Presepio

One of my favorite Neapolitan traditions is the presepio.  Although the presepio is a representation of the Holy Family at the birth of Jesus, and is therefore part of the Christmas celebration, in Naples one sees them not only at Christmastime, but throughout the year.  In Naples time is a continuum;  all events co-exist.  One of my favorite walks is on Via San Gregorio Armeno, where artisans are working on the figures in the presepio at all times.  This street has been dubbed “Christmas Alley”, which I find annoying.  First of all, it is not an alley, but a via in the part of Naples that dates past Roman times to its Greek founding.  And, moreover, the presepio is not a mere seasonal ornament, but a part of Neapolitan life.
Below is an article by Anita Sanseverino who is an expert on Neapolitan traditions.  She recently gave presentations on the presepio for the Garibaldi-Meucci Museum  and the American-Italian Cultural Roundtable, both in New York City.  Anita elucidates the history and meaning of the presepio beautifully.

 

Il Presepio Napoletano

By Anita Sanseverino

 

In the Italian language, the word ”Presepio” means “Crib.”  Now we use the word to refer not just to the manger, but to the entire edifice and all of the scenes.  It is not considered a “presepio” when only the figures of Mary, Joseph and the Christ child are represented.  That is the nativity or as it was referred to in the past:  “The Sacred Mystery.”

There were representations of the birth of Christ as early as the 2nd century A.D. but the type of nativities and presepi that we see today are said to have had their origins with St. Francis of Assisi.  In the year 1223, St. Francis took a manger, which was used to feed animals, filled it with hay, placed a few live animals around it, and had a Mass celebrated in front of it.  This representation did not have any figures of the Holy Family.  That came later.

Later, three dimensional scenes were created.  The oldest one still in existence in Italy is in marble created by Arnolfo Di Cambio in the 1300’s and can still be seen at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.  Later, in other places in Italy and in Europe, other artists created the expanded scenes.  At one point, the Jesuits took charge of the Presepio tradition, in order to promote the teachings of the Catholic Church.

It is important to not that the Golden Age of the Presepio took place in Naples, Italy when Carlo di Borbone, who developed a passion for the presepio, became the King of Naples in 1735.

Until this point, the presepio was the domain of the church.  With King Carlo, it moved from the church to the place; from the palace to the grand homes of the nobility; until this tradition reached the general populace in the 19th century.

At the time of Carlo’s reign, the city of Naples was the capital of the Kingdom of Naples, so the city experienced a flourishing art and culture community, and because the King himself developed such a passion for the presepio, it became one of the greatest expressions of Neapolitan art.

Eventually, an entire industry of artists and artisans grew around the making of the presepi – this included artisans who specialized in specific items.  There were artists who were masters at creating figures of animals, exact replicas of musical instruments, miniature fruits and other foods, and of course, the faces of the human figures.  No detail was overlooked in order to make every scene as realistic as possible.  The King’s own presepio grew to include about 6,000 pieces, which were displayed in the Royal Apartments and the public was invited in to view this spectacular scene.

The unique aspect of the Neapolitan presepio was its representation of Naples itself.  Their genius for the portrayal of the full range of the human condition is evident in the figures themselves – and the scenes are set in Naples, not Bethlehem – so that Naples, in effect, becomes part of this monumental event in human history.  The landscape, and all the various types of labor are represented.  Daily life in Naples is reflected in the riot of colors, the crowded scenes of the city, the marketplace, the vendors, the musicians:  not only were there shepherds and Wise Men, there were people of every level of society, going about their daily business.

And at the pinnacle of these street scenes, sits the Holy Family – that Sacred Mystery – and they are shown sitting under a broken temple, rather than being portrayed in a stable or cave – because this broken temple Signifies the Triumph of Christianity over Paganism.  But the genius for portraying scenes of daily life in such an exciting way enables one to feel the liveliness and almost hear the noise of the city!  At the same time, you can see in the faces of even the improvised characters, that the artists have given them a dignity, a purpose, a sense that they too are as important in this event, as are the three Wise Men.

They have shown by integrating the full range of society with the story of the birth of Christ, king of the world, coming to us by way of poor parents, born in a simple hut, that rich or poor, healthy or lame, we are all alike in Christ – that a person’s worth comes not from noble birth, but that all human beings have dignity because they are creations of God.  This is the message inherent in the Christmas story and the Neapolitan Presepio portrays this message in the most creative and human terms.

