Monday, 20 October 2014

Da Vinci is More Than the Brush

by Sian Latham


(source: wiki commons)
28 score years ago, a group of men were born, a group that were destined to be remembered for 500 years to come. However, between this time of giants, upon whose shoulders we have stood, time (as it is cursed to do) passed. As we all know, with the passing of time, things are lost to its cold grasp and we lose what was once common knowledge. Thus these giants were lost to many generations, names without any meaning to the everyday man. But they lurked at the edge of existence for 500 years, waiting for their memories to be cherished again.

Hold on a minute, Lost? We all know the names of Michelangelo, Galileo and Da Vinci, of course we do. Yet can you all tell me a lot about the reasons for their fame? Michelangelo was that painter guy, right? And Galileo the planet and telescope guy and Da Vinci, didn’t he paint the Mona Lisa? If this is what you are thinking, then you’re right. And so so wrong. There were many skilled painters and astrologists of the time, so why were these three remembered above all others for 100’s of years? Many people even consider them to have behaved as if they were a group of friends that met up for coffee every so often and helped each other through the hardships of life, while, in fact, Michelangelo was a generation younger than Da Vinci, and Galileo was born the year Michelangelo died. Sadly, since I’m to enlighten you on the genius of Da Vinci we must leave Michelangelo and Galileo here, perhaps to tantalize your taste buds to dip into the whirlpool of knowledge for yourself.

In recent years, media has once again breathed life into the sodden rags of history, plucking at its thread to find a key fact or figure to fill the imagination of the world. One such thread that seems to be pulled at incessantly is the one of Leonardo di ser Piero Da Vinci. The problem is, that within a single thread there are many fibres that work to compose the whole, and the media has the sharpest of talons that work tirelessly to fray the thread, pulling only minute fibres from the whole. The one, tiny fibre then becomes, in the media's version of history, the whole thread, the whole man.  As the great playwright and poet who writes of witches, royalty and star-crossed lovers is inexplicably tied to the quill, Da Vinci has come to be bound to the brush. Yet, I put this question to you, if a mathematician was to suddenly produce a published piece of literary work, would you then begin to refer to him as only ever having been a writer?  No, he would be a mathematician, just a mathematician with a high level of literature skills. The one triumph does not make the man.


(source: Wiki Commons)
So, as I stand here before you today, in the hypothetical shadow of a man whose speech I draw upon for inspiration*, I ask you to open your mind to the truth. I ask you to take what you know and combine it with more, to see the whole and not the minute. I ask you to listen with open ears. And it is in hope of those open ears and minds that I tell you that Da Vinci was not a painter, nor was he an inventor, nor an architect. No, for to label him as one, is to miss him completely, as if trying to catch a football with chopsticks, you may graze the ball, but you would never catch it. For,in fact, Da Vinci could lay claim to 11 professions: painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist and a writer. In many ways, I wonder if perhaps, in humanities quest for betterment and knowledge, we have become so focused within our main principle that another Da Vinci may never appear again. The evidence behind this? The fact that even trying to comprehend someone being a master in eleven professions is hard to compute and understand.  Which is perhaps the reason why, in Da Vinci’s Demons (probably the most accurate depiction of Da Vinci in modern and popular media) they still fail to mention or even  allude to the true extent of his capabilities and I wonder if this is because they fear a true portrayal would make the character seem unbelievable and fantastical.

And, to be perfectly honest, the man does seem to have existed in a land where all minds were black, while his shone, a lone light of genius in the ocean of tedious cattle. Even today, though we claim to be sitting on the iron throne of industrialization and to have established piece by building walls metres high on both land and mind, Da Vinci’s works and inventions can still be seen around us. In fact, I see one every day, as the air ambulances fly into the QA hospital or when I see someone zoom past on a bicycle. Now,  he didn’t invent the bicycle but he did produce the earliest designs for ball bearings, which are found in bikes as well as multiple other things. He invented the hydraulic pump, sketched the first designs for a ‘Robotic Knight’, so a robot designed for combat, the helicopter, the diving suit, the armoured tank and so many more I could be stood here for a good twenty minutes just listing them all. 


 Da Vinci was also one of the first to plunge himself into the bucket of the human anatomy, something hard to study and understand at a time when the body was considered a sacred vessel that could not be touched after death. However, as an artist he was given permission to dissect the human body, in order to accurately draw the muscles and bone structures that gave man the freedom to move. The results were far ahead of his time, as seemed everything he did, and would have furthered medicine greatly if published. Sadly, unlike medical dramas of today where grumpy old men experiment with radical ideas in flamboyant attempts to heal people, and somehow always managing within the last 10 minutes, Medics of the time were not as welcoming to new ideas, particularly from a man unrecognised in the circles of medicine.

As time ticks ever forward, taking minutes from us we can never regain, I realise that I cannot cover everything. So, I return to the statement that began my endeavour to enlighten you all ‘Da Vinci is more than the Brush’. For no matter how many misconception I may throw out the pram, his skill with the brush will never be one. If you study his works such as the Last Supper and Mona Lisa, it looks as if his brush merely caressed the canvas, that colours poured from his mind to the canvas directly, the brush only imagined. Yet, for many the truly gripping element of the paintings are the wondrous conspiracy theories that surround them. It
seems as if the painting, though still in the eye, has to come to move and speak in the minds of the beholder, whispering away at doubt and creativity until many see things that may or may not be.

This is Da Vinci, a man who lived in ages of enlightenment for the time, yet still remains a leading man of today. Here is a man who would luxuriate in the forward thinking of the now, only to provide us with designs that would push technology to its furthest reaches of possibility.

This is Da Vinci, a man who became an expert in so many professions that even in his day made him extraordinary. A man that belonged to the very minimal group that found fame within their time, rather than after their death. A man that was cherished then and now, by near and far.

This is Da Vinci today, a man whose memory is so manipulated by the media, the world has lost what he truly was. A man of so many skills and sides that he appears to us a character of mystical level and qualities.

This is Da Vinci, a man I wish to share with you all, a man who captures my imagination and adoration. A man whose modern portrayal is no testimony to his true worth, a man the media has failed.

So with the praise of every celestial being be they false or true swirling in my head and pushing at the gate between thought and tongue, I hope that even a fragment of my plea has embedded itself within the willing flesh of your mind. Perhaps once I sit down and the class moves on, you won’t think another thought on the giants of history for years to come. Yet one day, you will inevitably stumble upon Da Vinci again, and maybe what I have said today will come back to you and then you will be able to finally and completely appreciate the man that lived all those years ago.

 * This article was originally delivered as a speech in the style of Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream".         

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