Category Archives: Art

Ra Paulette, the Cave-digging Artist


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Myself  

By T.V. Antony Raj

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It has a lot to do with the juxtaposition of opposites: the sense of being underground with the light streaming in; the intimacy of being in a cave, yet the columns end up very large, sometimes thirty to forty feet high.  - Ra Paulette in an interview, 2014

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Ra Paulette, the American cave sculptor
Ra Paulette, the American cave sculptor

For the past 25 years, 67-year-old Ra Paulette, an American cave sculptor based in New Mexico has been carving out caves from the sandstone hills of New Mexico. He digs, shovels, scrapes, and bores into hillsides. He then sculpts elaborate artistic spaces inside these caves. He turns the underground sculpted spaces into works of art. And, his caves attract visitors worldwide.

Ra Paulette grew up in  La Porte, LaPorte County, Indiana, United States, along the shores of Lake Michigan. In 1985, he moved to the small town of Dixon in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, near the Rio Grande about 35 miles north of Santa Fe.

A veteran of the Vietnam War, Ra Paulette began creating underground art. When he roamed the rugged terrain of the remote backcountry and found a promising spot on the side of a sandstone cliff he would start digging with his pickaxe. He works with rudimentary hand tools such as shovels, pick axes, and scrapers. Paulette never studied architecture, sculpting or structural engineering in a formal school. He is self-taught.

In 1987 Paulette finished his first cave using a shovel and buckets and a wheelbarrow. He called the “Heart Chamber.” Later on, he described it to a historian as “a secret place for me, a private place, a hermitage.” The Heart Chamber had many visitors and it almost developed into a public shrine. The cave was on public land and he had dug it without permission from the authorities. Fearing it might collapse on a visitor, he buried the chamber and sealed it off.

The Jemez Mountains are a volcanic group of mountains in New Mexico, United States. Located in the rural Ojo Caliente River Valley, approximately halfway between is the Rancho de San Juan, the 225-acre Relais & Chateaux Country Inn and Restaurant. David Heath and John H. Johnson II, the owners of the ranch had moved to the area from California to open the elegant Resort.

In June 1994, Ra Paulette approached the owners of Rancho de San Juan. He showed them pictures of the Heart Chamber and asked them if they would like to commission him to dig a shrine on their property. At first the owners were reluctant. After several months 0f persistence by Paulette, they relented. They wanted their guests to have a view of the surrounding impressive landscape from their ranch. They commissioned Ra Paulette to open the interior of the natural butte. Heath and Johnson paid him between $10 and $16 per hour for his work.

"Windows in the Earth" shrine  was carved over 2 1/2 years.
“Windows in the Earth” shrine was carved over 2 1/2 years.

It took two and a half years for Ra Paulette to create the “Windows in the Earth Shrine.” It is a chamber with lofty arched ceilings and imposing columns. Long windows fill the chambers with light. The windows provide a spectacular panorama of the magnificent Jemez Mountains. Inside the sandstone cave, one can enjoy the art created by Ra Paulette. He has carved all sorts of shapes on the interior sandstone walls: scallops, molded curves, smooth ledges, inlaid stones, narrow pods and crusty ledges. There is space to meditate and write. Even high desert weddings take place there.

Later on, Ra Paulette created more than a dozen caves. He spent months and in some cases he toiled for years on each of them.

Ra Paulette's cave
Ra Paulette’s cave
Ra Paulette's cave
Ra Paulette’s cave
Ra Paulette's cave
Ra Paulette’s cave
Ra Paulette's cave
Ra Paulette’s cave

Needless to say, the work of Ra Paulette was backbreaking. He carved out rooms, connected tunnels, created alcoves and arches, benches, steps, pillars, etc. He decorated the surfaces with sculpted shapes and chiseled ornamental patterns. He broke through walls and ceilings to create windows and skylights to bring in sunlight to the dark underground spaces.

Martha Mendoza, a reviewer in the Los Angeles Times described the caves of Ra Paulette as hallowed places and as a sanctuary for prayer and meditation. Many connoisseurs of art describe the caves of Ra Paulette as works of art.

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William Marshall Brown, the Atmospheric Figurative Artist


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Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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The Bait Gatherers - painting by William Marshall Brown, Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum, Warwickshire, England
The Bait Gatherers – painting by William Marshall Brown, Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum, Warwickshire, England

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William Marshall Brown, a distinguished Scottish artist was born on January 3, 1863 in Edinburgh.

While working as a wood engraver and book illustrator, Marshall Brown studied art at the Edinburgh College of Art and at the Royal Scottish Academy Life School.

Though he painted landscapes and portraits, he is best known for his atmospheric figurative work with a background of landscapes or seascapes.

In 1888, Marshall Brown received the Chalmers Bursary and Stewart Prize.

The Royal Scottish Academy (RSA) is a Scottish organisation that promotes contemporary Scottish art. In 1909, Marshall Brown became an Associate of the Royal Scottish Academy (ARSA). In 1928, he became a member of the Academy (RSA). In 1929 became a Member of the Royal Scottish Watercolour Society.

Marshall Brown worked mostly in Scotland and lived for some time in Edinburgh and at Cockburnspath in Berwickshire. Though not a native of East Lothian like many other artists, he too captivated by the coast, the landscape and its inhabitants spent many years working in the county. Many of his paintings such as the farm workers, fisher girls, etc., were characteristic of his times. And, the East Lothian connection can often be seen in the details like the bonnets, creels, and baskets.

