Was Leonardo da Vinci religioes

His pictures were the most expensive on the art market, 500 years ago: But Leonardo da Vinci was more than a brilliant painter

Not everyone who wanted a work from him received one thing: Leonardo da Vinci was famous even during his lifetime. Even for pictures that never existed. And his inventions reach far beyond his time.

Leonardo da Vinci is a world star. An Internet search engine reports 190 million hits for his name. Judging by this, he is the most famous artist on the globe alongside Pablo Picasso. A picture of the blessing Christ attributed to him fetched the highest price ever paid for a work of art at auction, namely over 450 million dollars; the "New York Times" reported that a drawing that appeared in 2016, showing Saint Sebastian, is expected to generate proceeds of $ 68 million.

Leonardo's portrait and images of his works can be found on stamps and coins, adorned boxes of chocolates and the labels of wine and grappa bottles. He is the hero of the television series "Da Vinci’s Demons"; the legends surrounding him provided the material for Dan Brown's “Da Vinci Code”. Pizzerias and perfumes, Rome's airport and a rose bear his name. Even the statement “Leonardo designed a functioning motor-driven helicopter” is now correct, as the Italian technology group “Finmeccanica”, which also manufactures helicopters, changed its name to “Leonardo SpA” a few years ago.

The fame of the man from Vinci has patina; he's half a millennium old. Leonardo was already considered an exceptional artist during his lifetime. He was called a "new Apelles" after the mythical ancient painter; Sonnets sang his pictures. The quality of his work was proverbial. "He is completely the father and looks like you," wrote a certain Luca Ugolini to Machiavelli when he congratulated him on the birth of his son Bernardo. "Leonardo da Vinci couldn't have portrayed him better."

Royal courage

By far the most important agent of Leonardo's fame was Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574), himself a painter and architect, and the author of a collection of over 300 artist biographies. He admired the man from Vinci so much that he painted his portrait on a wall in the drawing room of his Florentine house, alongside portraits of the most important Italian artists. Her series begins with Cimabue, Giotto, Brunelleschi and Donatello. As a counterpart at eye level, he gave Leonardo none other than Michelangelo, with whom - in the eyes of the host - the arts had reached their absolute peak.

Vasari was an ardent Tuscan patriot. It is always important to him to put his own compatriots in the right light. He writes about Leonardo: «With his birth Florence truly received the greatest gift of all. There was much strength in him, combined with skill; his spirit and courage were regal and generous; and the fame of his name spread widely, so that he was praised not only in his time but even more after his death by those born after him. "

Leonardo's career was brilliant. From 1481 he stayed at the court of the Sforza in Milan for almost two decades. Products from this period include portraits of women, the two versions of the “Madonna in the rock grotto” and the “Last Supper” in the refectory of the Santa Maria delle Grazie monastery. The completion of a seven-meter-high equestrian statue of Francesco Sforza, the founder of the dynasty, failed due to a lack of money. Whether the casting of the giant statue would have been technically possible is controversial.

The most divine of all artists

After the fall of the Duke of Sforza, brought about by a French invasion army in 1500, Leonardo had to look for new clients. He finally found her in Florence. A cardboard box depicting Mary, St. Anna and the Christ Child, which he exhibited in the convent of a Florentine monastery, caused a sensation. Men and women, old and young, came into the room to look at him, says Vasari. "Just as one goes to a solemn festival, they came to see the miracles of Leonardo, which amazed all the people."

In 1504 the government gave him an important project. In the great hall of the Palazzo Vecchio he was to put up a monumental mural: the "Battle of Anghiari", in which Florence had defeated Milan in 1440. "Because of the excellence of this most divine artist, his fame had grown so much that the city wanted him to leave a memory", commented Vasari on the prestigious commission. However, Leonardo did not bring it to an end, nor did the Milan monument.

He had used an inadequately documented painting technique of ancient origin, encaustic, which uses wax as a binding agent. As soon as you painted it on the wall, the colors peeled off again. Finally, an exasperated Leonardo stopped fiddling around. In 1506 he went to Milan. But his designs and copies of the little that could still be seen on the wall of the room for some time inspired generations of artists, including Rubens and Delacroix.

