Hi all,

I forgot to mention that one key element of the Mona Lisa which Smith does not mention in depth (nor does any scholarship I have been able to find) is the bridge, which is the only human artifact in the background, and which leads by a smooth curve into the vortex-shaped portion of the sitter's shawl.  

This subtly powerful element returns the eye from the background to the foreground in a spiral flow, and forms a spatial, visual, and conceptual link between the hydrodynamics of the background and the technical artifact of the garment as product of human capacity through time rather than its identical equal.  The textual background of the notebooks is essential here, because Leonardo's work was trans-media (as the Smith essay helps clarify).

The next "return" then is to the sitter's hands, heart and face, which act as a non-identical mirror of the viewer's own human capacity for direct experience, creation, and communication, bringing the spiral hydrodynamic out of the painting into our own brains and bodies and thus into the life of our world, literally bringing Leonardo back to life.

At least that's my story and I'm sticking to it!  🙂

All best,


From: NetBehaviour <netbehaviour-bounces@lists.netbehaviour.org> on behalf of Max Herman via NetBehaviour <netbehaviour@lists.netbehaviour.org>
Sent: Tuesday, April 7, 2020 12:09 PM
To: NetBehaviour for networked distributed creativity <netbehaviour@lists.netbehaviour.org>
Cc: Max Herman <maxnmherman@hotmail.com>
Subject: [NetBehaviour] Article about the Mona Lisa landscape

Hi all,

I was kindly directed to the attached article from 1985 about the background of the Mona Lisa.

It doesn't discuss what the bridge might symbolize, but it does integrate the painting's visual elements with the themes of Leonardo's notebooks (which include accrued learning as a garment per the below, and patience as a garment as cited by Smith).

"I am fully aware that the fact of my not being a lettered man may cause certain arrogant persons to think that they may with reason censure me, alleging that I am a man without letters.  Foolish folk!  Do they not know that I may retort by saying, as did Marius to the Roman patricians: 'They who themselves go adorned in the labour of others will not permit me my own?' They will say that, because of my lack of book learning, I cannot properly express what I desire to expound upon. Do they know that my subjects are based on experience rather than the words of others? And experience has been the mistress of those who wrote well. And so, as mistress, I will acknowledge her and, in every case, I will give her as evidence."  [from Leonardo's notebooks]

I found this passage to be evocative of the idea that Leonardo may be presenting a highly complex and multi-planar map of sorts in the Mona Lisa, using the technique Smith describes as "comparazione," which includes transdisciplinary mappings of nature and natural history, and human biology, but also culture itself, and the history of art/science/technology as a "flow" which is comparable to those in nature.  All of these are thus integrated, and centered as if gravitationally on the sitter (hence perforce the viewer) as "Experience," Leonardo's highest value in both science and art.  

Experience in the painting is a complex and hybrid agent, related but not identical to the garment (as hands are to the work), functioning as peer, subject, artist, advocate, teacher, companion, and portrait.  Moreover it is an interactive personification which we cannot but identify with, and indeed, communicate with in present immediate time.  This fundamentally interactive gaze is, I would further hypothesize, a powerful thesis regarding what we would now call cognitive neuroscience, including questions of intersubjective intelligence and what Francisco Varela calls "the embodied mind."

Best wishes and regards to all,