Leonardo da Vinci
first in his mind then in his hands!
Florentine artist, one of the great masters of the High Renaissance
expressing his thoughts about the new Renaissance'
Appearing at The JakArt@2008 General Conference
AUG 2, Teater Kecil, TIM

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. The world is a stage, life a passage, you came, you saw, you left. Sometimes you return. My name is Leonardo da Vinci. This gathering is of particular interest to me personally because, as you know, I, myself, organized performances, festivals, and celebrations. Indeed, life without celebrations is like a long road without inns.

Not only did I organize performances, festivals and celebrations, but I also designed theatrical machines and sets for spectacles, like, in 1490,  for the Festa del Paradiso, I created a complicated theatrical machine that reproduced the heavens, the planets and the stars with special effects provided by moving parts and the play of lights. 

You might also be interested to know that I have brought with me my famous automated lion which I used to display around the festivals I organized. If you are lucky you might be able to catch a glimpse of it somewhere in the courtyard moving about, advancing or rearing up on its hind legs, or opening its chest to display the lilies of France within it.

Now, I have been asked to talk about the new renaissance and for that I will have to draw upon my own experiences and observations as I lived them during the days of the Renaissance.

All men posses by nature the desire to know.  Fortunate is he who has studied history.  I was fortunate to study and apprentice in Andrea del Verrocchio’ s workshop together with Sandro Botticelli, Perugino, Lorenzo di Credi and Domenico Ghirlandaio (in whose workshop the young Michelangelo was in his turn to serve his apprenticeship). Training consisted of acquiring a wide range of skills, not only in the field of painting and sculpture but also in the new technical and scientific conquests that were the vital factor in the flowering Florentine Renaissance, which was pervaded by concepts of Brunelleschi, who had established the principles of linear perspective and had raised the cupola over the Duomo without a supporting frame. The great copper sphere that was placed upon the marble lantern to complete the dome was fabricated in Verrocchio’s workshop.  In Rome, over 40 years later, the memory of this feat was still vivid in my mind as I endeavored to solve the problem of constructing burning mirrors.

The libraries of monasteries, full of treatises and manuscripts, were invaluable for our education and research. We were encouraged to relentlessly search for knowledge, to question, analyze, and to reason, because reason is the criterion as the senses deceive.  We studied ancient Greek manuscripts and were inspired by the thoughts, ideas and observations of the philosophers, poets, orators, historians, and artists of that period. We witnessed a revival of the ancient Greek thinking and culture.

Know thyself. Provide yourself with wisdom from youth to old age, because it is a more lasting possession than anything else. Think before you speak. Think; in this world second thoughts, it seems, are best. Nothing is accidental, all things happen for some reason or necessity. Wise time discovers all.

Thus I was prepared for a life of creation and invention, of research and inquiry, which would preoccupy me for the rest of my life, propelling me to study painting and sculpture, architecture and music, engineering, mathematics and geometry, hydraulic engineering, anatomy, the properties of herbs, physiognomy and analysis of movement, the flight of birds, the movement of water, the motions of the sky, the behavior of the sun and the course of the moon…….. and to record my observations in my notebooks, the codices: “The moon is dense. All dense bodies are heavy. How stays, then, the moon?” Or, “The span of a man’s open arms is equal to his height.” And, “With how many words could you describe this heart except by filling a book……”

Reality is both one and many. All is flux, nothing stays still.  And as the water you touch in rivers is the last….of that which went, and the first of that which is arriving, so is the present time. You cannot swim twice in the same river.

That was Renaissance education and I already knew at a young age that according to the different cases I will compose an infinite variety of things…..

Power reveals the man. The duty of a good leader is to do as much good as possible for his country. I believe that if a city as a whole is prosperous it serves its citizens much better than when each citizen is happy separately but the city as a whole is miserable. Cities must be adorned with statues, souls, and virtue. Seek the company of capable men. Mingle with eminent personages.  Strive to create atmospheres of intellectual stimuli  because they confer prestige by creating a refined humanistic ambience.  But remember, show not pride when wealthy, nor undue servility when poor.

