[NetBehaviour] Dante and Leonardo

Max Herman maxnmherman at hotmail.com
Tue Mar 2 17:48:22 CET 2021


Hi Graziano,

I really appreciate the helpful context about Giotto!  I have admired his painting for a long time but never studied it in detail and never realized he was a friend and contemporary of Dante.  I also didn't know the praise you cite of Giotto by Leonardo, but that is a fantastic statement!  It really captures a lot about Leonardo's personality at least to me.

Absolutely I have gotten the sense from Leonardo that directly engaging with nature is at the core of "esperienza," as in the following quotations:

"Experience, the interpreter between formative nature and the human race, teaches how that nature acts among mortals; and being constrained by necessity cannot act otherwise than as reason, which is its helm, requires her to act."

"Experience does not err; only your judgments err by expecting from her what is not in her power. Men wrongly complain of Experience; with great abuse they accuse her of leading them astray but they set Experience aside, turning from it with complaints as to our ignorance causing us to be carried away by vain and foolish desires to promise ourselves, in her name, things that are not in her power; saying that she is fallacious. Men are unjust in complaining of innocent Experience, constantly accusing her of error and of false evidence."

"sound rules are the issue of sound experience — the common mother of all the sciences and arts."

I will now have to study some Giotto as well!  🙂

All very best,

Max


________________________________
From: NetBehaviour <netbehaviour-bounces at lists.netbehaviour.org> on behalf of Graziano Milano via NetBehaviour <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>
Sent: Tuesday, March 2, 2021 7:48 AM
To: NetBehaviour for networked distributed creativity <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>
Cc: Graziano Milano <grazmaster at googlemail.com>
Subject: Re: [NetBehaviour] Dante and Leonardo

Hi Max,

The most famous artist who portrayed Dante was his fellow citizen and friend Giotto.

Giotto depicted Dante, dressed in red, at the center of a fresco representing the Paradise in the Podestà Chapel at the Bargello Palace Museum in Florence.

[Dante-Alighieri portrait by Giotto.jpg]

Giotto was born in 1267 in or around Florence. His early years were spent as an apprentice to Cimabue, another great Florentine painter. He was recognised, in his own lifetime, as being a revolutionary who evolved the earlier, flat, decorative Byzantine-style into three-dimensional realism. Giotto is the master of masters - the father of modern art as his approach provided inspiration for the Florentine Renaissance and, more widely, Renaissance Art throughout Europe.

Giotto met Dante in Padova while he was painting the Scrovegni Chapel’s Frescoes which were completed around 1305. The fresco cycle depicts the Life of the Virgin and the Life of Christ with marvellously explicit medieval gestures, peasant bodies, ordinary yet monumental faces. It is regarded as one of the supreme masterpieces of the Early Renaissance.
https://www.italian-renaissance-art.com/Scrovegni-Chapel.html

Giotto's greatness was not only renowned among artist circles during his lifetime. He was also immortalized by Dante in The Divine Comedy when a painter in Purgatorio (XI, 94-96) said: “Cimabue believed that he held the field in painting, and now Giotto has the cry, so the fame of the former is obscure.”

And Leonardo da Vinci regarded Giotto as his greatest predecessor by saying: “He was born in the mountains, where only goats and beasts of that kind live.”

Leonardo said this was because he did not learn from masters, but drew directly from nature. It was because Giotto was an unspoiled rustic, sketching as he tended his flocks, that he became great, thought Leonardo – because nature is the true teacher.

All the best,
Graziano



On Mon, 1 Mar 2021 at 20:52, Max Herman via NetBehaviour <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org<mailto:netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>> wrote:

Hi Paolo,

Your points are excellent -- I was quoting there the Ciardi translation, which has some advantages over say the Longfellow translation, but absolutely he made lots of judgement calls and unhelpful interpretation.  I have tried to view the Italian original (shown side-by-side in a user-friendly format at https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/) especially for key references to the word "esperienza" or garment, but absolutely my not knowing the original is a huge deficiency.

I find the section to be very interesting though in part because of the oddness you describe.  Of course it is Virgil speaking, an ancient Roman, so it isn't clear if he is speaking only for ancient Roman myth or somehow reflects what Dante believed.  Medieval thought did have a major role for Fortune, which kind of goes against the idea of being rewarded for virtue and punished for vice.  Then again, the transience of all worldly things is part of most traditions so it is easy to see why Fortune can be incorporated into the Comedia.  Yet to portray Fortune as a good and just entity, beatific even, is different from say the Carmina Burana.

