Leonardo’s Enchantress

Part of the Analecta Husserliana book series (ANHU, volume 65)


Return with me now to those thrilling days of yesteryear,2 when women were all brave and men good-looking, and all the children were above average.3 When a beloved’s looks were not “laughable, unphotographable”; nor were his lips “a little weak.”4 Let us call back the Renaissance when Petrarchismo was the rage, and a lady’s eyes were like stars, her nostrils pink, her lips like roses. Not only was she lovely — with the whole universe in her face — she was unattainable, and to be approached with reverence.


Sensus Communis Musical Idea Omnia Opus Renaissance Artist Good Speaker 
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  1. 1.
    Biddy Tipkin to Captain Clerimon, disguised as a painter, in Steele’s play, The Tender Husband, 1705, as quoted by Mario Praz, Mnemonsyne: The Parallel Between Literature and the Visual Arts (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), p. 7.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    From the series The Lone Ranger: radio (1933-), later ABC television (1949–57). George W. Trendell commissioned Fran Strike to create the hero. Trendell instructed that the hero must be high-minded, serious, sober-minded, a man with righteous purpose, a man who would serve as an example for good living and clean speech. He must be a man of mystery with a burning desire to help civilize the West, not for personal gain, but for love of country. The radio program broadcast three complete half-hour adventures every week. Frank Bixton and Bill Owen, The Broadcast (New York: Viking, 1972), p. 144. See also David Rothel, Who was That Masked Man? The Story of the Lone Ranger (San Diego: A. Barnes, 1981).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Garrison Keiler’s description of the inhabitants of Lake Wobegon (Prairie Home Companion, National Public Radio). It is no coincidence that both statements refer to memories of the past. Thomas Moore describes the enchantment of ruins: “We are left with objects that have a hollowness that we can fill with our own wonder and fantasy.¡­ They conjure up the past¡­ in a hunting way that makes the past immediate.¡­ (They) place us chillingly and perhaps attractively in the world of ghosts, where the soul is as much at home as it is among the living” [The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life (New York: Harper Collins, 1996), pp. 86–87]. But there is more to enchantment than nostalgia, for in the next passage we will see a dream evoked, an enchanted evening.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    From “My Funny Valentine,” lyrics by Lorenz Hart, music by Richard Rodgers in their Babes in Arms, Broadway, 1937, sung by Mitzi Gaynor. The song was a specialty of Judy Garland.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Lines paraphrased from “Some Enchanted Evening,” lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, music by Richard Rodgers, from their musical South Pacific which opened on Broadway in 1949. It is probably not coincidental to this paper that Hammerstein’s characters are considered “three-dimensional and his shows full of humanity” because he does not locate villainy in one character, but makes it a part of each. Ken Bloom, American Song,Vol. I (New York: Function File Publishers, 1985, p. 692).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Walter Pater, “Notes on Leonardo da Vinci,” Fortnightly Review, November 1896; reprinted in Studies in the Renaissance, 1873. See Rita Severi for “The Myth of Leonardo in English Decadent Writers,” Achademia Leonardi Vinci, vol. V, 1992, pp. 96–104.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Giorgio Vasari, Le vite de’ pi¨´ eccellenti pittori scultori ed architecttore (Florence: Sanzoni, 1879), Vol. IV, p. 40. “Nella fontanella della gola chi intentissimamente la guardava, vedeva battere i polsi¡­ Ed in questo di Leonardo vi era un ghigno tanto piacevole, the era cosa pi¨´ divina the umana a verderlo, ed era tenuta cosa maravigliosa, per non essere it vivo altrimenti.”Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Paul Barolsky uses the smile on the jacket of his Why Mona Lisa Smiles and Other Tales by Vasari (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1991). See p. 62 for the Romanatics’ interpretation of the smile as sinister and Freud’s suggestion that it reflects the memory of Leonardo’s mother (an appropriate reading of the lady’s affect, as I interpret it below). Barolsky points out that Vasari’s word play on Gioconda may echo a response to the painting not long after it was painted: that her smile is an emblem of her husband Giocondo’s name. “She herself is not great but is made great through Leonardo’s art” (p. 64–65).Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Daniel Arasse emphasizes this problem, calling the Mona Lisa a synthesis of his researches in the “art of the natural” that heralded what Baldassare Castiglione saw as the very source of gracefulness and the most important quality of the courtier: sprezzatura, the studied nonchalance in which “art hides art.” (Paris: Éditions Hazan, 1997). Edition consulted: Leonardo da Vinci: The Rhythm of the World (New York: Konecky & Konecky, 1998), pp. 386–412, especially p. 397.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Martin Kemp, Leonardo, The Marvelous Works of Nature and of Man, Cambridge Mass.: Harvard, 1981, p. 266.