Measure in all things.    

One can safely use neither a horse without a rein nor money without prudence.

Without the  support and patronage of our enlightened leaders I doubt if much could have been achieved. Without Lorenzo de Medici, known as Lorenzo the Magnificent, the arts would not have flourished, not only in Florence, but throughout Italy. Without the help and support of il Moro, Ludovicio Sforza, , in whose court I stayed for 17 years, I would have never designed the ideal city, built on several levels, based on the principle of separating its various functions, and probably would have never developed my theory of the Paragone, in which I established the supremacy of painting over the other forms of art (i.e. poetry, sculpture and music). That is when I observed that music can be called no other than the  sister of painting…..it composes harmony by conjoining its proportional parts…  painting reigns supreme because it does not die immediately after its creation, as does hapless music, but remains in being…. Now see which is more pertinent to man, the name of man or the likeness of man? The name of man is different in different countries, but the form is changed only by death……..how many pictures have conserved the image of divine beauty that time or death has destroyed in such short time…..

As Sophocles said:

The gods alone are given immunity from age and death;
But nothing else escapes all-ruinous time.
Earth’s might decays, the might of men decays.
Honor grows cold, dishonor flourishes.
There is no constancy ‘twixt friend and friend,
Or city and city, be it soon or late,
Sweet turns to bitter, hate once more to love.
The affairs of man are cyclical by nature.

Enlightened leaders! Leaders aware that the foundation of happiness is freedom and that freedom of speech is an important thing. The Golden Century of Athens would have never happened without Pericles who understood the importance of philosophy and the arts in governing. Likewise, Hellenistic culture would have not dominated the world for so long had not Alexander the Great, student of Aristotle and ardent reader of Homer, understood the value of the arts and culture. The duchess Isabella d’ Este, the government of the Most Serene Republic of Venice, Gonfaloniere Pier Soderini, leader of the Republic of Florence, Guiliano de’ Medici, son of Lorenzo and brother of the Pope Leo X, and Francois I of France, were all patrons of mine and I consider them enlightened leaders.

The road up and the road down are one and the same. A bad beginning makes a bad ending. Ambition muddles the mind of man. Peoples views differ not with regard to the political system but to their own personal interests. All men by nature tend to wrong doing in both private and public life. Those who get rich from the administration of public affairs become immediately unjust, they scheme and fight against the people. No life passes without sorrow.

Consider this to be my bitter experience, in my capacity as “Architect and General Engineer”, during the unfortunate year that I entered the service of Cesare Borgia, son of Pope Alexander IV,  probably better know to most of you as the model of Machiavelli’s the Prince, and whom I abandoned to his enterprise which was doomed to fail. If kings do not reflect, it is impossible to be relieved of evil.

A soul cannot see beauty if it is not beautiful itself. So let every man first become divine and beautiful if he wants to see God and this beauty.  He who paints a figure, if he cannot be that figure he cannot paint it.

The face which in painting gazed at the master who paints it, is always looking back at all those who gaze at it.

Sensible people must first consider the result of their action and only then carry it out.  When you make your figure consider well what it is and what you want it to do, and be sure that the work reflects the intention and the purpose.

No figure can be deemed praiseworthy unless it expresses through its acts, as far as possible, the passion of its soul.

Drops of water can make holes in rocks. Drawn on by my ardent desire, yearning to see the great number of strange and various forms created by the artifice of nature, wandering long amid the shadowy rocks, I came to the entrance of a great cavern… I was assailed at once by two things, fear and desire, fear of the dark, threatening cavern, desire to see if any miraculous thing should lie within it.

The earth is mother to all. We are all of earth and water made. Life in agreement with nature is the same as virtuous life, because virtue is the end to which nature leads us.  

