Sex, Lies and Video: How the Leonardo Series Turned Out
The scene where Leonardo works on the figure of a blond angel in The Baptism of Christ painting by Verrocchio’s studio.
Interestingly, this is not the first time that Aidan Turner has tried on the role of a great artist. In the Desperate Romantics (2009) TV series, he played one of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood founders, Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
Have they made it?
If Leonardo da Vinci lived today, he would compete with Elon Musk on the basis of invention, direct large-scale shows like the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, be a hero of gossip columns and covers of glossy magazines. Maybe he would even produce TV series: after all, at present day, they are the best means for realizing great creative ambitions. Therefore, you would likely expect a corresponding experience from the series about Leonardo, hope that the creators would at least try to surprise you in the same way as did Leonardo to the audience more than 500 years ago.
Indeed, in the process of preparation, they learned so much about Leonardo’s ambitions: it should be contagious, it should make them at least aim at an outstanding, unprecedented work.
They didn’t even give it a try.
In interviews, they said that they wanted to explain what the genius of Leonardo was. But in fact, they just used the usual set of clichés for films about artists. Leonardo is lonely and unhappy: talking about his childhood, the artist weeps and says that he lived literally in the mud, although there is every reason to believe that the notary father and grandfather, in whose house Leonardo grew up, took good care of him.
Leonardo is unsociable, and his speeches are incomprehensible to those around him: this is not surprising, because at a time when all the other characters in the series speak like real people (whereas Leonardo’s girlfriend Caterina resembles a broken heroine of 1990s romantic comedies with her behaviour and speaking manner), da Vinci utters phrases copied from the surviving diary entries.
The heroes of the series do not express their feelings, do not hint at the motives of their actions, they just speak everything out. In all fairness, the drama so low is disheartening in a 2021 series. This script looks as if written by people who have nothing to say about Leonardo.
About the facts. Their presence in the series creates some problem. They tell you how Leonardo painted a fresco on dry plaster, how he studied the anatomy of a horse to design an equestrian statue, how he made The Battle of Anghiari cartoons and how he abandoned this venture. All this was in fact and can give the impression that Leonardo was also hanged in Piazza, as well as he knew how to revive people: wow, I didn’t know that! Neither facts nor fantasies in the series are marked in any way, whereas the viewer is not obliged to watch it armed with biographical books. It seems that the authors had to decide: either to stick to the facts, or to come off in full, so that the whole story looks invented, unreal.
Did they make Leonardo a gay?
So, when does a study remain a mere drill, and when can we call it an artwork in its own right, full of life and having artistic value? Read more
“What’s in a frame? That which we call a picture
In an improper frame will look less nice.”
Or, perhaps, the picture’s message will be obscured by too ornate or too plain framing. Here, we present a retrospective journey into the history of framing and its evolution, with illustrations and an expert’s commentary. Read more
Caterina da Cremona: who was the first to come up with a close friend for Leonardo?This is fiction, but its roots go back to the early 19th century.
Italian artist and writer Giuseppe Bossi (1777—1815), who devoted his whole life to studying da Vinci’s work (he copied The Last Supper, drew episodes from the life of Leonardo, made articles about him), in his essay on the embodiment of passions in art, expressed the following thought: "The fact that Leonardo… loved the joys of life is proved by the records of his relationship with a courtesan named Cremona. I received these records from a very authoritative source. He could not have understood human nature so deeply and embodied it without long experiencing it through purely human weaknesses."
Bossi did not reveal his source. But in 1982, Bossi’s works were reprinted and got to the British writer Charles Nicholl, who developed this idea in his 2004 book Leonardo da Vinci. The Mysteries of a Genius. And he even drew some evidence in its favour. For example, in the Windsor collection, he found a sheet from Leonardo’s notes, in the lower right corner of which there was a list of six names, one of them being Chermonese. Nicholl came to the conclusion that the list included people who accompanied Leonardo on a trip in 1509, and Chermonese was a courtesan from Cremona, with whom the artist allegedly had a relationship.
He also suggested that Leda’s face in Leonardo’s lost painting is that of La Cremona.
Nicholl concluded his assumptions with the following passage: "It is not difficult for me to imagine that fifty-seven-year-old Leonardo had some kind of relationship with a beautiful young prostitute, whose serene face and magnificent body served as a model for his Leda, and perhaps for the lost
But is there anything good in this series?!Yes! There is one very charming character in the series; unfortunately, he only appears in a couple of scenes. This is the young Michelangelo who, in reality, could claim to be the most unpleasant artist in the history of art. Here he is charming. Especially at the beginning of his competition with Leonardo (they tried to paint frescoes on the opposite walls of a hall) when he showed him his butt.
- A still from the series. Michelangelo got down to work, but hides it behind a curtain. Leonardo is assailed with creative jealousy and curiosity. Michelangelo removes the veil and joyfully shows his opponent the following.
- Battle of Cascina. Copy from a cartoon of Michelangelo’s unmade fresco. Ca. 1542. Holkham Hall, Norfolk