A Breton Washing Pool - painting by William Marshall Brown, Royal Scottish Academy of Art & Architecture
A Breton Washing Pool – painting by William Marshall Brown, Royal Scottish Academy of Art & Architecture

Like many of his Scottish contemporaries, Marshall Brown made frequent trips to Holland and Brittany in France. In “A Breton Washing Pool,” Marshal Brown has captured a group of Breton women working on the shoreline, possibly near the town of Concarneau.

Sardine Fishers, Concarneau, France - painting by William Marshall Brown, City of Edinburgh Council.
Sardine Fishers, Concarneau, France – painting by William Marshall Brown, City of Edinburgh Council.

He created his work “Sardine Fishers” in Concarneau, France.

Marshall Brown’s work is held in many museums, including the City of Edinburgh Collection, Berwick Museum & Art Gallery, Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum in Warwickshire, Dundee Art Galleries and Museums Collections, Hunterian Art Gallery, Paisley Museum and Art Galleries, Royal Scottish Academy of Art & Architecture, etc.

William Marshall Brown died on April 26, 1936.

 Here are some works of William Marshall Brown:

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A Nimble Fingered Artist


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Myself  

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Panoramic view of Málaga from Gibralfaro (Photo: Kiban)
Panoramic view of Málaga from Gibralfaro (Photo: Kiban)

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The City of Málaga is the capital of the Province of Málaga, in the Autonomous Community of Andalusia, Spain. The cynosure of the city is the Santa Iglesia Catedral Basílica de la Encarnación, the Cathedral of Málaga. It is  a Renaissance Catholic church.

Nimble fingered artist

Outside the Cathedral, one can find a nimble-fingered street artist.  He paints three pictures in three minutes. He sells his masterpieces for mere 10 Euros.

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How to Make a Yellow Submarine Sandwich!


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Myself  .By T.V. Antony Raj

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In this stop-motion animated video titled “Submarine Sandwich” PES shows us in a witty, funny way how to make a Yellow Submarine Sandwich!

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The Controversial Poster for “Nude Men – From 1800 to Today” Exhibition


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Myself  .By T.V. Antony Raj

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More women than men stop to stare at Mr. Big by Ilse Haider. Installation in the courtyard of the MuseumsQuartier, Vienna Walk-in sculpture. Courtesy Galerie Steinek, Vienna
More women than men stop to stare at Mr. Big by Ilse Haider. Installation in the courtyard of the MuseumsQuartier, Vienna Walk-in sculpture. Courtesy Galerie Steinek, Vienna

In Austria, Elisabeth and Rudolf Leopold collected more than 5,000 exhibits over five decades. In 1994, the exhibits were consolidated into the Leopold Museum Private Foundation with the help of the Republic of Austria and the National Bank of Austria.

The Leopold Museum, housed in the Museumsquartier in Vienna, Austria, opened in 2001. It has one of the largest collections of modern Austrian art featuring artists such as Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka and Richard Gerstl. In fact, it houses the world’s largest Egon Schiele Collection.

The core of the Leopold Museum collection consists of Austrian art of the first half of the 20th century. It  includes key paintings and drawings by Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt. The historical context is illustrated by major Austrian works of art from the 19th and 20th centuries. They exhibit the gradual transformation from the Wiener Secession, the Art Nouveau/Jugendstil movement in Austria to Expressionism.

On October 19, 2012, it opened its major exhibition by Ilse Haider, about male nudes titled “Nackte Männer von 1800 bis heute” (“Nude Men – From 1800 to Today”). The exhibits describe how male nudity has evolved in art and includes pieces by Egon Schiele, Auguste Rodin and Andy Warhol.

Nackte Männer (Source - .huffingtonpost.co.uk)
The controversial Poster “Nackte Männer – von 1800 bis heute” (Source – .huffingtonpost.co.uk)

The Museum advertised the event with a large promotional street poster that featured one of the exhibition’s most prominent artworks, a photograph called ‘Vive La France’ by French artists Pierre & Gilles.

The poster featured one of the exhibition’s most prominent artworks, a photograph called ‘Vive La France‘ by French artists Pierre&Gilles. It showed three French football players: the first black, the second Arab/Muslim and the third white. All three players standing naked on a pitch, with their genitals revealed, showered with confetti. They wore nothing but socks and boots.

The poster elicited a public outcry. The Museum denied the allegations that the controversial poster was a gimmick to draw crowds to its major exhibition. However, the artists themselves amended their work. They added a red stripe to cover the players’ genitalia on roughly 180 large posters in Vienna.

In fact, the public outcry proved that the photo’s jubilant scene prophetic. The exhibition, which ran until January 28, 2012, was a great success and drew more than 2000 daily visitors. evolved in art and includes pieces by Egon Schiele, Auguste Rodin and Andy Warhol.

An obvious question that arises from the controversy over the naked French footballers is:

“Why is the image of a naked male more controversial than the image of a naked female?”

May be we have become more accustomed to seeing naked women more than naked men.  The devil

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Leonardo da Vinci: Part 6 – Did He Believe in God?


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Leonardo da Vinci - Religion

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Almost every human has a theology of his own about God. The Jews believe that they are the Chosen People of God. Many Christians believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the only-begotten ‘Son of God’. The Muslims believe that Muhammad is the last and greatest prophet of God in human history. The Agnostics believe that mortal humans do not have enough intelligence or information to determine if God exists or not. And, the Atheists say that the entity called God does not exist.

Leonardo da Vinci, was a mysterious, strange person. For hundreds of years, researchers and writers have debated his actual religious beliefs and leanings. While some claim he was a Christian others have labelled him as an absent-minded Roman Catholic, an Agnostic, the forerunner of the Protestant Reformation, and even as an Atheist.