The main thing is a «Leonardo»!

Milan's new masters had already become aware of Leonardo. The humanist Paolo Giovio tells King Louis XII. would have loved to break the "Last Supper" out of the wall and have it transported to France. Leonardo received orders and a position as a "proper painter and engineer". When conditions in Milan became uncertain again in the shadow of the threat posed by an anti-French alliance, he followed Giuliano de ’Medici, a brother of Pope Leo X, to Rome. He stayed there from 1513 to 1516. He spent the last years of his life as a guest of Francis I in Amboise on the Loire, where he died on May 2, 1519.

Leonardo apparently seldom or never suffered from a lack of money, although he produced few paintings. Hardly a dozen indisputably handwritten paintings have survived. Some of them, such as the “Mona Lisa”, never came into the possession of those who ordered them. Even a real margravine, Isabella d’Este of Mantua, did not succeed in wresting a picture from the master despite years of efforts.

She had given him all the time in the world and promised to pay any price. The subject didn't matter either. The main thing is that she got a "Leonardo"! Authorship, which today is a self-evident criterion for appreciation and thus the price of a work of art, gained paramount importance for the first time with Leonardo. He has not signed any of his works. A true "Leonardo" should be recognizable even without a signature.

A robot that rattles its jaw

Most of the artists of the Renaissance were simple artisans according to their self-image and in the assessment of their contemporaries. But Leonardo was different. He used to dress elegantly and perfume it with lavender or rose scents. The sources portray him as the perfect courtier. Milan's high society laughed at his jokes and was entertained by the hair-raising stories he told. He is said to have been an excellent singer and knew how to play the Lira da Braccio, a kind of violin. Servants and horses with which he surrounded himself were the status symbols of the first artist prince of modern times.

On the one hand, his prosperity can probably be traced back to the fact that he often sold ideas on his own - designs that he had his workshop carried out. A probably more important source of income came from the organization of pompous processions, parties and theatrical performances, with which Leonardo was employed during his years at the court of the Sforza in Milan and later in the service of the French crown. Here he was also able to demonstrate his abilities as an inventor.

The entertainment of the court audience was provided by a robot that could take a few steps and click its jaw. The sources also know of a mechanical lion. The creature took a few steps and opened its metal breast: lilies sprout from it - allegory of the alliance between the Medici and Valois-Orléans dynasties, both of which had such flowers in their arms.

The folds of the tablecloth

The construction of such automatons is likely to have earned Leonardo no less fame than his most beautiful pictures, since they showed their creator as the master of the mysterious mechanical arts. Around 1500 a skilled technician was considered more than a painter or sculptor. In his autobiography, the goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini talks for pages about the casting of his “Perseus”, and the architect Domenico Fontana was not as famous for any of his buildings as he was for the erection of the obelisk in front of St. Peter in 1586. Leonardo should also use the professional title “Ingeniarius »-« Engineer »- with which he was occasionally thought of and carried with pride. His tireless exploration of screws and gears, statics and mechanics had practical reasons.

With a few pictures he had shown what he was capable of when he only wanted and the circumstances were right. His "Last Supper", which began to decline soon after completion, still fascinates as a ruin. The composition of the picture was completely new. Details such as pewter plates, wine glasses and even the folds of the tablecloth are painted with a subtle realism that must have seemed breathtaking to contemporaries. Vasari celebrates Leonardo as the founder of a new era in art. His figures have movement and life - "in the right measure, perfect drawing and divine grace, richest abundance and profound art".

Vasari praises the closeness to nature of Leonardo's painting and the "sfumato", the smooth, "smoky" transitions. Indeed, Leonardo created pictures that do not reveal any brushstroke; He achieved this feat most perfectly in the case of "Johannes", which is now in the Louvre. Exact analyzes showed that the painter had spread about 30 wafer-thin glazes on top of each other to achieve the effect. The dreamlike effect of the “Mona Lisa”, which he began working on around 1503, is also primarily due to this technique. Leonardo had mixed the required paints himself.

