I spy with my little eye

something beginning with fire

 

Erased emotions quicken when ethics challenges the cold logic of a sentient computer, programmed to save lost art first, regardless of the consequences to those who created it.

genre: science-fiction
‘CHERRY WHITE’ synopsis: 

Cherry White considered her second life as a time traveler to be a curse until she encountered an untapped source of overwhelming love.

Once a human autistic savant, Cherry is now labelled an ‘it’ by her cybernetic creators, but her damaged senses regenerate when ethics challenge the cold logic of her new role as a sentient computer programmed to save art first, regardless of the consequences to those who created it.

Her function as an organic android is to sift time, scan for destroyed masterpieces, and harvest them for the Fire Gallery of the Phoenix Project.

Lost art consumed by fire is an asset the project’s syndicate of investors deem worthy of breaching the time continuum and human dignity to obtain, but Cherry’s rekindled memories demand a sacrifice when she’s faced with choices that threaten to eclipse her newfound love and destroy a priceless painting by Leonardo da Vinci.

When a surprising anthropology lesson reveals the mysteries of her distant past and explains her erratic life as a mystic savant, Cherry is inspired to mutiny.

Her new allies, the unexpected restoration of primal instincts, and an astonishing quickening of dormant genes create an opportunity to make historic reparation at the expense of extinguishing an amazing scientific breakthrough.

A bizarre plan of sabotage promises to rejuvenate the evolution of compassion in order to revive the highest order of humankind.

Lost art, lost love, a lost species, and a gathering of lost souls are at risk of annihilation, unless Cherry’s conflicting emotions and her allegiance to art can be resolved…‘in time.’

   “Joanne was relieved. She had been afraid the job was going to be clinical. The manicure had fooled her. Cherry was groomed to perfection like a doll, but she had emotional dirt under her nails. Genius dirt. The profound dirt of survival in a lonely world that continued to exploit her. The woman had Mona Lisa eyes.” 

page 88

state of the art meets an extraordinary state of mind

RED Cherry White_veronika

Cherry White, is a work in progress, due to be published in November, 2014

an extraordinary woman has to experience being an android before she understands what it means to be human

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Erotic Million Dollar Leonardo Destroyed by an Hysterical Woman?

'Leda and the Swan' - a copy from the lost original by Leonardo da Vinci

‘Leda and the Swan’ – a copy from the lost original by Leonardo da Vinci

One 17th century woman may have decided this painting was an image too far. The original version of ‘Leda and the Swan’ by Leonardo da Vinci was last seen in 1625 and believed to be destroyed on the grounds of its adverse effects on the frazzled nerves of the wife of a diplomat, into whose hands it, unfortunately, came to rest. Fortunately, it was copied, and we can see Leonardo’s composition.

The ‘Leda and the Swan’ theme of the mythical abduction of Leda by Zeus after taking the form of a swan, was in great vogue during the fifteenth-century. However, subsequent times and super-sensitive moralities rendered the images lewd and too erotic to survive. See the copy of Michelangelo’s version, also considered destroyed.

Pass the smelling salts.

'Leda and the Swan' copied from Michelangelo's lost original by Peter Paul Reubens

‘Leda and the Swan’ copied from Michelangelo’s lost original by Peter Paul Reubens

So, in times for scapegoat (or scape-swan) sensitivities, a few self-appointed gatekeepers burned, erased, planted bumper crops of fig leaves for decorum’s sake, and painstakingly ‘corrected’ many priceless sketches and paintings.

But, Leonardo’s ‘Leda’ may yet be found. It may have been secreted away, or disfigured by an over-painting. At this moment, it may be lingering anonymously on an office wall or stored in an attic. Perhaps it’s still secreted away in a forgotten World War II cache of confiscated art.

I explore the whereabouts of Leonardo’s ‘Leda’ in my novel-in-progress ‘Cherry White,’ to be published in November, 2014. My next post will give the details.

Another, anatomically-correct drawing of a male nude from Leonardo’s studio suffered the humiliation of being partially erased to appease its squeamish owner. The offensive realities of the flesh had been too much. The drawing is still worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, but imagine the audacity (read stupidity) to alter a work known to be a ‘Leonardo.’ It was bad enough that a few light-fingered enthusiasts cut segments from Leonardo da Vinci’s precious folios for their own collections, let alone disfigured or burned them under the guise of moral decency.

For many years, a generation of the British Royal Family overlooked the very trunk-load of Leonardo’s manuscripts which eventually became the heart of their famous Royal Collection. The treasure chest lingered in obscurity out of sight and mind, misidentified as insignificant. Who knows what works have not been publicly aired.

The recently unearthed 'Salvator Mundi' attributed to Leonardo da Vinci

The recently unearthed ‘Salvator Mundi’ attributed to Leonardo da Vinci.

The latest of two ‘Leonardos’ to emerge in our century, the ‘Salvator Mundi’ (the saviour of the world) was once sold at auction in 1958 for forty-five pounds sterling (roughly $90) and lingered in obscurity for fifty years more. It recently sold for $85,000,000 (a bargain considering it has been valued at three times that amount)

Sadly, the recent ‘buyers syndicate’ or singularly wealthy owner is not public knowledge, so the painting has disappeared again, into a personal location or storage vault when it should have become ‘Qualitus Mundi’ (the property of the world), on display for all to enjoy. Hopefully there will come a day when such masterpieces cannot be privately secreted away, where they’re likely to be copied, moved about surreptitiously, or otherwise compromised to join the underground ranks of the sad category ‘now lost’ which should be more correctly listed as ‘now lost… again.’

Can important art be privately owned? The answer of course, is yes. Especially in the past when travelers could pick up a master painting for a few desperate shillings, acquiring the unsung for a song.

The people fortunate enough, who unknowingly harbor such ‘dormant’ works, should be compensated for their discoveries by public galleries, but surely these masterpieces must become the property of art history.

What work of art would you most like to own? Presuming (tongue-in-cheek) it could be purchased for a little more than a self-published novel, or at least under a hundred dollars.

My choice would be Vermeer’s ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’… and if I were lucky enough to find myself the temporary owner of such a work, I would sell it on to a major gallery so everyone would be the richer.

Do you believe great art is the property of the world?

 

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