Among his contemporaries, Leonardo da Vinci was the most intelligent human. Hence, people would want to know what his theology was. Perhaps Leonardo probably had a good theology, and even the best theology that could help everyone in this life and in the next life, if there is one.

About Leonardi da Vinci, Giorgio Vasari wrote:

“[Leonardo’s] cast of mind was so heretical that he did not adhere to any religion, thinking perhaps that it was better to be a philosopher than a Christian.”

So, What was Leonardo’s theology? Was it the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church? If not, what did Leonardo base his beliefs on?

There was no formal scientific research in the Middle Ages. Unable to suppress the writings of the ancient Greeks, the Roman Catholic Church allowed the teaching of ancient Greek science as long as it did not conflict with the Holy Bible and its own teachings. The scholars had to accept the observations of nature passed down from Aristotle and other ancient Greeks.

The Roman Catholic Church forced the people to implicitly believe and follow its doctrines. The Church would not permit free inquiry. It imprisoned, tortured, and executed truth-seekers. Leonardo was a truth-seeker, and this fact would not endear him to the Roman Catholic Church. It was not so with most Italian contemporaries of Leonardo. Their ultimate goal was to have the eternal rapture in Heaven.

Leonardo’s writings show that he based all his beliefs on reason. He wrote:

“I can never do other than blame many of those ancients who said that the sun was no larger than it appears; among these being Epicurus; and I believe that he reasoned thus from the effects of a light placed in our atmosphere equidistant from the centre; whoever sees it never sees it diminished in size at any distance.

“Those who study the ancients and not the words of Nature are stepsons and not sons of Nature, the mother of all good authors.”

Reason is the capacity to perceive reality, applying logic, establishing and verifying facts and beliefs based on new or existing information.

The opposite of ‘reason’ is ‘faith’.

Faith is confidence or trust in a person, thing, deity, view, or in the doctrines or teachings of a religion, as well as confidence based on some degree of warrant. It can also be a belief that is not based on proof. The word faith is often used as a synonym for hope, trust, or belief.

The best definition I have come across for faith is by Mark Twain: “Faith is being convinced that what you don’t believe is true.”

Through reason we deduce that human beings built the pyramids of Egypt by themselves, while faith might lead us to conjecture that aliens helped the ancient Egyptians to build them.

So, ‘faith’ is believing in something without acceptable ‘reason’.

Leonardo valued reason much more than faith. He was a great artist, but he was also a great scientist of his age. Judging from his writings, his main goal in life was to know as much about the real universe as he could. He was the first to question the statements of Aristotle, Ptolemy, and other Greek and Roman philosophers. He stated that their teachings ought to be tested and challenged and not accepted as axioms.

Leonardo praised reason-based understanding and criticized faith-based beliefs. Here are some excerpts from his writings:

“I am well aware that because I did not study the ancients, some foolish men will accuse me of being uneducated. They will say that because I did not learn from their schoolbooks, I am unqualified to express an opinion. But I would reply that my conclusions are drawn from firsthand experience, unlike the scholars who only believe what they read in books written by others.”

“Although I cannot quote from authors in the same way they do, I shall rely on a much worthier thing, actual experience, which is the only thing that could ever have properly guided the men that they learn from.”

“These scholars strut around in a pompous way, without any thoughts of their own, equipped only with the thoughts of others, and they want to stop me from having my own thoughts. And if they despise me for being an inventor, then how much more should they be despised for not being inventors, but followers and reciters of the works of others.”

“When the followers and reciters of the works of others are compared to those who are inventors and interpreters between Nature and man, it is as though they are non-existent mirror images of some original. Given that it is only by chance that we are invested with the human form, I might think of them as being a herd of animals.”

“Those who try to censor knowledge do harm to both knowledge and love, because love is the offspring of knowledge, and the passion of love grows in proportion to the certainty of knowledge. The more we know about nature, the more we can be certain of what we know, and so the more love we can feel for nature as a whole.”

“Of what use are those who try to restrict what we know to only those things that are easy to comprehend, often because they themselves are not inclined to learn more about a particular subject, like the subject of the human body.”

“And yet they want to comprehend the mind of God, talking about it as though they had already dissected it into parts. Still, they remain unaware of their own bodies, of the realities of their surroundings, and even unaware of their own stupidity.”

“Along with the scholars, they despise the mathematical sciences, which are the only true sources of information about those things which they claim to know so much about. Instead, they talk about miracles and write about things that nobody could ever know, things that cannot be proven by any evidence in nature.”

“It seems to me that all studies are vain and full of errors unless they are based on experience and can be tested by experiment, in other words, they can be demonstrated to our senses. For if we are doubtful of what our senses perceive then how much more doubtful should we be of things that our senses cannot perceive, like the nature of God and the soul and other such things over which there are endless disputes and controversies.”

“Wherever there is no true science and no certainty of knowledge, there will be conflicting speculations and quarrels. However, whenever things are proven by scientific demonstration and known for certain, then all quarreling will cease. And if controversy should ever arise again, then our first conclusions must have been questionable.”

As often happens with great geniuses, stories and legends have been woven around Leonardo’s death. In the 1568 enlarged edition of “The Lives“, Giorgio Vasari describes Leonardo’s final months. He claims that Leonardo, regretted not having followed a life governed by the laws of the Church:

“Finally, being old, he lay sick for many months. When he found himself near death, he made every effort to acquaint himself with the doctrine of Catholic ritual… He died on May 2, having received the sacraments of the Church”

It seems odd that this version of Leonardo’s death was not recorded in the first edition of “The Lives“. It is almost as if Vasari felt the need after a while to make Leonardo seem Roman Catholic. Perhaps the Roman Catholic Church pressured Vasari to add this detail.

