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!


Matt’s Art Chat #23: Kristine Schomaker (Podcast)

In this episode of Matt’s Art Chat, I am joined by artist, art curator and art promoter Kristine Schomaker.

Kristine is a multidisciplinary artist who also defines herself as a dedicated conceptual autobiographer. Her works explore such themes as validation, preception, self-esteem and body image. You can find out more about her via her website, https://www.kristineschomaker.net/

Matt’s Art Chat is a series of podcast conversations on the arts with creators, curators and art lovers from all over the world, hosted by arts presenter Matt Micucci.

The thing you care about that nobody else seems to care about

I was exploring music on Spotify in the way that I like to do and have written about in a previous post in this website. I happened to come across a version of the classic Brazilian song “Os Quindins de Yaya” by a Cuban vocalist I had never heard, named Velia Martinez.

What I immediately liked about it was its incredible minimalism that at once made it sound like a late-night vintage night club or the score out of an old-time sci-fi movie. The instruments – some type of organ, I suppose, and percussions, accompanying Martinez’s voice.

I got so excited that I thought of immediately sharing it across all of my active social media accounts. But this thought was immediately accompanied by a sense of doubt, which stopped me from doing so.

That sense of doubt was fickle and superficial: nobody would give it a thumbs up. Nobody would show their appreciation for me having gone out of my way and sharing this unknown song by an unknown vocalist.

So unknown, in fact, that I have yet to discover when it was recorded. From what I have gathered, it must have been at some point in the ’50s.

Once again, this event led me to think one simple thought. I have a tendency to care about things that nobody else seems to care about.

But am I in the wrong? Or is it simply the way things are or have become? Are we encouraged to talk about the same things over and over? And what does that say about the world that we live in?

Truth is, I believe there are people out there who similarly care about things that nobody else seems to care for. And yet, most of them struggle to find each other or support each other’s discoveries. Does that take anything away from the delight of making those discoveries? It’s possible that in the long-run it might. Just in the same way that it can be so heartbreaking to be ignored when your emotions are trampled upon by a deafening silence in just about any of life’s situations.

Matt’s Art Chat #6: Zoe Aiano

For the latest episode of my ART CHATS, I interviewed a friend of mine: documentary filmmaker Zoe Aiano. I met Zoe a few years ago at a film festival in Cluj, Romania, where I believe she was a member of the accredited press. Shortly after I met her, she started making films of her own. On this chat we talk about her latest film projects, as well as other topics, including Brexit and sex.

Matt’s Art Chat is a series of conversation with artists and interesting people from all over the world. You can also listen to them on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/0kqoDSr0OI9Soes0nkswdU?si=Ztv6pLkzQbGbLPQx47yFZw

Click here to buy my book of thoughts on film, Eye of the Beholder, on Amazon!

VIDEO – MATT’S WUTHERING ART #4 – Clio, the Muse of History (Artemisia Gentileschi, 1632)

Artemisia Gentileschi is not only one of the most celebrated female painters of the Baroque era – but one of the greatest painters of said era regardless of gender. The daughter of the renowned Gentileschi family, raped during her formative years, she is known for her depiction of female empowerment in the paintings she produced during her time in Florence, Rome and Naples. Clio, the Muse of History from 1632 was made during this latter period.

This allegorical depiction of the muse of history of Greek mythology is also a portrait of strong femininity. I experienced this painting at the Palazzo Blu in Pisa, where it is regularly seen as part of the permanent collection but could also be admired beside a portrait of her made by prominent French-born painter Simon Vouet – whom I also talked about in my previous work on the Noli Me Tangere by Valentin De Boulogne.

Matt’s Wuthering Art is a series where I talk about individual painters and works of art, based on the artworks I encounter during my extensive travels.

The Trouble with Art and the Netherlands

I wasn’t particularly keen on attending the International Film Festival Rotterdam, where I had been invited for the sixth time, for a bunch of reasons. In the end, I decided to go on one condition; that for the first time, I would take some time off to explore at least one of the city’s art museums, possibly the biggest one in town.

The biggest museum in Rotterdam happens to be the Museum of Boijmans Van Beuningen. It boasts an eviable collection of artworks from many varied art eras and of many varied art movements. Yet, it also happened to be closed for renovations.

I did not mind. I opted insteas for the Chabot Museum, named after Hendrikus “Henk” Chabot, an Expressionist Dutch painter and sculptor I did not know much about but looked forward to learning about upon my visit. Yet, it was only after paying for the ticket that I realized there would be no works of his exhibited there – despite the museum carrying his name!

Even worse, the exhibition was just a bunch of drawings collected by this Dutch art afficionado, stacked like books on bookshelves. It was a very disappointing and alienating experience.

Hence, disappointed and alienated, I walked to the nearby Kursaal where no temporary exhibition was that interested me. I asked one who worked there whether she could recommend any nearby art museums but she simply said that she couldn’t.

So, I just spent half-an-hour admiring the Cube Houses instead, as I have many times and paid three euro to get into one for the first time. I enjoyed the experience but the day did not go as planned.

