Leonardo Had a Quick Eye and a Queer Eye

A partial transcript of Episode 15 of THE ART MOVEMENT. To listen to the full radio show, click here.

Have you ever heard of a show titled Queer Eye for the Straight Guy? This was a reality TV show where a team of gay men dispensed advice on fashion, food, wine and culture to straight counterparts who have trouble impressing the ladies. Get ready for the silliest segue ever, as a new research conducted by a scientist in Switzerland has been released and it focuses on how Leonardo Da Vinci’s superior visual acuity might have enabled the master to depict liminal moments, including the Mona Lisa’s mysterious smile in his works.

Professor David S Thaler focused on drawings by da Vinci of dragonfly in movement and how their wings are out of sync – something confirmed centuries later. This led Thaler and colleagues to determine that the great master saw the world in a kind of ‘freeze frame’ where he could remember an individual shot in a sequence. 

On the subject of the Mona Lisa, Thaler writes that the “enigmatic nature” of the subject’s smile “may be that it is not a smile being held but the transient moment of a smile being formed. Perhaps Leonardo was able to apprehend Lisa’s smile effectively in slow motion and thereby capture the most meaningful transients of movement.”

Not much is known about why Leonardo never gave his painting of the Mona Lisa to the depicted woman’s husband — if indeed the painting had been commissioned at all. But the point that I wanted to get at is that this research on Leonardo’s quick eye was released during Pride Month and this is as good a time as any to remind people that Leonardo also had a queer eye. See that segue now?

The thousands of pages written by Leonardo in his journals provide plenty of clues to conclude without a doubt that he was romantically attracted to men. An article on The New Yorker states that Leonardo was arrested in 1476, when he was on the verge of 24, he was arrested for practicing homoerotic acts with the 17 year old apprentice of a local goldsmith. At the time, of course, Renaissance Florence was doing its best to control sodomy, because it was notorously prevalent in the territory that the contemporary German slang for a homosexual was Florenzer.

He got lucky on this occasion, jailed for a relatively short period of time, though other legal punishments would have ranged from a large fine to burning at the stake. Nevertheless, this event did not discourage Leonardo from loving other men throughout his life. An article on bbc.com mentions two of them: Francesco Melzi, who became something of a private secretary to the Renaissance genius in 1505, and Gian Giacomo Caprotti, better known as Salaí, who by the way is rumored to have been the real model for the Mona Lisa.

So, quick eye and queer eye? Both, I believe, are essential parts of Leonardo’s huge body of work — though some would probably rather conveniently forget about the queer eye!

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