So, the perennial question is: “Did Leonardo da Vinci believe in God?

Answer: “May be, yes.”

Leonardo wrote about God as if God exists. Here are some excerpts from the Leonardo’s writings:

“Good Report soars and rises to heaven, for virtuous things find favor with God. Evil Report should be shown inverted, for all her works are contrary to God and tend toward hell.”

“O you who look on this our machine, do not be sad that with others you are fated to die, but rejoice that our Creator has endowed us with such an excellent instrument as the intellect.”

“We may justly call… paintingthe grandchild of nature and related to God.”

“We, by our arts may be called the grandsons of God.”

“Fame alone raises herself to Heaven, because virtuous things are in favour with God.”

“If the Lord—who is the light of all things—vouchsafe to enlighten me, I will treat of Light; wherefore I will divide the present work into three Parts: Linear Perspective, The Perspective of Colour, The Perspective of Disappearance.”

“Thou, O God, dost sell unto us all good things at the price of labour.”

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 ← Previous -Leonardo da Vinci: Part 5 – His Final Years 

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Leonardo da Vinci: Part 5 – His Final Years


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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The red-chalk drawing in Turin, claimed to be a self-portrait by Leonardo da Vinci (1510-1515). In April 2009, the American art historian, Louis A. Waldman, specializing in the Italian Renaissance made pathetic headlines when he publicly presented documentary evidence revealing that some time before July 1505 Leonardo da Vinci painted a portrait of his beloved uncle, Francesco da Vinci. Waldman argued that this red-chalk drawing — one of the most famous drawings in the history of art due to its frequent misidentification as a self-portrait — is likely to be a preparatory study for the lost painting of Leonardo's uncle.
The red-chalk drawing in Turin, claimed to be a self-portrait by Leonardo da Vinci (1510-1515). In April 2009, the American art historian, Louis A. Waldman, specializing in the Italian Renaissance made pathetic headlines when he publicly presented documentary evidence revealing that some time before July 1505 Leonardo da Vinci painted a portrait of his beloved uncle, Francesco da Vinci. Waldman argued that this red-chalk drawing — one of the most famous drawings in the history of art due to its frequent misidentification as a self-portrait — is likely to be a preparatory study for the lost painting of Leonardo’s uncle.

Due to the political instability in Milan, Leonardo left for Rome accompanied by Melzi and Salai on September 24, 1513.

Giuliano di Lorenzo de’ Medici, was an Italian nobleman, the third son of Lorenzo the Magnificent. One of his elder brothers Giovanni de‘ Medici was now Pope Leo X. Appointed Gonfaloniere of the Holy Church, Giuliano had heard much of Leonardo. Meeting Leonardo for the first time, Giuliano welcomed him with open arms like two friends meeting after years of separation. He gave Leonardo lodgings in Fort Belvedere, with a studio and several rooms for his companions.

An anonymous copy of the lost portrait of Giuliano de' Medici by Raphael.
An anonymous copy of the lost portrait of Giuliano de’ Medici by Raphael.

Giuliano and Leonardo became close friends. They discovered in each other the same interests – love of mathematics, mechanics, and nature, and they shared similar thoughts and feelings. Guiliano’s protection gave security to Leonardo and new impetus to carry on with his interests.

Like his father, Giuliano too was a friend and protector of many artists in Florence and Rome. He immediately commissioned two paintings, a Leda and a portrait of a Florentine woman.

In the Vatican Leonardo enjoyed a period of tranquility with a decent salary and no major obligations. He drew maps, studied ancient Roman monuments, started a project for a large residence for the Medici in Florence. He conducted experiments in human flight. From big models Leonardo went on to create tiny ones. He experimented with gliding flights and the curvature of the wings by modelling miniature birds in thin wax.

In Rome, Leonardo found an old acquaintance, Donato Bramante, the Italian architect, who introduced Renaissance architecture to Milan and the High Renaissance style to Rome. He also found the Pope’s favourite, Raphael, the Italian painter and architect of the High Renaissance holding court like a prince.

There was no formal scientific research in the Middle Ages. Unable to suppress the writings of the ancient Greeks, the Roman Catholic Church allowed the teaching of ancient Greek science as long as it did not conflict with the Holy Bible and its own teachings. The scholars had to accept the observations of nature passed down from Aristotle and other ancient Greeks. The Church would not permit free inquiry. It imprisoned, tortured, and executed truth-seekers. Leonardo was a truth-seeker, and this fact would not endear him to the Roman Catholic Church.  In fact, Pope Leo X prohibited Leonardo from performing dissections and autopsies. Thus, ended Leonardo’s study of the human body.

Giuliano de‘ Medici died prematurely on March 17, 1516 (aged 37), and Leonardo felt that he had no friends in Rome to protect him, not even the Pope.

King Francis I of France by Jean Clouet.
King Francis I of France by Jean Clouet.

King Francis I of France, a patron of the arts, had earlier invited Leonardo to Amboise. So, Leonardo left Italy to spend the last three years of his life in France accompanied by Melzi and Salai. King Francis provided him the Château du Clos Lucé, then called Château de Cloux, as a place to stay and work.