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    A. 57 r-V and Leic. 6V and 24 r, as cited by Kemp, Marvelous, pp. 258–59. He incorrectly explained the difference in voices using the physical law that the velocity of a constant volume of fluid transmitted through a channel was indirectly proportional to the area of its cross-section. He thought, incorrectly, that the “differences of voice arise from the dilation and contraction of the rings” (RL 19059), so that he designed the trachea like a musical instrument which depends on fluid flow (The Trachea and Bronchii and a Study of Thoracic and Abdominal Organs, c. 1508, RL 19054 V).Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    See “`II concetto dell’ anima’ in Leonardo’s Early Skull Studies,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol. XXXIV, 1971, pp. 115–34; see also “Dissection and Divinity in Leonardo’s Late Anatomies,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, XXXV, 1972, pp. 200–25; “`Ogni dipintore dipinge se’: A Neoplatonic Echo in Leonardo’s Art Theory, 1977, Cultural Aspects of the Italian Renaissance (New York: 1976), pp. 309–23; ”From `Mimesis’ to `Fantasia’: the Quattrocento Vocabulary of Creation, Inspiration and Genius in the Visual Arts,“ Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol. XL, 1970, pp. 347–98.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Here Leonardo counters Averroes, whose followers had been especially influential in Padua. Kemp, Marvelous, p. 127.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Carlo Pedretti entitled the second chapter of his 1973 Leonardo, (London: Thames and Hudson), “The Fiction.”Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Thomas Aquinas had considered that the senses of the eye and ear were especially adapted for knowledge (maxime cognoscitivi). My discussion of medieval aesthetics is based on Umberto Eco, Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages, translated by Hugh Bredin (New Haven and London: Yale, 1986). For Augustine, an aesthetic character was only possible to visual perception and moral judgment (De Ordine). Reference here is to p. 66.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    He illustrates Aristotle’s faculty of psychology from the De anima, a scheme that was interpreted by Avicenna and in turn was adopted by sources known to Leonardo, Albertus Magnus, Roger Bacon and Mundinus. Kemp, op. cit., p. 25.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    For Aristotle (De anima, iii, 2) the sensus communis was not localized, but diffuse and abstract discriminative power (Kemp, “Early Skull Studies,” p. 119).Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Ibid., p. 119.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Windsor drawing, RL 12627 r of c. 1489, gives his first sketches or thoughts on the matter. Here, in this small sketch between the legs (and so probably drawn after them, the last on the sheet because, left-handed, he started the sheet at the right) he gives supremacy to sight, which he locates in the first ventricle labelled “intellect,” while the lesser senses pass to the second, the sensus communis. Sight is rational because it can be explained mathematically by optics, a science of the intellect. What is more, “The eye, which is termed the window of the soul, is the chief means of understanding the infinite works of nature” (c. 1492, Richter 23, Urb. 8 r, 9 r). But Leonardo only toyed with that system attuned to the fifteenth-century celebration of perspective. In a second version ¡ª and one that would remain fixed as his understanding of the workings of the mind and soul ¡ª he makes an innovation: all sensory impressions are received in the first ventricle, A, the impresiva. These were passed to the second ventricles, B, the sensus communis, where they were operated on by the fantasia or imagination and by the intellect and/or judgment. Locating the imagination and intellect in the same ventricle was Leonardo’s innovation in the theory of the organization of the brain. The third ventricle, C, remains the repository of memory.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    He images the workings of the brain analogous to the organization of a castello: “The nerve branches with tier muscles serve the nerve chords as soldiers serve their officers, and the nerve chords serve the sensus communis as the officers serve their captain, and the sensus communis serves the soul as the captain serves his lord” (Windsor RL 19019 r). See Kemp, op. cit., pp. 126–27.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    For Kemp, those authors who have written that Leonardo began by studying things as an artist, by increasingly investigating things for their own sakes have missed the point entirely. What should be said is that he increasingly investigated each thing for each other’s sake, for the sake of the whole and for the sake of the inner unity, which he perceived both intuitively and consciously¡­. He was not leaping erratically from one separate branch to another, like a frenzied squirrel, but climbing up different branches of the same huge tree, always returning to the main trunk. This vision of “universal science”, as a single structure had been expressed most brilliantly by certain medieval disciples, the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, most notably by Roger Bacon, whose philosophy is implicit in every part of Leonardo’s writings, especially in his anatomy. His study of anatomy does not concern “superficial aspects,” but “strikes immediately towards the innermost causes of reproduction, perception, thought, movement and all the actions of the bodily soul. No part of Leonardo’s conception of the perceptual system can realistically be isolated from his vision of the whole” (“Early Skull Studies,” p. 122, RL 19037v).Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Kemp, “Early Skull Studies”, pp. 124–26.