Leda And The Swan, Leonardo da Vinci's Masterpice by Ton Pascal


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“Leda And The Swan”, by Leonardo da Vinci, is one of history’s great art losses. From the surviving copies we can see its beauty, the masterly composition, and the complex emblematic symbolism. Leonardo went beyond the sexual act portrayed until then about this mythic story. The great popularity of this subject n the sixteenth century was due to the fact that it was then more acceptable to depict a woman having an act of copulation with an animal than with a man.

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Leda And The Swan, Leonardo da Vinci's Masterpice by Ton Pascal

  1. 1.     Leonardo da Vinci’s Masterpiece “Leda And The Swan”Leonardo wasn’t a prolific painter. Because he believed that the original idea wasthe most important element in any artistic, creative process, he often only did thedrawing studies, notes, or a detailed cartoon, and that not too often, of what hismind was feverishly creating. The completion of the work in question, be it amachine, a weapon, an ornament, a monument, or a painting, wasn’t his primeconcern. And that put a lot of people off, as was the case with Pope Leo X, hisreluctant patron from 1515 to 1516, who could hardly stand Leonardo’s sight. ThePope once remarked on this particular behavior of Leonardo to a Cardinal: “Theman is useless, he never finished a small commission I gave him last year and he isalready daydreaming something else. He expects me to give him the commission tocomplete Bramante’s work on Saint Peter’s Square and the Basilica, can youbelieve it?” “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“Leda And The Swan” by Francesco Melzi, copied Zeus, disguised as a Swan. No humanfrom Leonardo’s original, ca. 1508-1515. Oil and couple had ever been portrayed by anyresin on wood, 130 x 77.5 cm. Galleria degli Uffizi, master artist of the same period in theFlorence, Italy. Leda remains an extremeexample of Leonardos love of twisting forms. same way.    1 
  2. 2.    The great popularity of this subject in the sixteenth century was due to a fact that itwas then more acceptable to depict a woman having an act of copulation with ananimal than with a man. Also lost, is Michelangelos painting of the pair making love, commissioned in 1529 by Alfonso dEste. (On the left) It was last seen in 1536 at Fontainebleau. Michelangelo gave this painting’s original cartoon to his assistant, Antonio Mini, who used it for several copies before his early death in 1533.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 thenight of her wedding to Tyndareus, King of Sparta.From this double liaison, Queen Leda bore two eggs, from which hatched two setsof twins. In one egg was Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra, and in the other, Castorand Pollux. The other version of the same legend, says that from these encountersLeda bore four children. First she laid two eggs. In one egg was Helen and in theother was Castor, sired by Zeus, half gods themselves. Afterwards, by naturalchildbirth and therefore human, she gave birth to Clytemnestra and Pollux, fatheredby 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.    2 
  3. 3.    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 theireggs, 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 hischildren 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, hecreated Gemini.Lomazzo, a sixteenth century writer,reports that Leonardo’s “Leda And TheSwan”, was taken to France. Cassianode Pozzo, an Italian scholar, patron ofarts, and antiquary, saw the painting atFontainebleau in 1625. He describes itin full detail: "a standing figure of Ledaentirely naked, with the swan. At herfeet, two eggs, from whose brokenshells come forth four babies. Thispiece, though somewhat dry in style, isexquisitely finished, especially in thewomans breast; and for the rest thelandscape and the plant life arerendered with the greatest diligence.Unfortunately, the picture is in a badway because it is done on three longpanels which have split apart andbroken off a certain amount of paint".The Venetian playwright and librettist,Carlo Osvaldo Goldoni, visitedVersailles in 1775, and couldn’t find Cesare Sesto, ca. 1505-1510 copy of Leonardo’sany trace of Leonardo’s painting. He ‘Leda And The Swan” He changed the background,adds on his journal that he didn’t find adding his own personal touch, which was a normalLeonardo’s “Leda” even in the list of the procedure then, but the rest is the same as thepalace’s pictures considered obscene original.and ordered destroyed by the vicious, self-righteous and most hated court royalty ofthe 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 thesocial limelight. In 1949, after the bombardment of Hiroshima, a young SalvadorDali, paid homage to Leonardo by unveiling his version of a Leda in the twentiethcentury. Dali’s “Leda Atomica”, a 61.1 x 45.3 cm, oil on canvas, was organizedaccording to a rigid mathematical framework, following the "divine proportion"recommended to him by Romanian Mathematician Matila Ghyka.    3 
  4. 4.    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 thegeneral public. Last month a couple of seemingly unskilled, and utterly righteouscops raided a gallery in London, England, for having a picture of “Leda And TheSwan” on the window. The law enforcement officers claimed that the Gallery waspromoting sexual aberrations and practice of bestiality. The owners were ordered totake the picture down immediately, or else… They took it out.Is Leonardo’s masterpiece going to show up some day? One never knows but Ihope so… if we can keep these cops away.Ton PascalTon Pascal is a writer, designer of all things and artist. He also loves history and isan avid reader, so it is very natural that his latest book is a time leap into the 16thcentury. LEONARDO THE LAST YEARS starts in 1516 and spans three and a halfyears of Leonardo da Vinci’s life.Book’s Web site: http://www.leonardo-tly.com/Book on Amazon.com http://amzn.to/HhNUKN    4