It seems that it had been destined before that I should occupy myself so thoroughly with the vulture, for it comes to my mind as a very early memory, when I was still in the cradle, a vulture came down to me, he opened my mouth with his tail and struck me a few times with his tail against my lips. – Leonardo da Vinci.
What fascinates the spectator is the demoniacal charm of this smile. Hundreds of poets and writers have written about this woman, who now seems to smile upon us seductively and now stares coldly and lifelessly into space, but nobody has solved the riddle of her smile, nobody has interpreted her thoughts. Everything, even the scenery is mysterious and dream-like, trembling in the sultriness of sensuality.” These are the few lines, which once read, embedded a malevolent desire in me: a sort of brain-burn called ‘curiosity’.
After many years of looking, traveling, reading and asking hundreds of different questions to myself and many other people, I finally reached my destination; I found my answer. For the surprise and disappointment of many, her smile doesn’t mean anything in itself: it is in fact an incredible copy of another smile. A smile, which I rediscovered in the sculpted bust of a rather renown character.
There are many popular smiles but without hesitation, that the most puzzling of all belongs to the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world-: La Gioconda, (The Joyful One).
How many people and how long have they tried to understand her smile? Anyone who sees this image is immediately confronted by the questions: why and at what is she smiling? We certainly all find different meanings and answers and that is, because among many other reasons, her smile seems to change all the time.
Daniel Arasse, a preeminent scholar on Leonardo da Vinci, answer this riddle quite beautifully. After a life-time dedicated to the reading of the artist’s symbols, Professor Arasse thinks that her smile is connected to Leonardo’s obsession with temporality. The ephemeral La Gioconda’s smile leads us from time immemorial’s chaos to the fugitive and present moment of grace, but we will return to the endless time of chaos and the absence of form.
But if is not hers, to whom does the smile belong to? Even if you won’t find the right answer or answers, it is at least the right way to set your compass. It is the same type of question that allowed Sigmund Freud to find unique answers in his 1916 publication, “Leonardo da Vinci: A Psychosexual Study of an Infantile Reminiscence”. Freud’s theory predicates, that all his life Leonardo was passionately in love with his mother, from whose arms he was torn at an early age, and that in his fantasy, he formed and image of her smiling upon him with a return of passionate devotion. Sigmund Freud was almost right when he thought her smile was “borrowed” from another person, but it is not precisely from Leonardo’s mother.
Often strangers look familiar, but sometimes some strangers look too familiar and when that happens to a curious mind, the reality that unfolds in front of his eyes stops; it goes blank and then the desperate search begins inside him:, a search through millions of faces and endless situations. This is a monumental search that only a curious mind can see. Maybe this is the biggest punishment for a curious mind: one of not finding the name for a familiar face.
This looks so familiar -I said to myself- while walking slower and slower and getting closer and then suddenly farther and farther from the Tusculum bust. My curiosity was already like a gigantic black cloud, moving in dramatically slow motion and covering the museum’s entire room, leaving only the lips of the bust illuminated.
I was standing there, alone in front of Gaius Julius Caesar’s finely ground marble lips, which hours later became the answer to the riddle of La Gioconda’s smile. La Gioconda’s lips are those of Julius Caesar and vice versa. Her lips are borrowed from the Roman dictator, who in 45 BC established the Egyptian calendar and set the length of the year to 365.25 days. In the end, Arasse’s reflections on temporality were correct. We will return to the endless time of chaos and the absence of form. Last time I visited La Gioconda’s room in the Louvre, I didn’t know what to think when I saw hundreds of people admiring, adoring and worshiping the smile of a dictator. The ultimate meaning of Leonardo’s creative/artistic strategy seems to be, that we never quite know what we are looking at.
Edited by Jade Niklai