Welcome to Tea Toast & Trivia. Thank you for listening in…
Today, I want to celebrate Leonardo da Vinci’s 500th anniversary by looking beyond his list of great things accomplished, his titles of polymath, universal genius, renaissance man.
Who was Leonardo, the person? What did he eat? What did he wear? What music did he hear? Who were his friends?
So put the kettle on and join me as I look back on a remarkable life. A life that was set in a remarkable age and continues to have a remarkable influence on our current reality.
I am your host, Rebecca Budd, and I am looking forward to sharing this moment with you.
Giorgio Vasari, the Italian painter, architect, writer, and historian, who lived from 1511 – 1574, is most famous today for his monumental series of artist biographies titled, “Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects.” Vasari described Leonardo da Vinci with these words…
“Men of genius sometimes accomplish most when they work the least, for they are thinking out inventions and forming in their minds the perfect idea that they subsequently express with their hands.”
It’s been 500 years! All of Italy – and the world – is celebrating Leonardo’s life by remembering his death on May 2,1519.
Leonardo lived during a time of great change – cultural, political, scientific and intellectual: The Renaissance. He is one of the most recognized names in history, which is reinforced by our desire to bestow his name on buildings, places, books, schools, colleges, ships, music – even fictional characters.
- Da Vinci, a crater on the Moon
- Leonardo da Vinci Street, Budapest, Hungary
- Leonardo da Vinci High School, Buffalo, New York
- Leonardo, a lead character in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
- Leonardo davincii, a species of moth from Sudan
Well, you get the idea….
Many historians and scholars consider Leonardo to be a universal genius, with a vibrant thirst for knowledge. He excelled in all his undertakings, from inventor, engineer, scientist, astronomer, botanist to painter, sculptor, architect, musician, writer and historian. And this is not a complete list of his extraordinary abilities.
Leonardo gave us the Mona Lisa, The Last Supper and the Vitruvian Man. He saw the future, the possibilities, from flying machines, diving suits, cranes, to adding machine, parachutes, even concentrated solar power. He wrote it all down in his famous notebooks, which he started at the age of 37 and continued until his death thirty years later. Can you imagine the immense knowledge captured in his drawings and scientific diagrams? And all written from right to left in his notebooks, using a backwards script that can only be read when placed in front of a mirror,
Leonardo & El Grillo
This piece is El Grillo, a madrigal composed by Josquin des Prez. In Renaissance Italy, the madrigal was the most important secular form of music. There were usually four to six singers. To my ear, the singers always seemed to be in a race to the finish line.
Given that des Prez was Leonardo’s contemporary (1450 to 1521), lived in Milan for a time, was the preeminent composer of his era, and wrote El Grillo in 1505, it is quite likely that Leonardo heard this song. It is a catchy, humorous piece about a cricket. I like to imagine Leonardo singing these words.
The cricket is a good singer who can hold a long note. (A)
Go on, drink, cricket, and sing. (B)
The cricket is a good singer.
But he is not like the other birds, (C)
who sing a bit
then go somewhere else.
The cricket stands firm.
When the weather is at its hottest, (D)
he sings alone for love.
Leonardo in the Kitchen
While Leonardo took a break from painting the Mona Lisa, he was in the kitchen. Yes, he was also a nutritionist, a foodie, curious about how food added to health and well-being. And of course, you can be certain that his futile mind came up with a few kitchen gadgets, including the mechanical tool to run meat on a spit.
Leonardo owned one cookbook, Platina’s On Right Pleasure and Good Health. According to my research, this was the first printed cookbook, published in 1470 in Rome. Bartolomeo Platina, a gastronomist and author of the cookbook had an eventful life. First, he was a private soldier, then a tutor before heading to Florence in 1457. There he was friends with the ruling Medici family and took up studies under Byzantine humanist philosopher, Argyropoulos before moving onto Rome in 1462. In the end, he became an elected member of the College of Abbreviators, a writer of the Papal Chancery – Papal bulls, briefs, and consistorial decrees. So, he was well prepared to create the first cookbook. Being a generous fellow, Platina attributed many of the recipes to the culinary expert, Martino da Como aka Maestro Martino, another extraordinary individual. Some say he was the first celebrity chef in history. But I digress because that is another story altogether…back to Leonardo.
Leonardo’s belief in the dietary advantages of various foods was the focus of Platina’s On Right Pleasure and Good Health. With a larder filled with buttermilk, eggs, melon, grapes, mulberries, mushrooms, Leonardo was on the cutting edge of health.
Leonardo & Fashion
Leonardo came from humble beginnings. Born out of wedlock in 1452, to a peasant woman and a notary, who would have guessed that he would became a powerhouse of fashion, in Italy as well as across Europe? Velvet, silk and wool were produced in the cities of Venice, Milan, Florence, Naples and Rome. Vibrant colours, brocade, ribbons and jewels – Italian fashion was expensive, extravagant and luxurious. Fashionistas – think the Medici family – of the Renaissance were influenced by the art of Leonardo, along with his friend, Michelangelo.
Well, maybe not friends exactly. It seems that Leonardo and Michelangelo had a falling out over an incident involving a question about Dante Alighieri. Everyone knew that Michelangelo was an expert on Dante. But it seems that Michelangelo took an exception to the way the question was asked. In response, Michelangelo made a disparaging remark about Leonardo’s inability to finish his horse sculpture. But Leonardo was in for the long game. Consider the Mona Lisa. Leonardo started work on the Mona Lisa in 1503 and continued with this project for the rest of his life.
There is ample evidence that Leonardo and Michelangelo insulted each other in their effort to be the preeminent artist in Florence, but, from all accounts, they had a genuine respect for each other’s work.
Leonardo & Friends
Leonardo’s friends and patrons, were the “Who’s Who” of the Renaissance, the people we read about in historical biographies and watch in TV mini-series. His patrons included King Francis 1 of France, the Medici family, Ludovico Sforza and Cesare Borgia. He enjoyed a robust collaboration with Fra Luca Bartolomeo de Pacioli, an Italian mathematician, Franciscan friar. Marcantonio della Torre, a Professor of Anatomy and Leonardo were planning to publish a book on human anatomy. Alas, the project was abandoned when della Torre’s life was cut short by the plague. Leonardo close friends included Niccolò Machiavelli, the author of “The Prince” and Isabella d’Este, a celebrated patroness of the arts and political figure who was a leader of fashion that influenced women throughout Italy and the French court.
Leonardo was a friend, a colleague, a mentor. He was connected within a community that forged a new way of enlightenment. There was a rediscovering of intellectual ambition, of pushing the boundaries of what was known, always demanding a high level of achievement. The Renaissance was a coming together of art, science and philosophy. Radical and challenging, this was a time of opportunity.
Leonardo died in 1519. Thirty-one years later in 1550, Giorgio Vasari published his “Lives of the Artists”. His praise for Leonardo was evident in these simple, yet profound words:
“The loss of Leonardo was mourned out of measure by all who had known him, for there was none who had done such honor to painting.…Indeed as Florence had the greatest of gifts in his birth, so she suffered an infinite loss in his death.”
This year, 500 years later, we celebrate a man who saw the future in ways that have yet to be understood.