The king treated Leonardo as a member of the nobility and not as an employee of the royal house. He arranged an annuity of 700 gold scudi to be paid to the elderly artist, to relieve him of any shadow of worry about money. In exchange the young King asked only friendship. The King often went to Cloux to visit Leonardo or sent a carriage to bring the aged artist to his castle.

In the autumn of 1516, Leonardo was not yet 65, but looked much older like an ancient prophet. From 1517, onwards Leonardo’s health started deteriorating. Even when his right arm was paralyzed,  he still worked with his left hand. He made ​​sketches for urban projects, drainage of rivers and even decorated for the holiday palace. He even conceived the idea of prefabricated houses.

The French greeted Melzi as an “Italian gentleman living with master Leonardo,” but accepted the 36-years-old Salaì, only as a “servant”. A dejected Salaì parted from Leonardo and left France in 1518. In reality, he understood that the young Melzi had taken his place in the heart of the Maestro.

The Death of Leonardo da Vinci by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, 1818.
The Death of Leonardo da Vinci by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, 1818.

Melzi remained in France with his master until Leonardo’s death at the Château du Clos Lucé on May 2, 1519.  According to a legend, King Francis I was at his side when he died, cradling Leonardo’s head in his arms

Upon Leonardo’s death, Melzi inherited the artistic and scientific works, manuscripts, and collections of Leonardo. Melzi then wrote a letter to inform Leonardo’s brothers. In this letter he described Leonardo’s love for him. He described his master’s feeling towards him as “sviscerato e ardentissimo amore” meaning “passionate and ardent love”.

Returning to Italy, Melzi played the role of a guardian of Leonardo’s notebooks. He prepared Leonardo’s writings for publication in the manner directed by his erstwhile master.

Melzi married, and fathered a son, Orazio. When Orazio died on his estate in Vaprio d’Adda, his heirs sold the collection of Leonardo’s works.

It is commonly believed that Leonardo bequeathed to Salaì several paintings including the Mona Lisa. Salaì owned Mona Lisa until his death in 1525. In his will the Mona Lisa was assessed at 505 lire, an exceptionally high valuation for a small panel portrait at that time. Through his estate, many works, including the Mona Lisa, passed into the possession of Francis I of France.

Salaì returned to Milan to work on Leonardo’s vineyard, where his father worked before, and which his erstwhile master had passed on to him through his will.

On June 14, 1523, at the age of 43, Salaì married Bianca Coldiroli d’Annono.

Salaì died in 1524 as a result of a wound received from a crossbow in a duel. He was buried in Milan on March 10, 1524.

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Next → Leonardo da Vinci: Part 6 – Did He Believe in God?

← Previous – Leonardo da Vinci: Part 4 – His Two Favourite Pupils 

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Leonardo da Vinci: Part 4 – His Two Favourite Pupils


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Leonardo da Vinci - Hidden in the Codex (Source: Alessandro Vezzosi / Museo Ideale Vinci)
Leonardo da Vinci – Hidden in the Codex. The Italian science journalist Piero Angela recently claimed to have spotted what could be a self-portrait by Leonardo underneath lines of ink handwriting in da Vinci’s own “Codex on the Flight of Birds.” Initially only a nose was visible. Digital techniques made it possible to resurrect the original sketch, and a drawing of a young man with long hair and a slight beard appeared. The research team used criminal investigation techniques to “age” the sketched portrait. The result was an impressive resemblance to the most authenticated da Vinci self-portrait, the red chalk drawing from Turin’s Biblioteca Reale. (Source: Alessandro Vezzosi / Museo Ideale Vinci)

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Among all his pupils Leonardo da Vinci had a long-lasting relationship with Gian Giacomo and Francesco Melzi apprenticed to him as children.

Salaì – “The Devil”

On July 22, 1490, Leonardo was in Oreno looking for the perfect horse for the equestrian monument in honor of Francesco Sforza. There he met the 10-year-old Gian Giacomo Caprotti da Oreno, born in 1480, by chance. The 38-year-old Tuscan genius charmed by the beauty of the boy adopted him. The boy was born in 1480 to Pietro di Giovanni, a tenant of Leonardo’s vineyard near the Porta Vercellina, Milan.

Leonardo nicknamed the boy as Salaì or il Salaìno meaning “The Devil” (lit. “The little unclean one”). Salaì lived up to his nickname. On at least five occasions, Giacomo had run off with Leonardo’s money and valuables. He spent a fortune on apparel, including 24 pairs of footwear. Leonardo had made a list of his recalcitrant ways calling him “a thief, a liar, stubborn, and a glutton”.

Despite Salaì ‘s thievery and dereliction, he remained Leonardo’s servant, and assistant for more than 28 years. Some writers believe that Leonard had a taste for “rough trade” and his relationship with Salaì, his “kept boy”, was anything but typical of a father and a son. Vasari describes Salaì as “a graceful and beautiful youth with curly hair, in which Leonardo greatly delighted.”

In 1563, Gian Paolo Lamazzo in his Libro dei Sogni, included a fictional dialogue between a questioner and Leonardo on “l’amore masculino“.

The questioner asks Leonardo of his relations with Salaì: “Did you play the game from behind which the Florentines love so much?”

Leonardo replies: “And how many times! Keep in mind that he was a beautiful young man, especially at about fifteen.”

John the Baptist. Salai is thought to have been the model. (c. 1514) — Louvre.
John the Baptist. Salaì is thought to have been the model. (c. 1514) — Louvre.

Some researchers presume that Salaì was the model for Leonardo’s “St. John the Baptist,“an oil painting on walnut wood. Some consider it to be Leonardo’s final painting between 1513 to 1516.

