Category Archives: Inspirations

What is Ash Wednesday?


Myself 

 

 

BT.V. Antony Raj

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Ash Wednesday Service in Westminster Cathedral

Photo credit: Catholic Church (England and Wales)

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According to the Christian canonical gospels, Jesus Christ fasted for 40 days in the desert, where he encountered the temptations by Satan. So, the solemn religious observance of Lent originated as a mirroring this event. Hence, Christians fast 40 days as preparation for the Easter Sunday, the day of the resurrection of Christ. In Latin, Lent is referred to by the term Quadragesima (meaning “fortieth”), in reference to the fortieth day before Easter.

Today is Ash Wednesday, a day of fasting. In Western Christianity, it marks the start of the 40-day period of fasting, the first day in the season of Lent.

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An 1881 Polish painting of a priest sprinkling ashes on the heads of worshippers  by Julian Fałat (1853 - 1929).
An 1881 Polish painting of a priest sprinkling ashes on the heads of worshippers by Julian Fałat (1853 – 1929).

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Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of blessing the ashes made from palm branches that were blessed on Palm Sunday of the previous year, and placing them ceremonially on the heads of the participants. The Ash is either sprinkled over their heads or more often  a visible cross is marked on their foreheads to the accompaniment of the words “

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Father Ken Simpson burns palms Tuesday as students from St. Clement School in Chicago look on. (CNS/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World) (Custom)
Father Ken Simpson burns palms Tuesday as students from St. Clement School in Chicago look on. (CNS/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World) (Custom)

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Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of blessing the ashes made from palm branches that were blessed on Palm Sunday of the previous year, and placing them ceremonially on the heads of the participants. The Ash is either sprinkled over their heads or more often  a visible cross is marked on their foreheads to the accompaniment of the words “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” based on Genesis 3:19

By the sweat of your brow
you shall eat bread,
Until you return to the ground,
from which you were taken;
For you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.

In Western Christianity, during Lent, every Sunday is regarded as a feast day to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus  Christ on a Sunday, and so fasting is considered inappropriate on that day. And so, Christians fast from Monday to Saturday (6 days) for 6 weeks and from Wednesday to Saturday (4 days) in the preceding week, thus making up the number of 40 days.

Many Western Christians, including Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Anglicans, and Presbyterians observe Ash Wednesday. However, not all Catholics observe Ash Wednesday. Eastern Catholic Churches, do not count Holy Week as part of Lent, and they begin the penitential season on Monday before Ash Wednesday called the Clean Monday. Catholics following the Ambrosian Rite begin it on the First Sunday in Lent.

Throughout the Latin Church, the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and in the Maronite Catholic Church, the Ashes are blessed and ceremonially distributed at the start of Lent. In the Catholic Ambrosian Rite, this is done at the end of Sunday Mass or on the following day.

Here is today’s reading in the Church for Ash Wednesday. It  is the continuation of the sermon on the mount. Jesus warns against doing good in order to be seen and gives three examples. In each, the conduct of the hypocrites is contrasted with that demanded of the disciples.

Teaching about Alms-giving

[But] take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.

When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.

But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

 (Mathew 6: 1-4)

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Teaching about Prayer

When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.

But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words.

Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This is how you are to pray:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread;
and forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors;
and do not subject us to the final test,
but deliver us from the evil one.

If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.

- Matthew 6:5–15

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Teaching about Fasting

When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.

But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.

- (Matthew 6:16-18)

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Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 6 – The Apostle of Sri Lanka in Jaffnapattinam


Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Blessed Joseph Vaz was our beloved Apostle. In many ways, he was a pioneer in the history of our country and the Christian faith. In fact, after Dutch persecution, which lasted 150 years, there would be no priest on the island without him.
– Bishop Vianny Fernando, President of National Joseph Vaz Secretariat.

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Entrance of Jaffna Fort built in 1618, by Portuguese Philip de Olivera (Photo: thehistoryhub.com)
Entrance of Jaffna Fort built in 1618, by Portuguese Philip de Olivera (Photo: thehistoryhub.com)

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In 1591, André Furtado de Mendonça led the second Portuguese expedition to the Jaffna kingdom. The capital of the Jaffna Kingdom, also known as the Kingdom of the Aryacakravarti was Nallur. During that expedition, the King of Jaffna, Puviraja Pandaram (Tamil: புவிராஜ பண்டாரம்) was killed.