 

Here are some photographs of presepi that Jim and I took during our stay in Naples last fall.

 

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One of my favorite presepi takes up the whole ground floor of a building in Via Sapienza. It is always present and may be visited at any time. Here is part of a scene with shepherds.
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Neapolitan houses with a man looking out from his balcony. Neapolitans consider it a great thing to have a balcony.
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Detail of a fishmonger’s stall
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Detail of stairs leading to the home

 

Below are scenes from one of the presepi in Amalfi.  This one is built into a fountain and again, may be seen whenever one visits Amalfi.  It shows the whole spectacle of a village, high and low, rich and poor:

 

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All Souls’ Day

As November draws to a close and I think of our Thanksgiving Day tradition, one which we celebrated joyfully, I also remember other, perhaps darker, traditions observed in this month in another part of the world.  This episode of the Sebastian Stories was inspired by such.

Chiesa San Giovanni delle Monache-17th Century (Detail)

The simple pleasure of warm sun.  That was what I longed for and this was only the first day of November rain.  The damp of the villa penetrated my bones.  The chill was unrelenting.

The pool had been drained and covered for the coming winter.  This had been done yesterday on All Souls’ Day, that is November 2nd.  It’s odd to think that only three days ago, we were still swimming in its balmy water.  Even yesterday I remarked upon the trees surrounding the pool – at a respectable distance to avoid a clogging abundance of fallen leaves.  These trees still held on to their foliage, so stately and proud.  But Sebastian said one must think ahead and had the pool drained and covered while I was out shopping.

I walked down Via Costantinopoli in the stillness of dead and dropping leaves, leaves that had been on the trees yesterday.  The sun was out, heating the stones in Piazza Bellini where the old dog from a nearby café lay warming his ancient bones.  I made my way to my favorite pastry shop on Via Tribunali where my mouth watered at a display of nougat candy called torrone in the window – all different kinds vanilla and chocolate, of course; but also green nougat which was pistachio and also coffee nougat.  Some with almonds; some with hazelnuts.  I had noticed that these confections had appeared in the shops around the beginning of October, along with chestnut gelato.  (This I bought for myself every chance I got, since it was seasonal and would soon disappear.)

When I returned home with a large package of various torrone, I found the pool drained and covered.  I had hoped for one last swim, but it was not to be.  Maria took the package from me, saying it was too heavy.

“Why is there torrone only at this time of year?” I asked her.

“It’s for the dead,” she answered.  “The white nougat is molded into a long form and represents the bones of the dead.  For us all life has meaning,”

Maria then told me that All Saints’ Day and All Soul’s Day fall exactly between the time of the year when day and night are equal and the time when the daylight is shortest, that is the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice.  At this time of year the veil between the worlds of the living and dead was thinnest.  On All Saints’ Day, we honor all who were holy; All Souls’ Day is the appropriate time to take care of tasks for the living.  It is the day on which ordinary people are remembered and prayed for.  She said that we want the dead to assist us in life, so we must honor them.  The custom of propitiating the dead was initiated by Romulus after the founding of Rome.  Romulus did not want his brother, with whom he argued then killed, to return and seek vengeance.  Autumn can be a malevolent time and we must be cautious.

Sebastian and his family had begun their festivities even earlier, on the evening of October 31st.  Hallowe’en.  My favorite holiday when I could disguise myself as whatever grabbed my fancy.  I had always been attracted to costumes and fantasy.  But here in Naples, we spent the day wandering around the cemetery, wandering amongst graves and finally visiting the family vault.  I did not mind, however.  I had found another way of being in the quiet dignity of this place.  Just keeping still, letting something happen it its own good time.

Workmen were preparing another vault.  For Sebastian and me?  There was a third unmarked stone on the ground, so small that I tripped over it while looking at the names in the mausoleum.  It seemed ominous at first, but then I considered that I was merely being drawn in by the mood of my surroundings.

Sebastian’ mother, Signora Flora, talked about her late husband Raimondo as if he had only just been placed in the mausoleum, whereas he has been there for twenty years.  The stone is already beginning to wear at Raimondo’s name and likeness because Signora Flora has passed her hand over it so often, letting it linger over his face.  She has not remarried.