By checking other translations and discussing with friends I did understand that "worldly goods" was perhaps the best translation, sadly accepting that there is no clear mention of garments (and so far I haven't found any metaphoric use of garments or bridges in Dante).  Leonardo did write about Fortune in several cases, so it prompted me to wonder if his understanding of the idea may have had any relationship to Dante's.  Work in progress.  🙂

All best,

Max


________________________________
From: Paolo Ruffino <p.ruffino at gmail.com<mailto:p.ruffino at gmail.com>>
Sent: Monday, March 1, 2021 1:10 PM
To: NetBehaviour for networked distributed creativity <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org<mailto:netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>>
Cc: Max Herman <maxnmherman at hotmail.com<mailto:maxnmherman at hotmail.com>>
Subject: Re: [NetBehaviour] Dante and Leonardo

The original text is quite different. I'm afraid a certain degree of
freedom has been taken when translating the poem in English, perhaps
inevitably. Fortuna administers human's luck, following God's
inscrutable plan, moving wealth across people and places, and it's
impossible for human beings to know the rationale behind the
distribution, how and when it might change. Fortuna's plan is hidden
like a snake in the grass.

I think the 'gears' is translating 'permutasse a tempo li ben vani',
meaning Fortuna is governing and distributing the mundane goods of
Earth on behalf of God. No references to 'garments' in the text,
though. The image evoked is that of the wheel of luck, something that
moves around but remains inscrutable. It's interesting how human
agency is irrelevant in Dante's vision.

Colui lo cui saver tutto trascende,
fece li cieli e diè lor chi conduce
sì, ch’ogne parte ad ogne parte splende,

distribuendo igualmente la luce.
Similemente a li splendor mondani
ordinò general ministra e duce

che permutasse a tempo li ben vani
di gente in gente e d’uno in altro sangue,
oltre la difension d’i senni umani;

per ch’una gente impera e l’altra langue,
seguendo lo giudicio di costei,
che è occulto come in erba l’angue.