The Portuguese then installed the dead king’s son Ethirmanna Cinkam (Tamil: எதிர்மன்னசிங்கம்) as the King of the Jaffna kingdom. This arrangement gave the Catholic missionaries freedom to propagate the Christian faith. However, the incumbent king, resisted the missionary activities. In 1595, the King of Portugal ordered to remove him from the throne. But colonial authorities in Goa did not oblige as Ethirimanna Cinkam was not overly disruptive to their colonial interests.

In 1617, Cankili II (Tamil: சங்கிலி குமாரன்) a tyrant, came to the throne after a bloody massacre of the royal princess and the regent Arasakesari. The Portuguese colonists in Colombo rejected his regency. He then invited military forces from Thanjavur Nayaks and Malabari Corsairs to help him fight the Portuguese.

In 1618, Phillippe de Oliveira built the Portuguese Fort in Jaffna.

Phillipe de Oliveira moved the center of political and military control from Nallur to Jaffnapatao (Jaffnapattinam).

The subsequent rule by the Portuguese deployed forced conversion of the population to Roman Catholicism. Most people fled the core areas of the former Jaffna kingdom due to excessive taxation.forced conversion of the population to Roman Catholicism.

After a three-month siege, the Portuguese lost their last stronghold in Ceylon, Fort of Our Lady of Miracles (Fortaleza de Nossa Senhora dos Milagres de Jafanapatão) to the Dutch East India Company (VOC) on June 24, 1658 . With the fall of Fort at Jaffnapattinam, the Dutch took Portuguese as prisoners of war and expelled all Portuguese from Ceylon.

Joseph Vaz in Jaffnapattinam

Joseph Vaz presumed that like in Mannar, there ought to be Catholics in  Jaffnapattinam too. Cured of dysentery, Vaz wanted to find the Catholics in  Jaffnapattinam and begin his mission. So, he wore a rosary around his neck and started begging for food, all the while observing and studying the reactions of the natives. He was fully aware that if the Dutch or any native Calvinist knew that he was a Catholic he would be subjected to ill-treatment, and death would soon follow.

Dom Pedro of  Jaffnapattinam

One family in particular treated him well and he guessed that they were Christians. One day he asked the head of that family, whether he would like to see a priest and receive the sacraments. The man froze. The next time Vaz went to beg at that house, the man took him to the house one of his friends, a young man named Dom Pedro.

Dom Pedro belonged to the Tamil Vellalar caste, a dominant group of agricultural landlords who migrated from the neighbouring Southern Tamil kingdoms in India since the 13th century. He was rich and his family members, all Catholics, were held in esteem by the Tamils of Jaffna.

In the hope of getting an appointment to a high Government position under the Dutch, he had renounced the Catholic Faith and had become a Calvinist. However, a few years later, Emmanuel de Silva, an old friend of his father, made him realize the enormity of his defection from the Catholic faith. Troubled by his apostasy, Dom Pedro disavowed Calvinism. He did severe penance and reconciled with the Catholic Church.

Joseph Vaz then understood through his friend that though Dom Pedro was on good terms with the Dutch, he was, in fact, a fervent Catholic, but behaved as if he were not, to hoodwink the Dutch.

After the preliminary introductions, Vaz revealed his identity to them. He showed his credentials as Vicar Forane of Kanara, which he had conscientiously brought with him.

The apostleship of Joseph Vaz began that night when he celebrated the first Mass in Jaffna. The Catholics were happy because for more than 30 years they did not have the privilege to attend Mass. The young members of the community had never seen a priest. They had been baptized and instructed in the Catholic Faith by their parents.

From then on the Catholics of Jaffnapattinam met in Dom Pedro’s house in secret for some time. Dom Pedro and his friends told Vaz that  Jaffnapattinam being the headquarters of the Dutch command in the north of Ceylon, it was dangerous for him to remain there. They advised him to go to Sillalai, a hamlet ten miles away from Jaffna.

Joseph Vaz in  Sillalai

Rich in vegetation, and surrounded by paddy fields in the North and West and villages in the South and East, Sillalai got its name from a ‘small oil mill’ (Tamil: ‘siria aalai‘) in the area which extracted oil from gingelly seeds, margosa (neem) seeds and the seed of the honey tree or butter tree (ill upai). Over time, ‘siria aalai‘ became Sillalai.

