[NetBehaviour] Interesting 2019 book, "Leonardo's Paradox" by Joost Keizer

Max Herman maxnmherman at hotmail.com
Tue Jul 6 23:35:37 CEST 2021

Hi all,

I just got this book last week and it has some amazing material about Leonardo and writing.  It compares aspects of Leonardo's process to modern artists such as Twombly and I believe also to a variety of theorists including Benjamin.  The relationship of writing, speaking, and visual perception to time is a focus as well.

In studying Leonardo's notebooks last month, specifically the Paris Manuscripts, I noticed a funny kind of character Leonardo seemed to use as a "signature" of sorts in the notebooks at either the start or end of the notebook or both.  It started off in the earlier MS's (there are about a dozen) like a scrolling S with a line segment bisecting it.  It later evolves to a variety of forms, some like a cursive L with a circle at the end, or just a circle with a line through it, etc.

In any case, in Leonardo's Paradox by Joost Keizer he discusses many passages from Leonardo's writings comparing writing to drawing, the relationship of speech to words and images, and the role of the body in writing in pen and ink (as opposed to the printed word).  Overall it's just a fascinating book and I'm only done with the first chapter.

Keizer includes an amazing story about Dante I'd never heard.  In the Convivio, or Banquet, kind of a compendium of knowledge Dante wrote before the Commedia, Dante sets forth a theory about language as a system of knots.  Letters are variations of knotted line segments, which are knotted into words, then into sentences, etc.  To illustrate he cites the archaic word "auieo," meaning "to tie words together," from which the word "author" is derived.  He goes on to show that auieo, derivation unknown, is a knot made of the vowels A, E, I, O, U, a line drawn through them in the order of first, last, middle, second, fourth.  This knot is illustrated in the Convivio IV.vi, link below, and shares several similarities with the "signature" symbols of the Paris Manuscripts.

Keizer also discusses a very interesting Leonardo quote I had never heard before:  In the ideal world the painter "sits in front of [their] work with great ease, well-dressed and wielding the lightest brush with charming colors.  [Their] clothing is ornamented according to [their] pleasure."  It requires too much of a stretch not to get the metaphor, especially since it was Leonardo who created a separate study area or studio separate from the bustling workshop (bottega) in which his books and writing materials were kept and to which he could retreat for peace and quiet.  Very interesting too is how he organized this space of seclusion, which was very similar to the office of a notary (writer of contracts) like his father and grandfather were, and that an artist's studio became the modern norm.  He also used a variation of the handwriting style of notaries in his notebooks using many of their conventions for abbreviation, authentication, and so forth.

Even more strange is the light in which all this puts the bridge in the Mona Lisa, since it forms a primary visual chiasm of the work.

All best,




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