On Mon, 1 Mar 2021 at 17:18, Max Herman via NetBehaviour
<netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org<mailto:netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>> wrote:
>
>
> Hi Graziano,
>
> This is marvelous information and greatly appreciated!  I would love to be able to travel to Florence or Ravenna to see the events you speak of but may have to participate virtually.
>
> I agree the original name being "Comedia" is a wonderful bit of background, and Dante's exile from Florence (along with the Gherardini family, to which some say the model for the Mona Lisa belonged).  I'm reading Dante and all about him as fast as I can these days, and finished La Vita Nuova yesterday.  To me he seems clearly the Italian Shakespeare, or really, since Dante was three centuries earlier perhaps it is more appropriate to call Shakespeare the English Dante.
>
> However, several close friends and colleagues have told me that focusing on Leonardo and Dante is a recipe for irrelevance and audience boredom, even suggesting that to discuss Dante verges on divisive denominationalism and that Leonardo is too elite and remote.  I am prone to dissent, but that aside I think Dante and Leonardo were both trying to open up society and bring more equality, freedom, etc., i.e. many of the aspects of modern culture we now take for granted (and sadly see under attack so often of late).  Rather than dismissing both as too obscure or from a separate era I think re-engaging with them might yield surprising results.
>
> I hope to learn much more about Dante as the year proceeds and will certainly view the link you sent.  The concept "re-behold the stars" is a very interesting one, especially since Dante ends each book of the Comedia with the word "stars."  I especially like his ending image, of his awareness and self "revolving" in time with the stars.  (This reflects to me the kind of metaphor that the neuroscience of meditation and many indigenous cultures propose.)  The blending of traditions, such as placing the river Lethe from ancient Roman mythology between Purgatorio and Paradiso, is another instance of cultural openness and comparison which I think is very significant in the Comedia.  Dante's use of the vernacular is of course of huge importance, and occurred some 202 years before Luther published his vernacular translation of the Bible.
>
> I wonder if to "re-behold the stars" could be a time of great cultural progress, hope, and renewal?
>
> In 2019 I was able to travel to Europe and saw a few Leonardo exhibits.  However, I missed the one at the Louvre (because the museum was closed due to strike on the day we set aside to visit) and had limited time.  That trip prompted my interest in Leonardo and has motivated me to study more, and because I have been interested in Calvino since early 2018 and studied literature in school my interest in Leonardo has a strong literary perspective.  (I think this makes sense, in a way, given the sheer volume of his writings on almost every topic imaginable.)  I had also seen an exhibit at the Museo Galileo about Leonardo's library.
>
> Therefore it has surprised me to see that the influence of Dante on Leonardo is said to be minor (see citation below).  I'm very interested to investigate whether the opposite might be true, and if in fact the works of Dante were fundamental to Leonardo's thought and are referenced in much of his work.  This is new research for me, and speculative in some instances, but I do see highly plausible connections.
>
> And both were very interested in astronomy too!
>
> For example I find the following passage, where Dante compares the physics of light to the transience of human luck, very intriguing (from Virgil's description of Fortuna to Dante, Inferno VII.67-96):
>
>
> That king whose perfect wisdom transcends all,
>
> made the heavens and posted angels on them
>
> to guide the eternal light that it might fall
>
>
> from every sphere to every sphere the same.
>
> He made earth's splendors by a like decree
>
> and posted as their minister this high Dame,
>
>
> the Lady of Permutations.  All earth's gear
>
> she changes from nation to nation, from house to house,
>
> in changeless change through every turning year.
>
>
> I am interested in whether "gear" can be translated as "garment" as well as "goods," since clothing is often a core attribute of Fortuna (i.e. rags to riches).  This would align with the metaphoric significance I believe may attach to the bridge and garment in the Mona Lisa.  In any event, I do see a lot of imaginative similarity between the Mona Lisa and "the Lady of Permutations" as well as Beatrice.
>
> Last year I wrote up many of these ideas in a blog for the Leonardo journal, and starting in January I have begun adding a discussion of Dante (as well as Machiavelli).  I would be very interested to hear any thoughts or feedback on the ideas therein!
>
> All very best regards,
>
> Max
> "The Mindful Mona Lisa"
> May 14 - October 29, 2020
> Leonardo.info/blog
> https://www.leonardo.info/blog/2020/05/14/the-mindful-mona-lisa-a-bridge-garment-experience-hypothesis
>
> +++++
>
> https://www.rct.uk/collection/912581/a-woman-in-a-landscape
>
> Description
>
> A drawing of a woman standing in a landscape, with her body turned to the right, and her head turned to face the spectator. She wears full drapery, which blows out behind her in elaborate folds. Her right hand rests on her breast and with her left hand she points into the distance. Melzi's number 216.
>
> The most plausible explanation of this mysterious drawing is that it depicts Matelda, appearing to Dante in Purgatory (Cantos 28–29), the second book of his Divine Comedy: ‘I came upon a stream that blocked / the path of my advance; […] / I halted, and I set my eyes upon / the farther bank, to look at the abundant / variety of newly-flowered boughs; / And there […] / I saw a solitary woman moving, / singing, and gathering up flower on flower. / […] No sooner had she reached the point where that / fair river’s waves could barely bathe the grass, / than she gave me this gift: lifting her eyes. / […] / Erect, along the farther bank, she smiled, / her hands entwining varicoloured flowers.’