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Kathirai Matha of Sillalai, Jaffna District, Sri Lanka.
Kathirai Matha of Sillalai, Jaffna District, Sri Lanka.

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The villagers (even now), venerated the statue of ‘Kathirai Matha‘ (‘Chair Mother’) – a rare depiction of Mother Mary seated on a chair holding baby Jesus on her lap. The Portuguese who landed at the small port of Sambil, about three to four kilometres west of Sillalai brought the statue to the hamlet.

The villagers took great pains to protect the statue from the Dutch. They moved it from place to place and hid it in deep wells and abandoned huts.

As advised Vaz went to Sillalai. The Moopar (local catechist) provided a walled house for Vaz and John. The villagers built a hut nearby and Vaz used it as the church. From then on, Sillalai became the headquarters of his apostleship. From Sillalai, he visited Jaffnapattinam and the surrounding villages. Wherever he went, the Catholics hid him in their houses.

To avoid suspicion, he performed his apostolate at night with small groups of Catholics in attendance. He would walk from Sillalai to Jaffnapattinam at night to avoid the Dutch.

In Sillalai, if anyone gave him any gift or money he would send that person to his host, the Moopar. He distributed the entire collection of money among the poor.

The “sammanasu swamy”

Joseph Vaz lived a simple life. He always ate sitting on the ground with rice served on a banana leaf. He slept on a grass or bamboo mat spread on the floor. His life of poverty can be summarized in his own words from a letter written to his nephew:

“Be content with what you are provided in the Community; be it in the refectory, or in the infirmary or in the wardrobe or in the cubicle, do not desire anything more by any other means, take the things assigned to you as the best in these places.”

Joseph Vaz a model of chastity. He was a modest, well composed, grave, cautious and reserved person. In the confessional, his eyes were always low and would never raise them to stare at the ladies confessing to him. In a letter to his nephew, Joseph Vaz wrote:

“Grid us Lord with the girdle of purity and extinguish in our loins the fire of lust, so that the virtue of continence and chastity may abide in us”.

The people admired Joseph Vaz. Because of his virtues they called him “sammanasu swami” (Tamil: “சம்மனசு சுவாமி”) meaning the “angelic priest”.

Guided by the catechist, Joseph Vaz traveled throughout the Jaffna peninsula. He found the task of caring for the flock, was a bit burdensome for one priest. On December 14, 1688, Vaz wrote his first letter from Ceylon to the Provost of the Oratory requesting him to send a helper.

At that time, Laurens van Pyl was the Governor of Dutch Ceylon. The Dutch commander of Jaffna region was forcing the people to follow Calvinism. He was annoyed to note many people believed to be apostates of the Catholic Church and enjoyed the favours of the Dutch authorities were no longer frequenting the Calvinist Kirk. Dom Pedro, in particular, was one such person.

The Commander imputed the change in the Catholics of the Jaffna peninsula to the Jesuits of Manapad in South India, who, he believed, had succeeded in coming over to Ceylon in secret.

The Dutch arrested many people they believed to be Catholics. He tortured them to denounce the person or the Jesuit priests responsible for bringing about this situation. The Commander then announced a reward for the head of the Catholic priests. But the faithful Catholics watched over Joseph Vaz.

On Christmas night of 1689, Dutch soldiers surrounded the house where the congregation was celebrating the midnight liturgy with Joseph Vaz administering the sacraments. On entering the house, the soldiers arrested those inside. They desecrated the sacred images and divested the women of their clothes. They rounded up around 300 Catholics that night in and around the neighbourhood. But to their dismay, the priest was not among the prisoners. The soldiers wondered how he could have escaped.

In 1690, Father Andre Freyre, the Jesuit Provincial of Malabar, gave an account of this incident in a letter he wrote from Manapad to Dom Miguel de Almeida, the Portuguese Governor of Goa. He wrote:

“Fr. Joseph Vaz, a Brahmin, who was sent from Goa to take charge of the Christians at Jaffna, discharges his duties with such devotion, that all consider him a saint. He not only looks after the natives but after the Europeans too. Although the heretics search everywhere for him, they can never come upon him, for, like another Proteus, he escapes them under a variety of disguise.”