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Most critics think that Vasari could not have seen the Mona Lisa if it were in the collection of the King of France. Kenneth Clark [Leonardo (Middlesex: Harmondsworth, 1988 (1939)), p. 174] accepted the story, as did Oscar Wilde [“The Critic as Artist” in the Complete Works (London and Glasgow: 1969 (1948)), pp. 1028–29].Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    See my “Making the Dead Laugh,” Achademia Leonardi Vinci, vol. X, 1997, pp. 190–96 and “Bracketing Theory in Leonardo’s Five Grotesque Heads at Windsor,” Analecta Husserliana, Vol. LVI, Enjoyment: From Laughter to Delight in Philosophy, Literature,Fine Arts and Aesthetics, pp. 86–102.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    See Edward McCurdy, op. cit., p. 1059.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Ernst Gombrich, “The Grotesque Heads,” The Heritage of Apelles, Ithaca: Cornell, 1976, p. 74. See my discussion of causing laughter in “Making the Dead Laugh,” pp. 194–96.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Josquin, from northern France, is one of the greatest composers of the Renaissance and “certainly the most important before the latter half of the sixteenth century.” He was alive when the Mona Lisa was painted. He sang at the Cathedral of Milan 1459–72, then at the chapel of Galezaao Maria Sforza, upon whose death he turned to the service of Cardinal Ascanio Sforza (1455–1505), for whom he wrote, among other things, frottole. He was in the papal chapel in 1486 and sporadically afterwards. He appeared in France in 1493 where he was named the foremost of the singers of Louis XII. By 1503 he was master of the chapel at Ferrara; c. 1504 he returned to France. He seems to have been heavily involved in court music in the last decades of his life. Baldassare Castiglione praises him in The Courtier. Gustave Reese, in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie, Vol. 9, (London: Grove, 1980), pp. 713–38. Josquin was the first musician to make music personally expressive; most of his compositions were published during his lifetime. The oldest manuscript was one copied in Padua in 1495 (Biblioteca Estense, Modena, E9.9), cf. William E Prizer, “North Italian Courts, 1460–1540,” p. 145, in Man and Music: The Renaissance, ed. Iann Fenlon (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1989). According to Don Harrân, the chief center of the frottola was Mantua, where it developed and received its characteristic imprint under the patronage of Isabella d’Este (1474–1539), spreading to related courts of Ferrara and Urbino and through the rest if Italy. The leading composers of the frotolla, Bartolomeo Tromboncino and Marco Cara (both from Verona) were affiliated with the court of Isabella d’Este. Although “little attempt was made by frottola composers to express the content of the text,” the opposite is true of the Josquin frottola discussed here. Josquin wrote frottole when he was in the employ of Cardinal Ascanio Sforza (Grove Dictionary of Music, vol. 6, pp. 867–73).Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    My thanks to Glorianna Satterlee for enlivening the translation.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    The frottola is the most important of the strophic forms developed in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century. A sophisticated folk song, written in three or four parts, it is generally chordal in structure and characterized by variously arranged patterns of two contrasting musical ideas.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Werken van Josquin des Pr¨¦s, Wereldlijke Werken, Bundel 5, pp. 14–15, ed. Albert Smijer (Amsterdam: Vereniging voor nederlandse muziekgeschiedenis, 1968). I am indebted to my colleague, musicologist Mary Wolinski, for helping me work out the following argument.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    See Clair J. Farago, Leonardo da Vinci’s Paragone, A Critical Interpretation with a New Edition of the Text in the Codex Urbinas (Leiden: Brill, 1992), pp. 194–95 and commentary, pp. 314–15. The last page of the text is dated 10 July 1492. Farago notes that the “grandchild of nature” may be a paraphrase of Dante’s Inferno, Canto 11, 100–05. She finds Leonardo’s comparisons of painting to poetry indebted to the medieval tradition of ekphrasis, probably because of his association with the Petrarchian poets of the Court of Milan, as noted by Gombrich (1952) and Kemp, “Leonardo da Vinci: Science and the Poetic Impulse,” Journal of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, vol. 133, 1985, pp. 196–214.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    See Farago, op. cit., p. 201.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Ibid., p. 221.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    It was Marina Johnson’s paper “Petrarchist Poems on Paintings and Painted Poetry,” Central Renaissance Conference, St. Louis, in 1993, that led me to this study.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Carlo Pedretti, “A.D. 1493,” Achademia Leonardi Vinci, Vol. VI, 1993, pp. 132.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Sopra it ritratto di Madonna Cecilia, quai fece Leonardo Di che ti adiri? A chi invidia hai Natura? Al Vinci che ha ritratto una tua stella: Cecilia! Si bellissima oggi ¨¨ quella Che a suoi begli occhi el sol par ombra oscura.Google Scholar
  37. L’onore ¨¨ tuo, sebben con sua pittra La fa che par the ascolti e non favella: Pensa quanto sar¨¤ pi¨´ viva e bella Pi¨´ a te fia floria in ogni et¨¤ futura.Google Scholar
  38. Ringraziar dunque Ludovico or puoi E l’ignegno e la man di Leonardo. Che a’ posten di te voglia far parte.Google Scholar
  39. Chi lei ved¨¤ cos’, bench¨¦ sia tardo Vederla viva, dir¨¤: Basti a noi Comprender or quel ch’¨¨ natura ed arte.Google Scholar
  40. 37.