The picture that never existed

The fact that he had started a lot and then never finished it had not escaped his admirers either. "He made very beautiful drafts, but did not paint much because he was never satisfied with himself," wrote one of his biographers about him. Vasari takes this thought further and gives an apology for the multiple failures. “To tell the truth, it can be assumed that his very great and brilliant mind was prevented from wanting too much. The reason was always excellence over excellence, wanting perfection over perfection. "

Indeed it was. If Leonardo had painted his “Last Supper” using a fresco technique, that is, on damp plaster, it would have been preserved intact. But he worked "al secco", on dry ground. This style of painting favored finely graduated coloring and allowed corrections right up to the end. A serious disadvantage was the short shelf life of the end product. The Anghiari Battle remained the most famous unpainted picture in the world because its creator wanted it to be painted in the most beautiful colors.

Leonardo loved to experiment. His insatiable curiosity extended to all areas of knowledge. He himself once described how, in the evenings and even before he went to sleep, thoughts intruded on him so that he could hardly control them. Utopian projects - a bridge over the Bosporus, a gigantic Arno canal, flying machines - and sprawling publication projects stand alongside realizable ideas such as the construction of ball bearings or a discharge printing process.

"I'm not a penny painter!"

In addition, he tinkered with war machines and parabolic mirrors, designed diving equipment, cranes, kebabs moved by hot air and much more. His attempts to learn from fish or birds make him a pioneer in bionics. The anatomical drawings that he made overshadowed everything that had come before and even for the next two centuries. The fact that he did not publish them any more than other of his inventions and discoveries had nothing to do with secrecy, but rather with the same perfectionism that made it difficult for him to see a picture as "finished". "His mind never calmed down, his mind always invented new things," reports a contemporary witness.

What drove him was the longing for recognition. "Fama", "fame", weighed heavier than money. He promises it to capable painters and no longer just «lode», «praise», which Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472) once promised them. "I'm not a penny painter!" He is said to have snapped at a Florentine cashier when he wanted to pay him his wages in small coins. The painter should correct mistakes immediately and not rely on repairing his reputation with the next picture, says Leonardo. In the end, he will leave a picture that will bring him more honor than money.

He sees art as the “witness and trumpet of fame” of its creator, since it is “the daughter of him who creates it, and not the stepdaughter like money”. Leonardo's most famous avowal of fame offers a note from around 1505: "The great bird will take its first flight from the back of the great swan, and it will fill the universe with astonishment and all writings with its fame." The “big swan” means Monte Ceceri near Fiesole; «Cecero» is the Italian word for «swan». However, there is no evidence that Leonardo actually attempted flights here or had them carried out by an assistant. Nevertheless, the words can be found carved in stone on a monument on site and, pompously set to music, as the leitmotif of the computer game "Civilization VI".

An enchanting smile

The highest prices were always paid for Leonardo's art. The most expensive painting as early as the 17th century and not just in our time was a «Venus» ascribed to him, perhaps a workshop variant of his «Leda». The “Last Supper”, which is still one of the most famous works of art on the globe, found numerous copyists over the years. And Salvador Dalí and Andy Warhol were also inspired by it. The admirers were joined by mockers who targeted the Leonardo hype. Donald Duck and Homer Simpson took their places at the "Last Supper" table, and Marcel Duchamp adorned the "Mona Lisa" with a little beard.

The world career of the "Mona Lisa" began in the 19th century when she took up lodging in the Louvre. The imagination of the English essayist Walter Pater turned her into a man-murdering vampire. Sigmund Freud read from her faint smile the memory of Leonardo's blissful childhood with an early erotic bond with his own mother. The truth is simpler. It is now known that Leonardo worked on a portrait of Lisa, wife of the Florentine merchant Francesco del Giocondo, in 1503. Her enchanting smile is probably an allusion to the name of the person portrayed: “giocondo” means nothing other than “cheerful”.

The whole dimension of the cosmos encompassed by Leonardo's thought had been revealed to research when his notes were published. A milestone was the publication of some of his most important texts by Jean Paul Richter, the first volume of which appeared in 1883. Leonardo left behind more texts than any other Renaissance artist. The 6,000 or so leaves that have survived are just a remnant of the legacy that had been scattered in the 16th century: architectural drawings, shopping lists, puzzles, geometric figures and drawings, some of which are among the most famous in European art.