La Signora tries to keep close to Sebastian and he does not seem to mind.  I sometimes wonder how he ever managed to get away to New York.  What must La Signora have thought when he returned with a wife!

Today the scirocco came.  It started with a few drops of rain.  Then wind – in full force.  Sebastian had been right about draining the pool.  By the afternoon, the trees were completely bare, and the cover was chocked with leaves and red dust.  The cars on the street looked as if they had been in a sandstorm.  Red dust covered everything, and craters had formed where giant rain drops had landed.

“This is the dust of Africa,” Maria told me.

I stayed inside the villa and tried to stay warm.  I was tired just waiting.  I felt heavier and bigger today.  I could hardly move and nowhere, but nowhere accommodated my great belly.

“Soon,” said Maria.  “It will be soon.”

But it would not be so very soon.  Isabella was due on Christmas Day.  (Maria had said it would be a girl.) We were hoping she would come early because Christmas Day was Sebastian’s birthday.  La Signora said that it was a sin to be born on Christ’s birthday and the poor creature would suffer just as Sebastian did.  La Signora, I suspected, had prevailed upon Maria to brew a potion that would make Isabella come ahead of time.  I intended to refuse all drinks that I didn’t brew myself until the middle of December, when I felt it would be safe.

To stave off the damp left by the sirocco, late in the afternoon I made myself a cup of expresso and arranged a sort of nest of the cushions on the divan.  Sebastian brought me a small piece of each of the torrone I had bought.  As I sipped and sampled, blue seeped through the sky and with it the sunlight.  I thought of the next holiday, one that Sebastian and I would celebrate together.  I lay back in gratitude for the warmth of both the sun and Sebastian.

The Stranger at Chock-Full-o’Nuts

I was early for our appointment and the day was lovely – cool and the air was crisp.  I decided to walk to the restaurant which was on Varick Street, close to Janna’s gallery.  I turned on West Fourth Street in the direction of Sheridan Square.  I passed a Starbucks on the corner of West Fourth and Seventh Avenue.  I remember that spot as a Chock-Full-o’Nuts when I lived in the city.  Chock-Full-o’Nuts seemed to be on every other street corner then;  now their numbers seem paltry in respect to the ubiquitous Starbucks that haunt every other street corner.  But perhaps I am the one that is being haunted.  It was at Chock-Full-o’Nuts that I had met Sebastian.

Sebastian was mysterious with beautiful sad eyes.  It was his eyes that first attracted me.  I just  had gotten my first role in a play and worked the morning shift in Chock-Full-o’Nuts on 57th Street.  It was a good job – the tips were all right and I had plenty of opportunity to observe characters.  Young models with Gucci bags who ordered black coffee that they never finished, poising themselves then glancing nervously at their large round wristwatches with neon bands, then rushing off to the interview that would be their big break.  Old ladies with all the time in the world who would order two of the Chock-Full signature whole wheat doughnuts covered with powdered sugar and proceed to eat them with pleasure, being long past caring how they looked in a mini-skirt or Capri pants.

Then one day, the manager asked me to switch to the late shift instead.  I, of course, agreed, not wanting to risk losing my job.  Along the downward slope of the after-work rush one evening, a very interesting man came in.  He had piercing eyes, but they were not cruel.  He sat at my station, ordered black coffee and – in what seemed an afterthought – a single signature doughnut.  I smiled at him as I handed over this so-called breakfast.  As customers were becoming fewer and fewer, I managed to linger long enough to offer him a refill of his coffee.  He accepted.

He looked me over.  He was sly about it, but I was in the habit of observing.  I smiled and offered even more coffee.  He accepted.  Then he asked if I were a student.  I answered no.  Was I an artist?  I was an actress.  He smiled, seemed embarrassed and asked if I would allow him to offer me dinner tomorrow night, but very late.  To myself I thought, “Of course!  How could I not?”  To him what I uttered was a hesitant acceptance.   And so it began.

We arranged to meet the following evening, a Friday.  Fortunately, the Chock-Full-o’Nuts on West 57th Street, was basically a breakfast and lunch establishment, although we stayed open until seven o’clock for the after-work/working late crowd who wanted a snack on the way to Port Authority or Penn Station.