>
> The fluttering drapery here echoes that of Matelda in Botticelli’s illustration of the same scene (Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett), though the distinctive pose is derived from a figure in one of Mantegna’s canvases of the Triumph of Caesar, the Bearers of Trophies and Bullion (c.1484–92; Royal Collection, RCIN 403960), perhaps known to Leonardo via a print. The pointing gesture and direct gaze relate the drawing to Leonardo’s compositions of the Angel of the Annunciation (RCIN 912328) and St John the Baptist (Paris, Louvre), and would put us here in the position of Dante, as Matelda indicates her earthly paradise to us. But Leonardo had, it seems, little sustained interest in Dante, and most quotations from the Divine Comedy in his notebooks are on natural phenomena; though the background here is hard to read it seems rocky, and we know from the Leda that Leonardo would not miss an opportunity to illustrate a flowery setting (eg. RCIN 912424). The context and function of the drawing thus remain unknown.
>
> Text adapted from Leonardo da Vinci: A life in drawing, London, 2018
>
>
>
>
> ________________________________
> From: NetBehaviour <netbehaviour-bounces at lists.netbehaviour.org<mailto:netbehaviour-bounces at lists.netbehaviour.org>> on behalf of Graziano Milano via NetBehaviour <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org<mailto:netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>>
> Sent: Monday, March 1, 2021 9:55 AM
> To: NetBehaviour for networked distributed creativity <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org<mailto:netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>>
> Cc: Graziano Milano <grazmaster at googlemail.com<mailto:grazmaster at googlemail.com>>
> Subject: Re: [NetBehaviour] Dante and Leonardo
>
> Hi Max,
>
> The Divine Comedy was originally simply titled Comedìa and the first printed edition was published in 1472. The word Comedìa was later adjusted to the modern Italian Commedia. The adjective Divina was added by Giovanni Boccaccio, an Italian writer and poet (1313-1375), due to its subject matter and lofty style, and the first edition to name the poem Divina Comedìa in the title was that of the Venetian humanist Lodovico Dolce (1508/10-1568), a man of letters and theorist of painting, published in 1555 by Gabriele Gioliti de’ Ferrari (1508-1578), a 16th-century Italian printer active in Venice.
>
> Dante was born in Florence most probably around May-June 1265, although his date of birth is not exactly known. Dante was exiled in 1293 because he sided with the White Guelphs who were trying to defend the independence of the city of Florence by opposing the hegemonic tendencies of Pope Bonifacio VIII. He died in Ravenna, the night between 13th and 14th September 1321, where he had been invited to stay in that city in 1318 by its prince, Guido II da Polenta.
>
> He began writing The Divine Comedy (Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso), a long Italian narrative poem, in 1304 and completed it in 1320, a year before his death. The amazing artistic mosaics in the historic Ravenna’s churches inspired his writing of the Paradiso: https://www.ravennamosaici.it/en/
>
> Dante Alighieri is the father of the Italian language. Because of that, in Italy, children start reading and studying The Divine Comedy at their primary schools. At the age of 9 I did that and I was really impressed by the artistic mosaics, drawings, paintings and print artworks linked to it.
>
> The Divine Comedy has been a source of inspiration for countless artists for almost seven centuries. There are many references to Dante's work in literature. In music, Franz Liszt was one of many composers to write work based on the Divine Comedy. In sculpture, the work of Auguste Rodin includes themes from Dante, and many visual artists (Gustave Dore’, Philipp Veit, Sandro Botticelli, Antonio Manetti, Federico Zuccari, etc…) illustrated Dante's work.
>
> Rarely seen drawings, paintings and sculptures of Dante’s The Divine Comedy have been recently put on virtual display at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence as Italy has begun a year-long calendar of events to mark the 700th anniversary of the poet’s death:
> https://www.uffizi.it/en/online-exhibitions-series/to-rebehold-the-stars
>
> All the best,
> Graziano
>
>
> On Sat, 27 Feb 2021 at 19:26, Max Herman via NetBehaviour <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org<mailto:netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>> wrote:
>
>
> Hi all,
>
> Yesterday I found out that Dante (1265-1321) passed away five centuries to the year before Keats, making 2021 the 700th anniversary.
>
> Even though I did graduate study in English I never read Dante until this year.  I knew fragments of course, the general outline, some commentary, and even had a paperback translation of Inferno.  However it was only after reading Calvino's Six Memos for the Next Millennium -- a book that discusses the writing of both Dante and Leonardo -- in January 2018 that I got motivated to study Italian literature and painting more in depth.
>
> Leonardo is not generally thought to have been much influenced by Dante, although he is known to have been an expert on Dante's work.  As research for a book on the Mona Lisa I studied a very interesting drawing dated 1517-18, one of Leonardo's last major works before his passing in 1519, known as Woman Standing in a Landscape:
>
> https://www.rct.uk/collection/912581/a-woman-in-a-landscape
>
> This wonderful image seems somehow allegorical and is often compared to Botticelli's 1485 illustration of Matilda, Dante, and the river Lethe in Purgatorio XXVIII:
