Urban Scrawl: 002: A Bridge to Faraway—Leonardo’s Erector Sets
The Getty has an intriguing exhibition up right now; a small but salient assembly of drawings and sculptures meant to illuminate the formal and conceptual foundations of Leonardo da Vinci’s elusive, unverifiable sculptural practice. I say unverifiable because even the curators admit that no actual sculptures can be definitively attributed to him; the sculpted works in the show belong to his contemporaries.
That said, it seems to me that his engineering-style designs for monuments, fountains, stage sets, and various contraptions certainly exist as precursors to three-dimensional objects. Especially when you look at sheets like Studies for the Casting of the Sforza Monument and both sides of Studies for the Christ Child with a Lamb; notice the consistently evocative yet precisely descriptive way he treats the human and animal anatomies as well as the machineries with the same even-keeled, yet passionately attentive documentarian’s voice.
The first art history report I ever did was in sixth grade, on Leonardo da Vinci and the Mona Lisa, but that doesn’t make me an expert. Fortunately for us all, my friend Louis Buff Parry, a researcher, scholar, artist, poet, provocateur, and candidate to be named Historian Laureate of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, is. I met him during last year’s Italian Cultural Institute exhibition featuring works depicting angels by Leonardo and video artist Bill Viola. Buff had contributed a rollicking essay to Pedretti’s latest scholarly tome in his one-man leonardesco library, in which he diligently and brilliantly compared the swirling waters of the artist’s later Deluge works to his earlier depictions of his young muse, Salai and his tantalizing locks.
But that’s just the tip of the spear. Buff is working on a musical based on the life (and loves) of this Salai; and then there’s the opera Buff’s done based on a never-realized set of bridges Leonardo designed for Istanbul. (By the way, there happens to be a concurrent show featuring the work of Catherine Opie and two other photographers with penchants for capturing “Urban Panoramas” and, in Opie’s case, that means bridges.) But I digress. I figured given all these concentric practices, overlapping histories, and interdependent discoveries, that Buff’s would be an elevated and omnivorous perspective ideally suited to illuminate the importance of all this in the context of rapidly evolving Leonardo scholarship.
BUFF PARRY: You know that Freud equated Leonardo’s bridge designs to preoccupations with phallic symbolism, as is reported in Carlo Pedretti’s book.
SND: Excellent place to start, Buff! Carry on.
BP: In his 1503 letter to Ottoman Sultan Beyazid II, Leonardo proposed to build two bridges, one spanning the Golden Horn from Pera to Istanbul, the other spanning the Bosporus from Istanbul to Anatolia. The former was to be a parabolic pressed-bow keystone arch bridge while the other was to be a draw bridge. The Sultan chose not to build Leonardo’s bridge(s) but instead sent some Franciscans to Italy to track down Michelangelo and ask him to build the Golden Horn Bridge. The Pope stopped Michelangelo in his tracks, and as a result there is no bridge across the Golden Horn built by either. Leonardo designed at least four new bridge concepts based on principles of the arch, draw, pontoon, and suspension. Historiographers Vasari and Condivi, independent of each other, are the sources of the Sultan-Leonardo-Michelangelo triangle reports. Around 2001-02, a spindly version of Leo’s arch bridge design was built in Aas, Norway. I have designed a bridge to cross the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton based on Leonardo’s parabolic pressed bow keystone arch principles. If this bridge is built, it will be for Expo 2017 (for which Edmonton is bidding at this time, and my design isn’t in the final approval stage yet).
SND: So those are the bridges you are referring to when you talk about your opera?
BP: My role in the opera The Bridge of Leonardo, according to our American Western Writers Guild Registration, is as the third librettist; as the decipherer of Leonardo’s encryptions and codes (ciphers); and as the expert on Islamic (Eastern) content in the opera. I deciphered Leonardo’s use of the 47-Theorem of Pythagoras in his cryptic music notations; a decipherment Daniel Nazareth used in part of the score to the opera The Bridge of Leonardo, and in the Bara’a Symphony to which Nazareth also wrote the music and which is based on Rumi’s lyrics about evolution.
SND: And those are both distinct from the musical based on the character of Salai?
BP: It could be said that Salai was the bridge Leonardo traversed to reach the fulfillment of what he could not fulfill on his own. This accounts for why Leo tolerated the devilish behavior of his young lover; Salai did all the things Leo could not do and get away with. Leo lived vicariously through Salai and, to be sure, in their private moments, Leonardo became the Baccus-Angelo only Salai could be in the public eye. And even with the subliminal Salai, Leonardo still was charged with sodomy—twice, and by envious young men at that.
My musical Salai Jerry Polansky in San Diego will be writing the music, along with young Manhattan musical prodigy Anand Nazareth. His father, Daniel Nazareth, is a great composer/conductor. Anand changed his name, genius that he is, to Atalante who was Leonardo’s prize musical muse. He has written music to the verses I wrote in di divina proportione cadence. Anand was able to use the Golden Measure pattern for my Golden Measured verses, not used in music composition since Bela Bartok wrote his Sonata for Two Pianos. I use it frequently in my poetry and sketches. So did Leo. As I understand it, the name Salai itself was also a nickname given to the young man by Leonardo—and one with layers of hidden meaning attached.
BP: I broke the code in the name “Salai” in theessay I wrote for Pedretti. It is an Arabic portmanteaulogism. Pedretti fully embraces this decipherment of mine, as he does my decoding of Leo’s Hebrew cipher “Calindra”, made up of the Hebrew roots KL and NDR (but with Italian vowel phonology). My discovery of the likelihood of Leonardo’s mother being an Azeri young woman kidnapped into slavery and sold in Tuscany to Leonardo’s father Piero, circa 1450, was revealed in Canada’s National Library and Archives Auditorium during a speech I gave in Ottawa on October 14, 2009, sponsored by the Embassies of Turkey and Azerbaijan. This fact has everything to do with why Leonardo wrote that he visited the area of Mount Kavkas (Caucasus), and the Caspian Sea; both associate with Azerbaijan. The “Semitic” cluster pattern recently discovered and identified in Leonardo’s fingerprints (found on his paintings embedded in oil), goes to the Arabo-Semitic infused gene pool of Azeri peoples and his mother specifically (this is so because it is well understood his father was definitely not Arab or Jewish). I am now completing a paper for publication on this very subject, using human genome family tree data, with grants from the Azerbaijan Embassy, the Turkish Canadian Society of Edmonton, and the Alberta Azerbaijani Cultural Society. Leo wrote that he consulted with two advisers from Turkey, drew from the wisdom of great Sufi scientists like Ibn Sina, and
journeyed across Anatolia to the Caspian Sea. He quotes from the Qur’an, cited Prophet Muhammad…
SND: So this story is far from over, then? There are still more bridges to cross, so to speak? Or build? Or perhaps burn?
BP: There is so much more! I detail it in the essay, Rachel Resurrexit, found in the most recent Epigraphic Society Occasional Papers, ESOP Volume 27. It is extremely controversial, having incited the wrath of certain Armenian nationalists. It is the spin-out from my lecture and reception at Canada’s National Library and Archives Auditorium, hosted by the young and very interesting Azerbaijani Ambassador and the Turkish Ambassador. You will love it.
You’ll also appreciate my publication coming up in a special Futurism edition of the Canadian Journal of Comparative Literature, June 2010. It is about Leonardo as a proto-Futurist, in the context of Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto of 1909. Think about Leonardo as a real Futurist — given this terse definition of Futurism: the transition from historical beings to technological beings. You will find Leonardo ranked sculpture beneath painting, music, and poetry, as an art worth practicing.”