In the morning, all the arrested people were brought before the Commander of Jaffnapattinam. He let off the women and children. He retained eight rich and influential men, including Dom Pedro and Emmanuel de Silva. He let the others go after imposing heavy fines.

The Commander ordered them to abjure the Catholic Faith or face death. All said that they were ready to die for their faith. Thinking that the sight of torture would denounce their Faith. the Commander ordered Dom Pedro, the youngest among the eight, to be beaten with rods, until he should abjure Catholicism or die under the blows. Dom Pedro bore the torture unflinchingly. When the young man lost consciousness, the Commander ordered his bloody body to be thrown into prison with the other seven. When Dom Pedro regained consciousness, he beseeched his companions to persevere in their Faith with courage, and then died peacefully.

The Commander, then confiscated the properties of Emmanuel de Silva and the six others and condemned them to hard labour for life.

The Commander, then confiscated the properties of Emmanuel de Silva and the six others and condemned them to hard labour for life. He sent them to a fortress, which the Dutch were then restructuring, as labourers. None of them even thought of escaping this torture by renouncing the Faith. Eventually, they all died martyrs. The martyrdom of Dom Pedro and of his seven companions was the most glorious fruit of the apostolate of Joseph Vaz at Jaffna.

Joseph Vaz fled Jaffnapattinam and went deep into the jungle to escape from the Dutch. He crossed to Vanni, the mainland area of Northern Sri Lanka. From there, he reached Puttalam, then, a part of the Kandy kingdom, ruled by King Vimaladharma Surya II, who had ascended the throne in 1687, the same year that Joseph Vaz had entered Ceylon. He was the son of King Rajasimha II (1635  – 1687).

With the help of some Catholics, he continued his apostolate in Puttalam.

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Next → Part  7  – The Apostle of Sri Lanka in Puttalam

← Previous: Part 5 – Travel to Ceylon (Sri Lanka)

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Jeanne Robertson: “Don’t Send a Man to the Grocery Store.”


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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Source: floridatheatre.com
Source: floridatheatre.com

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Jeanne Robertson (born September 21, 1943) is a nationally recognized humorist and professional speaker with a thick southern  American drawl. Even at 70, she continues to charm appreciative audiences with her humorous observations about life around her. Over the years, the demand for her family friendly brand of comedy has grown exponentially. She infects everyone with her charming personality, and her deep sense of humor.

By age 13, Jeanne reached 6’2” tall signalling that she would soon soar to great heights. In 1963, named Miss North Carolina at age 19, she credits her reign as the catalyst for her career. She toured the state for a year speaking to civic organizations and garden clubs. After graduating from Auburn University, she was a gym teacher for nine years. She became one of the funniest, busiest, most popular, and successful professional corporate speakers. Now she is considered one of the funniest, busiest, most popular, and successful stand-up comedians.

You can hear Jeanne’s anecdotes daily on XM Radio’s Channel 98, Laugh USA and Sirius Radio’s Blue Collar Comedy channel 103 (XM 97) and Laugh Break channel 105.

From where does she get her inspiration?

She bases her humor on real-life situations. Jeanne once said:

When we look for humor around us, we can find it. I want to weave a story that makes people laugh their head off, but I also want it to be a point to the story. I want people to say, ‘the same thing happened to me’ when they leave the show.

On April 29, 2008, she spoke at the White House for National Volunteer Week to honor the 1,300 volunteers who donate time to work at the White House.

Jeanne Robertson, a rising comedy star at age 71 (Source: httphamptonroads.com)
Jeanne Robertson, a rising comedy star at age 71 (Source: httphamptonroads.com)

Jeanne Robertson is an award winning corporate speaker. Among many honors, she was a Speaker Hall Of Fame inductee; the first woman to win the National Speakers Association’s prestigious Cavett Award; the only woman to receive Toastmasters’ International Golden Gavel Award;, and the NCAA SEC and Auburn University’s 2000 Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

She has seven nationally released DVDs, three humorous books: “The Magic of Genie,” “Mayberry Humor across the USA,” and “Don’t Let the Funny Stuff Get Away.” She has hundreds of hours on Sirius-XM Satellite Radio’s Family Comedy, and Blue Collar Comedy channels. Jeanne has more than 20 million views on YouTube. Some of her most popular anecdotes are: “Don’t Go to Vegas Without A Baptist,” “Don’t Bungee Jump Naked,” “Left Brain vs. Intruder,” and “Don’t Send a Man to the Grocery Store.”