>
> https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Sandro_Botticelli%27s_illustrations_to_the_Divine_Comedy#/media/File:Botticelli,_Purgatorio_28.jpg
>
> Leonardo did not title his drawing or explain anywhere in text what its subject might be.  Therefore as the Royal Collection Trust page above states, "The context and function of the drawing thus remain unknown."
>
> Comparing the two drawings makes clear one major difference: Leonardo's image includes a bridge, but Botticelli's does not.  Furthermore, in Leonardo's image the woman is pointing downstream, toward the bridge, whereas Botticelli's Matilda is pointing upward.
>
> Infrared scans of the Mona Lisa show that the bridge was added very late, as possibly the last element of the work:
>
> https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Infrared_reflectograms_of_Mona_Lisa.jpg
>
> Why would Leonardo have added a bridge at such a late stage of the composition?  Nothing whatsoever is mentioned in his notebooks, and no Leonardo scholar has ever addressed this question.  The bridge is assumed almost universally by Leonardo scholars to have no meaning or function in the painting, either visually or thematically.  This may be an oversight of significant proportions.
>
> Therefore I'm writing another book about possible influences of Dante on Leonardo's writing, visual art, and overall thought.  If anyone on the list has good references to recommend they would be most welcome!  I know that the Commedia can seem terribly antique, dogmatic, patriarchal, and plain stodgy at times.  However I try to remember that in its day Dante's project was fairly radical.  It sought to integrate newly discovered art and literature from antiquity into medieval life, presaging the Renaissance; it was written in the vernacular Italian to expand access to a wider audience (over 200 years before Luther's 1534 translation of the Bible); Dante wrote it from political exile, commenting at significant personal risk on the politics of his day; and the work addresses many spheres of knowledge such as philosophy, astronomy, natural sciences, ethics, and history that at the time were strictly censored but are today considered modern and taken for granted.
>
> There is a good digital version with multiple translations and commentary online at https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/
>
> In general terms, I'm investigating whether the bridge in the Mona Lisa may symbolize a kind of evolution by Leonardo of some of Dante's ideas mixed with other influences and some of Leonardo's own unique perspectives on art and science.  In particular, the sitter may be a combination of Dante's Beatrice and Fortune into the principle which Leonardo personified as "Esperienza," meaning both experimental method in science and expressive action in art.  In such an interpretation the bridge and garment function as a structural metaphor about the flow of the history of art, science, and engineering (or what we might call technology) into their current form which is "worn" by humanity in the present day.  One can even interpret the left background as Inferno (with Styx or Acheron), the right background as Purgatorio (with Lethe), and the sitter as Paradiso (with Esperienza/Beatrice/Fortune "inhabiting" the higher realm).
>
> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gherardini_family#/media/File:La_Gioconda.jpg
>
> Michelino's famous 1465 painting of Dante in Florence Cathedral could be a possible influence:
>
> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domenico_di_Michelino#/media/File:Dante_Domenico_di_Michelino_Duomo_Florence.jpg
>
> Below are a few quotations from Leonardo and Dante which are of course not conclusive in any way but do seem to evoke parallels which further research might help corroborate.
>
> All best regards,
>
> Max
>
> +++++
>
>
>
> Leonardo: “Sound rules are the issue of sound experience — the common mother of all the sciences and arts."
>
>
>
> Dante: "From this instance [of confusion] if you will do your part / you may escape by experiment, that being / the spring that feeds the rivers of man's art."  (Paradiso II.94-96)
>
>
>
> The Italian "esperienza" is translated as "experiment":
>
>
>
> 94  Da questa instanza può deliberarti
>
> 95  esperïenza, se già mai la provi,
>
> 96  ch’esser suol fonte ai rivi di vostr’ arti.
>
>
>
> +++
>
>
>
> Leonardo: “Men wrongly complain of Experience; with great abuse they accuse her of leading them astray…. Men are unjust in complaining of innocent Experience, constantly accusing her of error and of false evidence.”
>
>
>
> Dante: "And this is she so railed at and reviled / that even her debtors in the joys of time / blaspheme her name.  Their oaths are bitter and wild, / but she in her beatitude does not hear. / … she breathes her blessedness and wheels her sphere."  (Inferno VII.91-96, on Fortune)
>
>
>
> +++
>
>
>
> Leonardo: "Painting is poetry which is seen and not heard, and poetry is a painting which is heard but not seen. These two arts, you may call them both either poetry or painting, have here interchanged the senses by which they penetrate to the intellect."
>
>
>
> Dante: "I yearned to know just how our image merges / into that circle, and how it there finds place; / but mine were not the wings for such a flight."  (Paradiso XXXIII.137-138)
>
>
>
> +++
>
>
>
> Leonardo: "If you [the poet] would say: but I describe for you the Inferno, or Paradise, or other delights or terrors, the painter can beat you at your own game, because he will put it directly in front of you."
>
>
>
> Dante: "When finally you stand before the ray / of that Sweet Lady whose bright eye sees all, / from her you will learn the turnings of your way."  (Inferno X.130-132)
>
>
>
> +++
>
>
>
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--
Paolo Ruffino
http://paoloruffino.com
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