The piece depicts St. John the Baptist in solitude. St. John dressed in pelts has long curly hair. He smiles in an enigmatic manner, reminiscent of Leonardo’s famous Mona Lisa. He holds a reed cross in his left hand. His right hand points up toward the heaven suggesting the importance of salvation through baptism represented by John the Baptist. Another painter might have added the cross and wool skins at a later date.

Monna Vanna by Andrea Salaì - a nude version of the Mona Lisa.
Monna Vanna by Andrea Salaì – a nude version of the Mona Lisa.

Salaì trained as an artist under Leonardo. He became a capable, but not an impressive painter. He created several paintings under the name of Andrea Salaì. His work includes the Monna Vanna, a nude version of the Mona Lisa which might have been based on a lost nude by Leonardo.

Angel Incarnate - a charcoal drawing by Leonardo da Vinci (c. 1515)
Angel Incarnate – a charcoal drawing by Leonardo da Vinci (c. 1515)

Some drawings among the works of Leonardo and his pupils make reference to Salaì’s sexuality. There is a lewd drawing modelled on Leonardo’s painting “St. John the Baptist,” called “The Angel Incarnate.” It depicts a young nude man with an erect phallus. The figure appears to be in the likeness of Salaì. The face of the figure is closer to Salaì’s copy of Leonardo’s painting than to the original John the Baptist in the Louvre. Salaì himself may have drawn them.

Included in a folio of Leonardo, is a page of drawings by a hand other than Leonardo’s. One of them is a crude sketch depicting an anus and identified as “Salaì’s bum,” pursued by a horde of penises on two legs. The page on which this sketch appears is the same page that contains the depiction of a bicycle. None of the drawings on this page is by Leonardo. The page was not seen until a restoration of the volume in the 1960s. Several pages went missing and were later returned. Some suggest that the drawings are by a pupil of Leonardo, perhaps by Salaì.

We might have had more examples of pornographic drawings by Leonardo and his pupils if a 16th century priest had not destroyed the bulk of those erotic sketches.

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 Count Francesco Melzi

Francesco Melzi, by Boltraffio, c. 1510
Francesco Melzi, by Boltraffio, c. 1510

In 1506, during his second stay in Milan, Leonardo took into his household the 15-year-old Count Francesco Melzi as a pupil. Unlike Salaì, Melzi hailed from a Milanese noble family. Vasari says that Melzi “at the time of Leonardo was a very beautiful and very much loved young man.

As an adult, Melzi became secretary and main assistant of Leonardo.

Vertumnus and Pomona (1518–1522) by Francesco Melzi (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin)
Vertumnus and Pomona (1518–1522) by Francesco Melzi (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin)

As a painter, Melzi worked closely with and for Leonardo. Some paintings attributed to Leonardo during the nineteenth century are today ascribed to Melzi.

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Leonardo da Vinci: Part 3 – His Pupils


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Leonardo da Vinci - Self portrait
Leonardo da Vinci – Self portrait

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In 1482, Leonardo  da Vinci sent the following letter to Ludovico Maria Sforza, the Duke of Milan, Leonardo. He claimed that he could create all sorts of machines both for the protection of a city and for siege:

“Most Illustrious Lord: Having now sufficiently seen and considered the proofs of all those who count themselves masters and inventors in the instruments of war, and finding that their invention and use does not differ in any respect from those in common practice, I am emboldened… to put myself in communication with your Excellency, in order to acquaint you with my secrets. I can construct bridges which are very light and strong and very portable with which to pursue and defeat an enemy… I can also make a kind of cannon, which is light and easy of transport, with which to hurl small stones like hail… I can noiselessly construct to any prescribed point subterranean passages — either straight or winding — passing if necessary under trenches or a river… I can make armored wagons carrying artillery, which can break through the most serried ranks of the enemy. In time of peace, I believe I can give you as complete satisfaction as anyone else in the construction of buildings, both public and private, and in conducting water from one place to another. I can execute sculpture in bronze, marble or clay. Also, in painting, I can do as much as anyone, whoever he may be. If any of the aforesaid things should seem impossible or impractical to anyone, I offer myself as ready to make a trial of them in your park or in whatever place shall please your Excellency, to whom I commend myself with all possible humility.”

Leonardo’s letter earned him a commission from Ludovico Sforza to design an equestrian statue as part of a monument to his father Francesco I Sforza who died in 1466. It was an immense undertaking, intended to be the largest equestrian statue in the world.

Leonardo travelled to Milan and stayed with the de Predis brothers – Giovanni Ambrogio de Predis and Evangelista de Predis. Ambrogio was also a painter. Evangelista was a gilder and assisted painters in preparing the colours.

Ludovico Sforza employed Leonardo from 1482 to 1499. As a court artist, he also organized elaborate festivals.

Leonardo da Vinci's study of horses (1490)
Leonardo da Vinci’s study of horses (1490)

In 1482, Leonardo started the seemingly impossible task of creating a rearing horse over three metres high. Such a task had never been undertaken before. He did extensive preparatory work. He made numerous small sketches of horses to help illustrate his notes about the complex procedures for moulding and casting the sculpture.

In 1483, Leonardo da Vinci and Ambrogio de Predis were commissioned to execute the famous Madonna of the Rocks. Two versions of the painting exist—one in the Louvre (1483 – c. 1486), another in the National Gallery, London (1483 – 1508).

On April 25, 1483, Prior Bartolomeo Scorlione and the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception approached Leonardo. They wanted him and the Predis brothers to create the painted panels for the altarpiece in the church of San Francesco Maggiore in Milan. The contract referred to Leonardo as “Master”.