    John Shearman notes that this topos would be “common property” of the Renaissance artist and notes that it is “an awkward truth that Leonardo could scarcely acknowledge in the context of the paragone.” (Only Connect: Art and the Spectator in the Italian Renaissance, The A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts, the National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.: Princeton University Press, 1988), pp. 117–18). In his discussion of the Mona Lisa, p. 123, he writes that by the devise of the Mona Lisa’s smile, “The artist tells us that the mask is now alive, that there is a mind behind that Mask. He sets up the pictorial fiction that she reacts, by a smile, to our presence. The fiction of the smile is justified narratively.”Google Scholar
  41. 38.
    Urb. 46 r and 110 r, translation of Martin Kemp and Margaret Walker, Leonardo: On Painting, New Haven and London: Yale, 1989, p. 144. The first passage is dated c. 1490–92, the second c. 1492. See Pedretti and Carlo Vecce, Leonardo da Vinci,Libro di Pittura, 2 vol. (Florence: Giunti, 1995), sub numero. Google Scholar
  42. 39.
    “Con sua pittura/la fa the par the ascolti e non favella¡­. Chi le vedr¨¤ cos’, bench¨¨ sia tardo,/vederla viva, dir¨¤: Basti a noi/comprender or quel ch’ ¨¨ natura et arte.” Bernardo Bellincioni, Rime, 1493; see Pedretti, “A.D. 1493,” as in note 34.Google Scholar
  43. 40.
    Kemp, Marvelous, p. 266.Google Scholar
  44. 41.
    Trat. 368 9 (c. 1505–10), as cited in Kemp, “Early Skull,” p. 126.Google Scholar
  45. 47.
    Carlo Pedretti, op. cit., p. 34 on the Adoration of the Magi. Google Scholar
  46. 43.
    Translation by Kemp and Walker, op. cit., (note 36), p. 24 [MS Ashburnham II in Les Manuscrits de L¨¦onard de Vinci, Manuscrit A (etc.) de l’Institut de France, ed. C. Ravaisson-Mollien (Paris, 1881–91)]. This expectation would have been shared by the masters of the High Renaissance who all practiced both aural and visual arts, as John Onians has shown in “On How to Listen to High Renaissance Art,” Art History, vol. 7/4, December 1984, pp. 411–36.Google Scholar
  47. 44.
    The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life (New York: Harper Collins, 1996), pp. 109–11.Google Scholar
  48. 45.
    Marsilio Ficino, Omnia Opera (Basil, 1576), p. 651 as quoted by D. P. Walker, Spiritual and Demonic Magic (London: The Warburg Institute, 1958), p. 6, and cited by Moore, ibid.Google Scholar
  49. 46.
    Jowett, Plato,1875, ed. 2, 1, 323.Google Scholar
  50. 47.
    See Frank Zöllner, “Leonardo’s Portrait of Mona Lisa del Giocondo,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts, March 1993, pp. 116–38. He argues that the large dimension of the painting is like the portraits of members of the great families in Italy, and supposes that the size of the painting demonstrates Francesco del Giocondo’s attempt to “approach the social rank of the leading families of Renaissance Florence” (p. 125).Google Scholar
  51. 48.
    ll Libro del Cortegiano was first published in Venice, 1528. I only broach this topic at this point. It deserves further amplification.Google Scholar
  52. 49.
    Vasari claims that the painting was unfinished. There has been much debate about the dating of the Mona Lisa; see Zöllner, op. cit., but all would agree that it was completed or being worked on by 1508.Google Scholar
  53. 50.
    Sir Thomas Hoby, The Book of the Courtier by Count Baldassare Castiglione,Anno 1561, edition consulted: London: Dent, Everyman’s Library. The Hoby translation bursts with energy and lively spirit that evoke the ambience of the court.Google Scholar
  54. 51.
    This paper is dedicated to my Boston hosts Professors Robert Roth and Micheline Mathews-Roth, who ¡ª in Hoby’s dialect ¡ª “hath such rare virtues, such wisedome and stoutness of courage in their manye adversities and temptations of miseries, that they are modells of courtesie.”Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Western Kentucky UniversityUSA

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