Six-thirty pm had arrived at last.  I began to clean up my work station.  At six-forty-five, Yvonne, the manager, locked the door so that no more customers could enter.  I finished wiping down my counter area, removed my apron and took the net off my hair.  I remember closing my eyes and tossing my head to let my hair flow down my back again.  When I opened my eyes, I saw Sebastian standing at my station.

“I hope you didn’t forget – tonight we have a date,” he said softly with a slightly wolfish smile.  “I’ll meet you at the restaurant in an hour.  We’ll have a martini at the bar first and a steak dinner afterward.”

“How did you get in?  I thought the door was locked.”  I was surprised to see him, and I hadn’t heard the door open.

He smiled again.  I turned to hang my apron on its hook.  When I spun around again he was gone.  This doesn’t seem normal, I thought.  I was beginning to wonder.

I left Chock-Full and headed to my small furnished apartment on West Eleventh Street.  It was getting dark earlier now.  This was the day of the autumnal equinox, and starting tomorrow, night would outlast the day.  Even though it was already night and I was tired, I decided I would walk to the home, rather than contend with the subway.  The air was crisp and cool that night as well; the slight autumnal wind began to sweep upward.  I felt safe walking in the dark, even though everyone warned me about how dangerous New York was.  I always felt safe.  Deep down, I believed I led a charmed life and no harm would befall me.  And even if it did, I could figure my way out of harm’s way.

As soon as I got back to my apartment, I took a shower to wash the smell of coffee out of my hair.  I put on my black lace panties and bra.  Not that they would be seen tonight.  Oh, no.  Never on a first date.  “We’ll see where he takes me, what he’s willing to invest,” I said to myself.  No, I was building a costume, creating a character.  I would no longer be the laboring waitress, beautiful but poor.  Nor the struggling actress, talented but undiscovered.  Tonight, I would be a charming, sophisticated woman of the world.

At nine o’clock, I applied my make-up and sprayed on some cologne.  I remember it was called “Vivons”.  It’s a long-ago scent that has since disappeared from the shops.  This is unfortunate, for I loved how it smelled on me.  I still have a handkerchief that I had splashed some on and carried with me for a while.  It too now lies in my drawer and on a dry day, gives off its aroma.  Next, I put on a black mini-skirt and fishnet stockings.  I selected a grey silk blouse with a high lace collar.

I was ready when the buzzer rang.  I rang back and sprayed cologne around the room.  Just as I finished, the doorbell rang.  I opened it and there stood Sebastian.  He smiled, and we looked each other up and down for a few seconds.

Then he said, “Are you going to ask me in?  I cannot enter unless you invite me.”

Haunted

The vision took place in the West Fourth Street station – the one where the Sixth Avenue and the Eighth Avenue lines converge, then go their separate ways.  I had no intention of getting off there.  I was just passing through on my way to meet Janna at a nouveau foodie restaurant on Spring Street. 

I was safe now living a life far from any city and from mountains, just stretches of beach.  Although, the ocean occasionally caused anxiety.  Because here the ocean is too low, away from the road, at the bottom of a bluff.  And it’s as calm as a pool, no waves.  Everything on the bluff is flat – no soaring mountains, no hidden villas, no mule trails winding down, down, down to the seductive turquoise Mediterranean.  Nothing to call me into it’s depths.   My ocean is a real ocean, cold until late summer, always a greenish grey, never bright blue.  Not as beautiful as the Mediterranean, but safe.

On that day, I had left my cozy house by the ocean because Janna wanted to be a lady-who-lunches.  It is to be a celebratory lunch because Janna has a new show opening in the prestigious Broome Street Gallery.  Janna always manages to be involved in the most prominent of galleries and to be in the center of the most important of events.  I am celebrating Janna’s good fortune despite my unwillingness to share in it.  It is safe that way.

So, I undertook a journey on the Long Island Railroad to help Janna affirm life and her love for art.  I myself am now childless and have renounced a promising career.  It was a bright day, neither hot nor very cool.  I knew the restaurant on Spring Street (apt for the season, now that I think of it).  I remembered that they don’t accept credit cards, but I had already gotten off the LIRR and made my way into the subway, the Eighth Avenue line and was on the E train.  I knew that there is a branch of my bank near the West Fourth Street station.  Hence my getting off the train at that stop.