And you, Oh man, who will discern in my work of the wonderful works of Nature, if you should think it would be a criminal thing to destroy it, reflect how much more criminal is to take the life of a man; and if this , his external form, appears to thee, marvelously constructed, remember that it is nothing compared with the soul that dwells in that structure; and truly, whatever it may be, it is a thing divine, so let it dwell in its work in peace, and do not let your rage or malice destroy such a life. The human body is an admirable machine invented by Nature, which instills into it the soul of which the body is the container, that is, the soul of the mother, who first composes in her womb the figure of the man and in due time wakens the soul of which it is the inhabitant, which before remained sleeping and protected by his mother’s soul. The soul gives birth to the soul, the body to the body … and every other member. Leave the crowned letters alone, because they are the highest truth. This discourse…… concerns the composition of animated bodies. And the rest of the definition of the soul I will live to the mind of the friars, fathers of the people, who by inspiration know all of the secrets.

I grow old ever learning.
Let us turn totally inwards. God is not outside any being.
He is within all beings, but they do not know it.
They become remote from Him or rather from their own selves.
The wise man is turned toward himself and finds all things therein.

If I do not know something I don’t claim to know it.  Yet, what I have seen during my brief return in the 21st century is that now everyone seems to know everything.  For all the great advances of technology education is superficial. Half truths prevail. Mediocrity is the established standard governed by considerations of material gain. It is no longer fashionable to advise the youth: “Be not fond of acquiring goods, and enjoy them in moderation”.  People are no longer aware that it is more difficult to keep goods than to acquire them. The pursuit of happiness is now equated with the pursuit of profit. Look at my beautiful Gioconda reproduced as wrapping for chocolates, my Mona Lisa on bathroom tiles! Today’ s culture has been reduced to soap operas, reality shows, idols, and instant fame and man wants to gain happiness without labor. Today more than ever the acts of man are fleeting.   

As the organizers of this conference wrote to me:

Today we live in a world of blurred distinctions in which the imaginary and the real intertwine, a world of intrigue and deceit in which reality and morality can be neatly rearranged and packaged for mass consumption with the ultimate aim of creating a global docile consumer society that subscribes to content conformity.  

Fantasy is ever increasingly disguised and sold as reality by those who wish to promote their products whether these are consumer goods, services, information, the news, the arts, spiritual and religious beliefs and opinions, wars, or entertainment. As a result reality for the masses has been degraded to what can be described as displaced materialized fantasies in which fantasy and imagination have no place. This reality is powered and reinforced by strong conceptualizations, such as “professionalism”, “expertise”, and so on……; concepts that belong to the imaginary but cross the line to render reality more real. Conversely, that which is truly real is, with alarmingly increasing frequency, assigned to the realm of the imaginary. Today we live in a world where everything has been turned upside down.

Culture is dead and needs to be revived.
What’s done is known,
What’s to come is not.
As long as we live we hope.   
God gave man great patience to deal with incurable ills.    
I will not advise the pleasant but the proper. What we deplore we should not imitate.   
Do not beautify your appearance but in your works be good. Do not become rich unjustly.

Do nothing for the sake of money because wealth without virtue is no safe neighbor. Say not little in many words, but much in few. When you give your word keep it. It is not the oath that makes us believe the man but the man the oath.  As time delivers foolish men from pain and reason intelligent men, 
remember, God helps those who help themselves.

He who paints a figure, if he cannot be that figure he cannot paint it.

And so the painter is like an actor who must identify himself with the personage to be interpreted. He must learn the part. Only in this way will the character impersonated – in this case the painted figure- will be able to attract the spectator. He who paints a figure, if he cannot be that figure he cannot paint it.

Ensure that the work resembles the intent and the purpose, that is, when you make your figure, consider what it is and what you want it to do. And thus the painter has to be capable of being both actor and director.

If the painter wishes to see beauty that enthralls him, he is master to create it, and if he wishes to see monstrous things that are frightening, or that are funny or laughable, or truly compassionate, he is their lord and god……… And in effect, all that exists in the universe as essence, presence or imagination, he has it first in his mind, and then in his hands.




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