On April 25, 1483, Prior Bartolomeo Scorlione and the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception approached Leonardo. They wanted him and the Predis brothers to create the painted panels for the altarpiece in the church of San Francesco Maggiore in Milan. The contract referred to Leonardo as “Master”.

Because of the scale of works commissioned, at the court of Ludovico Sforza was large Leonardo had assistants and pupils in his studio to assist him. Leonardo’s pupils at that time were Marco d’Oggiono, Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, Ambrogio de Predis, Bernardino de’ Conti, Francesco Napoletano, and Andrea Solario.

Leonardo’s fresco of the Last Supper was an incredible piece of painting. Even before its completion word spread about it by the visitors to the church. It was completed by 1498. Leonardo’s experimental technique used for this work was a disaster. It left the mural as a sad ruin with peeling paint by 1517. Subsequent deterioration and the repeated restorations obliterated details and individual figures. Even then, the Last Supper still retains some of the authority which made it the most celebrated painting of its time.

Severe plagues in 1484 and 1485 drew Leonardo’s attention to problems of town planning.

By 1493, after many stoppages, Leonardo made a full-sized clay model of a horse for preparing the moulds for casting. Tons of bronze were needed to complete the horse.

Ludovico Maria Sforza, the Duke of Milan.
Ludovico Maria Sforza, the Duke of Milan.

On October 22, 1494, when the throne of Milan fell, Ludovico assumed the ducal title and received the ducal crown from the Milanese nobles.

In 1494, the new king of Naples, Alfonso, allied himself with Pope Alexander VI, posing a threat to Milan. Ludovico decided to fend him off using France, then ruled by the powerful Charles VIII, as his ally. He permitted the French troops to pass through Milan so they might attack Naples. However, Charles’s ambition was not satisfied with Naples, and he subsequently laid claim to Milan itself. Regretting his decision, Ludovico allied with the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I. Unfortunately, his decision backfired and the Italian Wars broke out.

Ludovico made weapons from 80 tons of bronze originally intended for Leonardo da Vinci’s equestrian statue of his father.

In 1495, Ludovico managed to defeat the French at the Battle of Fornovo.

King Louis XII of France had a hereditary claim to Milan. His paternal grandmother Valentina Visconti was the daughter of Giangaleazzo Visconti, the first Duke of Milan. Hence, in 1498, he descended upon Milan. King Louis was successful in driving out Ludovico from Milan. Ludovico managed to escape the French armies and, in 1499, sought help from Maximilian.

When the French took Milan in 1499, the French archers used Leonardo’s clay horse for target practice. After the fall of Ludovico Sforza, Leonardo left Milan. He returned to Florence in 1500, after brief sojourns in Mantua and Venice.

In February 1500, Ludovico returned with an army of Swiss mercenaries and re-entered Milan. Two months later, Louis XII laid siege to the city of Novara, where Ludovico was based. The French army also had Swiss mercenaries. In April 1500, the Swiss mercenaries hired by Ludovico chose to leave Novara as they did not want to fight their compatriots. They handed Ludovico over to the French. Deprived of all the amenities of life, Ludovico spent his last years in the underground dungeon at Loches, where he died on May 17, 1508.

In 1508, Leonardo returned to Milan and stayed there for the second time. During this time he had relationships with other Milanese artists along with his original pupils. Giovanni Antonio Bazzi (Il Sodoma), Giovanni Francesco Rustici, Giampietrino, Cesare da Sesto and young Francesco Melzi were his pupils. Such artists as Bernardino Lanino, Cesare Magni, Martino Piazza da Lodi and Bernardino Luini are also regarded as members of the circle of Leonardo.

Nativity by various followers of Leonardo da Vinci - Salai, Cesare da Sesto, Fernando Yanez de la Almedina and Anonymous. (Source: Gytismenomyletojas - Wikimedia)
Nativity by various followers of Leonardo da Vinci – Salai, Cesare da Sesto, Fernando Yanez de la Almedina and Anonymous. (Source: Gytismenomyletojas – Wikimedia)

Many writers have emphasized that Leonardo took only handsome boys and youths as his pupils. He was kind and considerate towards them. He cared for them and nursed them himself when they were ill.

As he selected his pupils on account of their beauty rather than their talent, none of them — Cesare da Sesto, Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, Andrea Salaino (Salaì), Francesco Melzi and the others — ever became a prominent artist. Most of them could not make themselves independent of their master. They disappeared after Leonardo’s death without leaving any significant painting to the world of art.

Other painters such as Bernardino Luini and Giovanni Bazzi (Il Sodoma), who by their creations earned the right to call themselves his pupils, were probably not known to Leonardo “personally”.

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Leonardo da Vinci: Part 2 – His Sexuality


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci was well-loved by his contemporaries. Early biographers described him as a man with great personal appeal, kindness, and generosity. Vasari wrote:

“Leonardo’s disposition was so lovable that he commanded everyone’s affection. He was a sparkling conversationalist… In appearance he was striking and handsome, and his magnificent presence brought comfort to the most troubled soul; he was so persuasive that he could bend other people to his will. He was physically so strong that he could withstand violence and with his right hand, he could bend the ring of an iron door knocker or a horseshoe as if they were lead. He was so generous that he fed all his friends, rich or poor… Through his birth, Florence received a very great gift, and through his death, it sustained an incalculable loss.”

Leonardo’s sexuality

Speculation about Leonardo’s sexuality began during his lifetime and has continued since then.