When Jeanne was in need of some ingredients to make a cake, her husband volunteered to go to the grocery shop. What did he come home with?

Click on this line to read North Carolina’s favorite daughter of comedy, sharing her recipe for pound cake—and laughter.

Jeanne Robertson is hilarious! Her clean old fashioned humorous depiction of everyday situations never fails to have audiences of all ages rolling with laughter. You will agree with me after viewing this video titled “Don’t Send a Man to the Grocery Store!

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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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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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Leonardo da Vinci: Part 1 – The Archetype Renaissance Man


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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A B&W copy of Leonardo da Vinci attributed to the Italian painter Giovanni Cariani (c. 1490-1547) (National Gallery of Art, Washington).
A B&W copy of Leonardo da Vinci attributed to the Italian painter Giovanni Cariani (c. 1490-1547) (National Gallery of Art, Washington).  According to author Maike Vogt-Luerssen, this painting is a self-portrait by Leonardo da Vinci and the National Gallery of Art has wrongly attributed it to the Italian painter Cariani who was not even born when the maestro created it.

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Leonardo da Vinci, is one of the greatest painters of all time. He is perhaps the most diversely talented person ever to have lived. Leonardo was a polymath, painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer. His genius, epitomized the Renaissance humanist ideal. Leonardo was the archetype of the Renaissance Man.

Title page of the 1568 edition of the Vite (Source: Wikipedia)
Title page of the 1568 edition of the Vite (Source: Wikipedia)

In 1550, the 16th-century Italian painter and architect Giorgio Vasari published “Le Vite de’ più eccellenti pittori, scultori, e architettori da Cimabue insino a’ tempi nostri” (“The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, from Cimabue to Our Times”). The title is often abridged to the Vite or the Lives. This work is considered perhaps the most famous, and even today the most-read work of the older literature of art. It was the first important book on the history of art.

In his work, Vasari, described Leonardo as having qualities that “transcended nature” and being “marvellously endowed with beauty, grace and talent in abundance”.

Leonardo was born on April 15, 1452, in Vinci. It is a Tuscan hill town in the lower valley of the Arno River in the territory of the Medici-ruled Republic of Florence. He was born out-of-wedlock to the wealthy Messer Piero Fruosino di Antonio da Vinci, a Florentine legal notary. His mother Caterina was a peasant. Though she nursed him as a baby, he never knew her because she soon got married to a craftsman in the region. Leonardo’s full birth name was “Lionardo di ser Piero da Vinci“, meaning “Leonardo, (son) of (Mes)ser Piero from Vinci”. The inclusion of the title “ser” indicates that Leonardo’s father was a gentleman.

Leonardo's childhood home in Anchiano (Source: Lucarelli/Wikimedia)
Leonardo’s childhood home in Anchiano (Source: Lucarelli/Wikimedia)

Not much is known about Leonardo’s early life. He spent his first five years in the hamlet of Anchiano in the home of his mother. Then, from 1457, he lived in the household of his father, in the small town of Vinci. He received an informal education in Latin, geometry and mathematics. His lack of formal education, encouraged him to develop the faculties that made him great.

According to Vasari, a local peasant requested young Leonardo to paint his round shield. Leonardo painted a terrifying monster spitting fire. It looked too good and Leonardo sold it to a Florentine art dealer, who in turn sold it to the Duke of Milan. Having made a profit, Leonardo bought a shield decorated with a heart pierced by an arrow and gave it to the peasant.

Leonardo began his artistic life, in 1466, at the age of fourteen. His father, Ser Piero, noticed his son’s extraordinary artistic talents. He showed some of Leonardo’s drawings to his friend, sculptor-painter Andrea di Cione, known as Verrocchio, whose workshop was “one of the finest in Florence”. Verrocchio accepted Leonardo for apprenticeship. Other famous painters apprenticed or associated with the workshop include Domenico Ghirlandaio, Perugino, Botticelli, and Lorenzo di Credi.  They were all a bit older than Leonardo.

The artists during the Renaissance period occupied quite a humble status in the social hierarchy. They were just artisans like any other craftsmen such as tailors or saddle makers.  Verrocchio’s employees did most of the work on the paintings in his workshop. The master would paint the main figures in a picture and the apprentices would draw the secondary figures and fill in the details.