I knew which exit to take – the one on West Third Street.  It seemed that the bank was now where O. Henry’s Steak House once had been.  I had memories of very happy times at O. Henry’s Steakhouse with Sebastian, where, ravenous after a performance, I always had a rare sirloin burger – rare, I say, but it was in fact raw in the middle and charred on the surface.  Red wine accompanied it, at least two glasses and sometimes three.  Salad, though.  Never fries.  Fries were seductive, their appearance and aroma beguiling, but their substance nothing but disappointment. 

So, I got off the E train at West Fourth Street.  I had a vision of Sebastian standing at the Third Street entrance, as he did long ago.  But maybe it was something more substantial.  As I approached the stairs I saw a rat looking at me with sad eyes before he ran away.

 

Roman Ruins of Paris

IMG_1283It has been chilly and rainy here in New York –not a pleasant time to be out of doors.  This damp but not-too-cold weather takes me back to this past January in Paris where it rains some time almost every day, but is almost always 41degrees F.  When I first arrived, the Seine was still flooded, but had crested and was beginning to recede.

 

The Flooded Seine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had planned to visit the crypt at Notre Dame, but was afraid it might have been flooded.  But fortunately, the crypt was open, and I was able to visit Roman Paris.

The Romans under Julius Caesar invaded and conquered Gaul, which included France, around 58 BC.  The Gallic tribe settled on Île de la Cité – the island in the Seine where Notre Dame Cathedral stands today –at that time were known as the Parisii.  In 53 BC, with Vercingetorix as their leader, they revolted against Caesar.  Unfortunately for the Parisii, they were defeated; still Vercingetorix  is considered to be the first French national hero.

The Romans proceeded to build a new city on the left bank of the Seine, which they named Lutetia (Lutèce in French). They, of course, introduced Roman customs and entertainment, traces of which can be found today.  My first visit was to the Arènes de la Lutèce, a Roman amphitheater in the 5th arrondissement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The arena was used from the first to the third century, then destroyed during the time of the barbarian invasions, its stones being used for building materials.  The site became buried under layers of soil

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The exact location of the amphitheater was forgotten over time, although the place name Clos aux arènes remained.  The remains were discovered in 1869 when the Compagnie Générale des Ominibus opened the street to construct a space for its vehicles.   Nowadays the amphitheater is a public park than one can enter through a stone archway on Rue Monge.  It wasn’t very chilly, and the rain had stopped the afternoon of my visit.  Kids were playing, and people were sitting on benches watching them.  It was a very peaceful end of the day.

Next, I visited Cluny.  Once a mansion for the Cluny abbots in the fifteenth century, this complex is now a museum of the Middle Ages.  

Fountain in courtyard at Cluny

 

However, it is built over what once were Roman baths.  Built in the first century AD, the baths were places where people gathered to conduct business, exercise, gossip and relax.  There were open to the public and fees were low.  Having public baths was the Empires attempt at the Romanization of conquered Gaul. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was fortunate that the crypt of Notre Dame Cathedral on Île de la Cité did not flood when the Seine did, and that site was the next I visited.  During the third century AD, Germanic tribes began to invade Lutetia.  The residents fled the left bank and relocated to the island in the Seine – Île de la Cité.  Stones from abandoned monuments were used to build a fortifying wall.around the new settlement.  Over time the Roman streets were buried under medieval and modern layers of construction to be rediscovered in the 1970’s when the city began excavations for a parking lot

 

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My last excursion was to Montmartre, famous for free ways, artists, and bohemian life in general.

Street in Montmartre

However, this hill is so named for the martyrdom of St. Denis, the patron saint for France.  In 250 AD, Denis was the Bishop of the Parisii; however, Christianity was still outlawed in the Roman Empire.  Citizens were required to do reverence and make sacrifices to the Emperor and the traditional Roman pantheon.   Denis had been sent to convert the Gauls to Christianity and was so successful that the Roman officials had him arrested and executed.  He was beheaded, along with two other clerics, on the highest hill in Paris then known as the Hill of Mercury and Mars and which subsequently became Mount of the Martyrs or Montmartre.  Legend has it that St. Denis picked up his head and walked several miles while continuing to preach.

Montmartre is famous for the 19th century church Sacré-Coeur.  

Sacre-Coeur

However, there is another, older church nearby – Saint-Pierre de Montmartre – founded by St. Denis in the third century.  There are not many Roman ruins to be seen, but supposedly the columns on the interior are of Roman origin.  In any event, it is a charming and peaceful place to visit.