Arms for the princes

Draft letters can be found alongside philosophical discussions, book lists, Latin vocabulary and scientific texts. Some of it is crystal clear, others incomprehensible - scraps of sentences, sketches that are difficult to interpret. Leonardo sensed the wave nature of light and was perhaps for a moment close to discovering the bloodstream. He once wrote: "Put on glasses to see the moon big." Was he already thinking of building a telescope? Did he develop a bicycle with an endless chain and pedal drive? A drawing led to this conclusion; but it is a modern fake.

The sources show Leonardo as a contradicting character. Anything but a devout Christian, he created some of the most beautiful holy images in Christian art. At least in his later years, he seems to have been a vegetarian, otherwise known as an animal lover. He once called the war "completely bestial madness" and nevertheless designed murderous weapons, and was also at the service of terrible princes like Ludovico Sforza and Cesare Borgia.

Sometimes he was cheerful - "it is the same to speak well of a sad person as to speak ill of a good person" - and sometimes melancholy. "O jealous old man!" He wrote around 1480, barely thirty years old."You destroy everything with the hard teeth of old age, piece by piece with slow death!" In his opinion, one could gain a piece of eternity with works alone. Inactive people are nothing but bags of food and passages for excrement.

Was Mona Lisa a woman?

Some of Leonardo's works today experience an almost religious veneration. Watch the viewer of the “Burlington House Cartoon”, which shows Mary, St. Anna, the Christ Child and John! It can be seen in a small room in the National Gallery of London. In order to protect the colors of the drawing, the cabinet is darkened. There is an almost sacred atmosphere. In the twilight people remain in silence, at best whispering. Not much was missing for them to kneel down in front of the glass shrine that protects the picture - in 1987 a mentally ill person fired a rifle shot at it and destroyed a lot of Maria's dress. In a disenchanted world, the art of the “most divine” becomes a substitute for holy relics.

Leonardo's fame does not have its reasons solely in his works and the traces that his thinking left behind. Rather, it comes from what one does not know, but only guesses. Overly banal things - such as the Mona Lisa smiling because her name is «del Giocondo» - was simply not credited to him. Jacob Burckhardt had already stated that "the immense outlines of Lionardo's being can only be guessed at from afar forever." The cabinet of curiosities of "Leonardism" is richly equipped. Could the Titan be the scion of a simple peasant girl? They set about reconstructing their fingerprints and found a suspicious "Y" -shaped line that was supposed to be an unmistakable indication of an oriental origin.

Leonardo's mother, Caterina, mutated into an oriental slave. And the androgynous «naked Mona Lisa», a strange variant not painted by Leonardo himself, gave rise to the idea that the original was modeled on a man - and that he should have been none other than Leonardo's factotum and alleged bedfellow Salai. The thesis was supported by the decoding of the words “Mona Lisa” as an anagram: By rearranging the letters, “mon Salai”, “my Salai” resulted!

Soaring plans

The chaotic source situation opened wide spaces for speculation. The man who despised all magical hocus-pocus was characterized as an Italian Doctor Faust. The handsome, personable and accordingly valued courtier saw himself as an outsider, indeed made a rebel. But there is not a single evidence that contemporaries would have seen him that way. He was denounced twice for homosexuality; but the advertisements were inconsequential.

Only his closest friends knew about his idiosyncratic worldview. And if the legend has Leonardo cut up corpses in dark vaults, always in fear of the Inquisition, the truth may have been less dramatic. Sections were tolerated in his day. Occasionally they took place in public. In 1517, Leonardo showed his anatomical drawings in his Cloux residence to visitors, among whom was a Neapolitan cardinal, without prejudice, even with pride.

Even a critical study of the sources conveys only vague ideas of the true Leonardo, old Burckhardt was certainly right. But if there was an artist who resembled the "renaissance man" from a distance - that golem created in the 19th century - it was most likely the man from Vinci: with his lofty plans, his horizons encompassing the universe, his infinite curiosity and his great art.

Bernd Roeck is professor emeritus for general and Swiss modern history at the University of Zurich. At the beginning of this year, C. H. Beck published his book «Leonardo. The man who wanted to know »appeared.