The Baptism of Christ (1472–1475) by Andrea del Verrocchio and Leonardo da Vinci (Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy).
The Baptism of Christ (1472–1475) by Andrea del Verrocchio and Leonardo da Vinci (Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy).

According to Vasari, Leonardo collaborated with Verrocchio on his The Baptism of Christ. Botticelli painted the angel with clasped hands. Leonardo painted the other angel holding Jesus’ robe in a manner that was far superior. When Verrocchio saw the figure of the angel that Leonardo had painted he put down his brush and never painted again.

Tempera, also known as egg tempera, is a permanent, fast-drying paint medium. It consisted of colour pigments mixed with a water-soluble glutinous binder medium, such as egg yolk or some other size. Egg tempera was the primary method of painting until that time. Afterwards, the invention of oil paint superseded it.

On close examination, the painting reveals the new technique of oil paint has been used to paint or touch-up over the tempera. The landscape, the rocks that can be seen through the brown mountain stream, and much of the figure of Jesus bear witness to the hand of Leonardo.

Leonardo da Vinci as the model for David in Andrea del Verrocchio's "'David and Goliath"
Leonardo da Vinci as the model for David in Andrea del Verrocchio’s “David and Goliath”

The Medici family commissioned Verrocchio to create the statue of “David and Goliath”. According to a popular legend the model for the statue was Leonardo da Vinci, a young artist from Verrocchio’s studio. The placement of Goliath’s head has been the subject of debate. Some historians say that the head should be placed between David’s feet while others claim that it belongs to the right. However, the statue has been exhibited using both placements.

In the 15th century, Italy was a violent place to live in. It was a turbulent age of wars and revolutions with tremendous upheavals in society. Florence was a bustling city of 40,000 inhabitants. It had a boisterous populace where rival merchant dynasties fought each other for power. During his lifetime, Leonardo was valued as an engineer.

A design for a flying machine (an Ornithopter) by Leonardo da Vinci, (c. 1488) Institut de France, Paris
A design for a flying machine (an Ornithopter) by Leonardo da Vinci, (c. 1488) Institut de France, Paris

According to many Renaissance authors Leonardo “may be the most universally recognized left-handed artist of all time”. This fact manifests in most of his drawing and his written works. Some say that he wrote in mirror image in his notebooks because he was left-handed. Some writers have accused him of trying to protect his works, which claim seems to be false. Early Italian art connoisseurs were divided in their opinion as to whether Leonardo also drew with his right hand. More recently, most Anglo-American art historians have discounted the suggestions that Leonardo was ambidextrous.

Giorgio Vasari, in the enlarged edition of “The Lives” (1568), introduced his chapter on Leonardo da Vinci with the following words:

“In the normal course of events many men and women are born with remarkable talents; but occasionally, in a way that transcends nature, a single person is marvellously endowed by Heaven with beauty, grace and talent in such abundance that he leaves other men far behind, all his actions seem inspired and indeed everything he does clearly comes from God rather than from human skill. Everyone acknowledged that this was true of Leonardo da Vinci, an artist of outstanding physical beauty, who displayed infinite grace in everything that he did and who cultivated his genius so brilliantly that all problems he studied he solved with ease.”

Next → Leonardo da Vinci: Part 2 – His Sexuality

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Anandibai Joshee: First Indian Woman to Qualify as a Doctor in USA in 1886 – Part 2


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Myself  .By T.V. Antony Raj

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Photograph of Anandi Gopal Joshee with her signature (Source: columbia.edu)
Photograph of Anandi Gopal Joshee with her signature (Source: columbia.edu)

When the news about Anandi’s plans to study medicine in America spread, orthodox Hindus censured her. Anandi addressed the Hindu community at the Serampore College Hall, in Serampore Town. She explained her decision to go to America and obtain a degree in medicine. She stressed the need for Hindu female doctors in India. She told the assembly the persecution she and her husband had endured. She spoke to them about her goal of opening a medical college for women in India. She also pledged that she would not relinquish her religion and convert to Christianity.

Anandi’s speech at the Serampore College Hall received wide publicity. Financial contributions started coming in from all over India. The Viceroy of India contributed 200 rupees to a fund for her education.

On April 17, 1883, Anandi sailed from Calcutta (now Kolkata) to New York chaperoned by two female acquaintances of the Thorborns.