Saint-Pierre

Paris is always lovely – another part of the world where you can find the past awaiting you, if you just look.

 

 

 

 

 

AMERICAN ITALIAN CULTURAL ROUNDTABLE, INC. Presents From the Heart: A Treasury of Italian Songs

Commendatore Aldo Mancusi, President  in association with Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimo & The Enrico Caruso Museum

Understanding Through Culture 

Presenter Bill Ronayne

Noted Lecturer on Opera, Songs, Classic Films and Television      

 

Wednesday, May 30, 2018 6:30 PM                       

Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimo

24 West 12th Street

New York, NY 10011 

 

All welcome to join us for refreshments following the program

For Additional Information Contact:

Commendatore Aldo Mancusi  

at 718-368-3993  or amancusi@enricocarusomuseum.com                         

SAVE THE DATE  Wednesday, September 26, 2018

A Musical Celebration in honor of Italian Heritage and Culture Month

Presenter: David Maiullo, Pianist and Singer

Admission Information:  Member of AICR – FREE / NON-MEMBER – $15.00

Non-Members must reserve seating by mail. Money cannot be accepted at the door.

Please mail checks to

AICR, c/o Pat Constantino, 40 Third Street, Apt. #4, Brooklyn, NY 11231 

 

** SPECIAL OFFER FOR NON-MEMBERS: An opportunity to become a member for the last three programs of 2018 (May 30th, September 26th, December 6th)

Single $25.00: Family $35.00

Membership includes free admission to all four programs.

We are a 501c3 Not-For-Profit Organization – Your donations are tax deductible.

 

                                                       

Easter, Passover and Leonardo’s The Last Supper

 

When we saw Leonardo’s The Last Supper in Milan earlier this year, Jim made an observation about some of the imagery in the painting.  He wondered why the loaves of bread on the table appeared to be leavened bread.  The historical Last Supper is traditionally believed to have been a Passover Seder at which only unleavened bread should have been eaten.  The Last Supper took place on a Thursday, followed by Jesus’ trial and the Crucifixion on Friday and the Resurrection on Sunday, which was Easter Sunday.  This is the reason that Passover and Easter overlap in present times.

Última_Cena_-_Da_Vinci_5

No one seemed to know why Leonardo depicted leavened bread.  Did he not know that the Last Supper was a Seder?  He was incredibly curious and learned, so that seems hard to believe.  Did the Church suppress this fact?  The command to eat unleavened bread is in the Bible.

I asked my friend Mary who is an artist and knows a lot about art history why Leonardo would have ignored this fact.  She has, moreover, just finished reading Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson and here is what she has to say:

Isaacson’s book depressed me because it seemed like da Vinci never completed very much—he was brilliant but never really devoted to art or painting.  Finally I realized that I wasn’t appreciating who he really was.

Da Vinci wasn’t the kind of artist who devoted his life to art because his ideas couldn’t be limited by painting.  He was an incredibly accomplished painter by his early ‘20’s, but his ideas were already far exceeding what was possible in painting.

His genius and his life-long passion lay in his attempt to unlock the mysteries of nature – to penetrate the laws that govern physical, natural and artistic realms, and discover the similarities and correspondences between them.

His paintings are incredible examples of his technical skill, but their silence and aloofness don’t give us a glimpse into his personality and emotions.

We have a better understanding of da Vinci through his notebooks which show his unmatched interest in so many areas – what might be called his unquenchable thirst for discovery and understanding.

 

I felt as though I had gained a deeper understanding of Leonardo, but still I asked, “Why the leavened bread?”  Mary’s answer was that because da Vinci wasn’t captivated by painting and also was not religious, that he really didn’t concern himself with the historical accuracy of the picture.

I remembered that Leonardo had not finished The Last Supper, which had been commissioned by Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, to embellish the family mausoleum.  Leonardo worked on the painting sporadically while devoting time to his other interests.  During that time Sforza had started a war with the French, and both he and Leonardo fled Milan after the Duke had been taken prisoner.

True, Mary concurred and added:

Da Vinci was true to himself – he was an artist-scientist-engineer and he remained so all his life!  We all need that kind of courage.  He was never and cannot be pigeon-holed.

 

I am grateful to my friend for her insight into this fascinating Renaissance man.  Wishing all my friends a Happy Easter and/or Passover,