I’m a bit of a polymath so of course Leonardo da Vinci has long been one of my idols. In fact the more common phrase “Renaissance man” is used instead of polymath despite its sexism. The popularity of this sexist phrase is due in large part to Leonardo da Vinci and his many, diverse accomplishments.
So I was pleased one Christmas to receive from my brother a book entitled The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci. The first thing I did was peruse the table of contents. One of the headings was entitled Comparison of the Arts. Who better than Leonardo, I thought, to contrast and compare diverse subjects. I was shocked at what I found when I turned to the section.
It begins ignobly: “How painting surpasses all human works…”. Further down it gets more to the crux of its arguments, “And if the poet serves the understanding by way of the ear, the painter does so by the eye, which is the nobler sense.”
It’s a comparison between the art of painting and the art of poetry. And Leonardo is slandering poetry heavily while praising painting. The section then gets into sculpture and Leonardo claims painting is more intellectual than sculpture. But let’s get back to poetry and painting. Leonardo went down a few notches in my estimation with his bile.
First of all I gather that Leonardo wasn’t considered to be good at poetry. So we have a chink in his armour of being totally rounded. And secondly it seems so immature to praise something you are good at while simultaneously dismissing something you are not so good at. Don’t get me wrong, Leonardo could write. The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci runs over one thousand pages, so obviously he could write. But it seems he had no place for poetry.
I’m kind of like Leonardo in that I’ve never picked up a book of poetry on its own. Still I love music and in the present age that also means a love of lyrics. You can see this leads to a healthy respect for the poetry that shaped and forms the basis of lyrics. And, indeed I think my way led me to think no art is superior to another or inferior.
I see you people who are bringing up mimes. Some fine arts have more breadth than others but I stand by the superior/inferior thing.
So probably my biggest hero has fallen. He’s not down to nothing, there are some brilliant things in this book. Like everyone else I’ve known, there is a weak spot in Leonardo where the average person can look slightly down. And here I am surrounded by fallen idols. Guess I’ll just have to continue thinking for myself. There won’t be that one magic person who I can always defer to.
Yes Pink Floyd I traded my heroes for ghosts. I thought that was safe when ghosts included the likes of Leonardo da Vinci. And now I find that today’s standards surprise, surprise, aren’t being met by these long ago heroes.