Mrs. Carpenter received Anandi in New York in June 1883. The Carpenter family treated her as a member of the family throughout her stay in America. Mrs. Carpenter arranged Anandi’s admission to the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Here is an extract from Anandi’s letter of application to the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania:

“[The] determination which has brought me to your country against the combined opposition of my friends and caste ought to go a long way towards helping me to carry out the purpose for which I came, i.e. is to to render to my poor suffering country women the true medical aid they so sadly stand in need of and which they would rather die than accept at the hands of a male physician. The voice of humanity is with me and I must not fail. My soul is moved to help the many who cannot help themselves.”

Anandi’s courage, conviction and her earnestness to study medicine against all odds impressed Rachel Littler  Bodley, the dean of the college. The college offered Anandi a scholarship of US$ 600 per month for three years. She chose the topic “Obstetrics among the Aryan Hindoos” for her specialization.

In America, Anandi remained austere and simple. Her lifestyle did not change and she continued to wear the typical 9-yard Maharashtrian saree.

Her declining health worsened because of the cold weather and unfamiliar diet.

After Anandi’s departure, Gopalrao felt dejected and depressed. He quarrelled with his superior frequently. Eventually, he resigned his job as a postal clerk. He then decided to go to America. Since he did not have enough money to pay for a ticket to America, he purchased a ticket up to Rangoon. There he worked for some time as a porter in the docks. After earning enough money he sailed to America.

Anandi was overjoyed when her husband joined her in Philadelphia after about three years. By that time, she had completed her medical course and passed out obtaining a First Class MD degree. During the Convocation held on March 11, 1886, Anandi received a  standing ovation when the president of the College said:

“I am proud to say that today should be recorded in golden letters in the annals of this college. We have the first Indian woman who is honoring this college by acquiring a degree in medicine. Mrs. Anandi Joshi has the honor to be the very first woman doctor of India”.

Anandibai Joshee and the WMCP received congratulatory messages from Queen Victoria, Empress of India.

In 1886, Anandi and Gopalrao decided to return to India. During the latter part of her stay in America, Anandi often fell sick. She suffered from severe cough.

When Anandi and Gopalrao reached Bombay, a grand reception was arranged to honour Anandi. The princely State of Kolhapur appointed her as the physician-in-charge of the female ward of the local King Albert Edward Hospital.

Anandi contracted tuberculosis. As the days passed, the disease worsened. Anandi, though a qualified doctor from America, insisted on consulting the then well-known Ayurvedic doctor Dr. Mehendele living in Poona. When she was taken to Poona, Dr. Mehendele refused to see her even though he was told that she was in the throes of death. Adding insult to injury, Mehendele was cruel enough to say:

“This woman went to America. She lived alone with strangers, ate food forbidden to Brahmins by religion and brought shame on Brahmins”.

Anandi returned home dejected.

Members of the elite in Poona came to see Anandi. They praised her for her achievements, but no one came forward with any financial help to the family. Then, she received a letter from Lokamanya Tilak, Editor of “Kesari”:

“I know how in the face of all the difficulties you went to a foreign country and acquired knowledge with such diligence. You are one of the greatest women of our modern era. It came to my knowledge that you need money desperately. I am a
newspaper editor. I do not have a large income. Even then I wish to give you one hundred rupees”. 

After reading Tilak’s letter, Anandi wept. She said:

“This penury, this begging for charity, no, no, I can’t bear it any more. What was I, and what has become of me? I am not a beggar’s daughter. None of my family was ever a beggar. I am a landlord’s daughter. That people should take pity on me and offer me money for my bare existence, how can I live with all this? God is so cruel, why does he not relieve me of all this?”

A few days later, on February 26, 1887, Anandibai died. Her death was mourned throughout India.

The resting place of Anandibai Joshee's ash in Poughkeepsie, New York. (Photo - Legacy Center Archives, Drexel University College of Medicine)
The resting place of Anandibai Joshee’s ash in Poughkeepsie, New York. (Photo – Legacy Center Archives, Drexel University College of Medicine)

Again, breaking with tradition, Gopalrao sent Anandi’s ashes to Mrs. Theodicia Carpenter, who laid the them to rest in her family cemetery at Poughkeepsie, New York.

Anandi Gopal Joshee is still remembered among Indian feminists.

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← Previous –   Anandibai Joshee: Part 1

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