Leonardo tried his best to keep his private life secret. Some of his writings are in code. He left hundreds of pages of writing, but little of it is personal. One of the few references Leonardo made to sexuality in his notebooks states:

“The act of procreation and anything that has any relation to it is so disgusting that human beings would soon die out if there were no pretty faces and sensuous dispositions.”

Researchers have extrapolated and interpreted the above statement  to ascertain his sexual inclination. Other than this statement, none of his writings indicate that he had any romantic interest or any intimate sexual relationship with any person – female or male. It is true that he surrounded himself with handsome young men throughout his life. Yet, Giorgio Vasari, the 16th-century biographer of Renaissance painters, has not made any reference to Leonardo’s sexuality whatsoever.

Like other contemporary Florentine painters, Leonardo often used graceful young men to pose for his paintings. His art reflects an admiration for beauty in males. Some art critics have noted homoerotic elements in his portrait of St. John the Baptist.

The last supper by Leonardo da Vinci
The last supper by Leonardo da Vinci

There is a controversy with Leonardo’s Last Supper: “Is the male apostle seated on the right of Jesus an effeminate youth, or a woman?”

Mona Lisa or La Gioconda (1503–1505 or 1507)—Louvre, Paris, France.
Mona Lisa or La Gioconda (1503–1505 or 1507)—Louvre, Paris, France.

In April 1995, the Scientific American reported that a computer analysis established that the mysterious woman portrayed in Mona Lisa might in fact be a self-portrait of Leonardo himself.

In the 20th century, some biographers made explicit reference to a probability that Leonardo was homosexual. A few others asserted that Leonardo was celibate for much of his life.

The only available historical document on the sexual life of Leonardo is an accusation of sodomy made against him in 1476. At that time he was an apprentice in the workshop of Verrocchio.

In the 15th century, Florence was famous not only for art, but also for its active community of gay men. Homosexuality was widespread and tolerated. In fact, the word Florenzer (Florentine) was a slang for a homosexual in Germany. Sodomy was then a serious offence, carrying the death penalty, but difficult to prove. So, the punishment for the offence was seldom imposed. The usual penalty for the first offence was a small fine.

At that time, it was a common practice to denounce a person in an anonymous letter. In 1432, the Podesta (chief magistrate) set up the Office of the Night to eradicate “the abominable sin of homosexuality.” The Office of the Night installed wooden boxes called tamburos in the courtyards of the Palazzo della Signoria, the town hall of Florence. Accusations of misdeeds and crimes such as theft, the practice of magic, exploitation and stealing, etc., ended up in the tamburos along with vilifications due to jealousy, resentment and revenge put in them. The officials then sorted them out. During its 70 years of persecution, the Office of the Night officially charged over 15,000 men for sodomy.

Jacopo d’Andrea Saltarelli, born 1459, was an apprentice goldsmith and a male prostitute. He is sometimes described in modern literature as an artist’s model. According to the court records there were several charges of male prostitution against him.

In April 1476, an unknown person placed a letter in a tamburo at Palazzo della Signoria, accusing 17-year-old Saltarelli of male prostitution. Of the four men listed, as patronizing him, one was Leonardo di Ser Piero da Vinci.

On April 9, 1476, Leonardo, along with four other defendants, appeared before the officials of the Office of the Night. The accuser’s letter reads:

“I hereby inform Your Official Lords that it is a true thing that Jacopo Saltarelli, blood brother of Giovanni Saltarelli… pursues many miseries and keeps company with persons who share in such evil practices… I will hereby list some of them: Bartolomeo di Pasquino, goldsmith, lives at Vacchereccia, Leonardo di Ser Piero da Vinci, stays with Andrea del Verrocchio, Bacino the doublet-maker, lives at Ono San Michele… Leonardo Tornabuoni, known as Teri, dresses in black.”

After the hearing, the court dismissed the charges against them cum conditione ut retamburentur, that is, subject to being re-examined.

Then on June 7, 1476, Leonardo was once again the arrested and jailed for the same accusation. His father refused his pleas for help. The  charges were again dismissed because the accusations did not meet the legal requirement for prosecution. Such accusations could be made secretly, but not anonymously. All accusations of sodomy had to be signed, but in this case it was not. Also, the family of Leonardo Tornabuoni, associated with Lorenzo de‘ Medici, exerted its influence to secure the dismissal. After serving two months in prison, the authorities released Leonardo.

Though declared not guilty, Leonardo felt no gladness, only desolation. From that date until 1478 there is no record of his work or even of his whereabouts. In 1478, Leonardo left Verrocchio’s studio. He left behind him the companionship of his fellow apprentices. He Wanted to get away from certain persons and from the city.

Leonardo went to Vinci, where his father had bought a farm some years before. Leonardo’s curiosity about natural life became a need to observe the phenomena of nature. He started studying nature which he declared was essential for a good painter. He resumed his study of landscapes. He analysed the objects of his study in detail, breaking down reality into the tiniest details.

Study of horses (1490) by Leonardo da Vinci
Study of horses (1490) by Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo’s curiosity about natural life became a need to observe the phenomena of nature. He started studying nature which he declared was essential for a good painter. He resumed his study of landscapes. He made detailed analysis, breaking down reality into the tiniest details.

Two months later, after the sentence of not guilty became definitive, Leonardo wrote:

When I made God a cherub, you put me in prison. Now, if I make him a grown man, you will do me even worse“.

It is a significant testimony to Leonardo’s resentment at being misunderstood.

Leonardo never married.

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