I had suddenly realized something. Holland is indeed a pretty country and arguably the greatest country in the universe below sea level since Atlantis. Foreigners also perceive it as some type of artistic epicentre. Yet, the country’s efforts to promote artists to outsiders beyond the usual names (Van Gogh, Rembrandt etc.) are quite underwhelming.

The verity of this statement is reflected in the little things. In bookstores at airports, there are no books by Dutch authors translated into English besides The Diary of Anne Frank. This is odd, as especially European countries love to show off their greatest writers – rightfully and thankfully so. And even when the Bojimans Museum closes for renovantions, information about where some of the works exhibited are in nearby locations is loose and scattered. Not to mention that Museums tend to close disappointingly early – many at around 5:30 p.m.

Perhaps it is because I had just spent a whole month in various cities of Italy, a country that lives off of art more than spaghetti. But while many things work better in the Netherlands than on the Italian territory, the former loses out on the proliferation of its culture beyond borders. Could it be that it consciously prefers to not-so-silently promote its sex-positive and weed-head tourism instead?

Those too, after all, are cultural happenings…

The Netherlands are perceived as culturally and artistically dense. But there's a problem...

Click here to buy my book of thoughts on film, Eye of the Beholder, on Amazon!

Video: Matt’s Wuthering Arts #3 – Noli Me Tangere (Valentin de Boulogne, 1620)

Continuing my series of video about artworks I encounter in my travels. This one is by a little-known French-born painter Valentin de Boulogne, a respected caravaggista in Rome during the Baroque era. The work I talk about is Noli Me Tangere from 1620, which I saw at the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria at the Palazzo dei Priori in Perugia, Italy.

The Noli Me Tangere is a figure representing Mary Magdalene’s first encounter with the resurrected Christ, which translates as “Touch Me Not.” It is a common figure of religious representations of the time, and here it is intepreted by De Boulogne, who was a respected painter of the Baroque period in Rome. In this video, I argue that much like Caravaggio, the painting has a street-like quality that appears to reflect a desire to document the world around him.

Video: Matt’s Wuthering Arts #2 – Fire in the City (Gerardo Dottori, 1926)

For my second Wuthering Art episode, I take a look at Fire in the City from 1926 by Geradro Dottori.

Born in Perugia, Italy, in 1929, Dottori is one of the major painters of the Futurist movement. So much so that he was a spokesperson for futurism on various matters regarding the plastics arts. One of the major concepts he developed was Aeropainting (Aeropittura), which embraced Futirism’s love of modernity and introduced a brand new perspective to the art world during the pioneering days of flight.

Fire in the City is currently displayed as part of the permanent exhibition in the Palazzo della Penna in Dottori’s birthplace of Perugia, Italy. While the painting revels in the spectacle of the burning Medieval landscape, I argue that Dottori had a lot of love for the landscape of his birthplace, as represented by the many times he reproduced it throughout his ouvre.

VIDEO: Matt’s Wuthering Art #1 – Dead Christ (Perugino, 1496)

Happy new year!!! With the new year, I decided to inaugurate a new series where I look at individual paintings I encounter in my travels and talk about the painters who made them, plus reveal tidbits about their historical contexts. This series I decided to name “Matt’s Wuthering Art” after one of my favorite songs, Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights,” not because of the song itself but because in the album where it was included, The Kick Inside, she has this other song called “The Saxophone Song,” which opens with the lyrics:

“You’ll find me in a Berlin bar,
In a corner brooding.”

Somehow, those words ring true to me.

I filmed the first episode of this series in the Medieval art city of Perugia in Italy, while staying in a flat at the heart of its historical centre, just a few metres away from the Palazzo dei Priori. So, I thought it just about right to kick off with the best-known artist from the area, Pietro Vannucci, who in fact is also commonly referred to as Il Perugino, which literally means “the man from Perugia.”

Perugino was one of the biggest Italian artists of the Renaissance period, although he is best-known today as the mentor of Raphael, who in my books invented artistic “perfection.” The painting I use as a starting point to talk about Perugino is his Dead Christ, a part of his “Pala dei Decemviri,” which I had the pleasure of seeing with my own two eyes at the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria – a museum within the Palazzo dei Priori that exhibits much of the great art produced in the region of Umbria – from early Gothic to the Baroque.

Click here to buy my book of thoughts on film, Eye of the Beholder, on Amazon!

Video: Matt’s Long Take #4: Tereza Füsterová

Tereza Füsterová is a model and photographer from one of my favorite cities in the world: Prague. Meeting her offered me an opportunity to get possibly my first insight in the world of fashion. It is common to think of this particular branch of the arts as the most superficial. However, Tereza’s views on it and modeling at large, as well as her emphasis on the importance of being “natural,” reveals to me a different side of it that I perhaps never knew existed.

Matt’s Long Take is a new web series by art reporter Matt Micucci documenting a series of encounters with artists and art institutions around the world. The use of the long take is inspired by André Bazin, who believed it to be an important tool in cinema’s ability to capture “reality.”