Monster buff Leonardo da Vinci would have loved Halloween
'His interest in the grotesque, the ugly, the reptilian goes back to when he was a child,' says historian
* Originally published on October 31, 2019.
Scattered throughout Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks, are drawings and sketches of monsters, beasts, and dragons.
The renaissance artist is most known for his precise and beautiful paintings, his technological inventions, and accurate anatomical sketches. But da Vinci had another passion — drawing fantastical creatures.
"His interest in the grotesque, the ugly, the reptilian goes back to when he was a child," said writer and historian Ross King, who delivered a lecture called Leonardo's Monsters at Carleton University.
Ross has no doubt that da Vinci would have loved Halloween.
Leonardo da Vinci's father asked young Leonardo to paint the wooden shield of a peasant in Vinci.
"Leonardo started think what he could paint on it so as to terrify anyone who saw it," wrote da Vinci's biographer Giorgio Vasari.
"To do what he wanted, Leonardo carried into a room of his own a number of green and other kinds of lizards crickets, serpents, butterflies, locusts, bats, and various strange creatures of this nature, and from all these he took and assembled different parts to create a fearsome and horrible monster."
No copies exist of the painting based on this monster, but Leonardo's surviving notebooks have hidden samples of the artist's interest in monsters. One of King's favourites is a dragon, lurking among sketches of cats.
"At one point the cats begin to mutate into a mountain-lion type creature, a panther, and then within that we have a dragon. So I think what's fascinating is he could do very detailed drawings of things he could see and touch and play with, and he could also do very detailed drawings of things he could never see and only existed within his imagination," King said.
According to King, these sketches serve as a reminder from the great artist that the imagination can be just as important as science, judgment, and reason, and in a world of progress it's important to hold on to a sense of wonder and fantasy.
"This idea of just letting the imagination run free — giving it a free rein, which people didn't do back in his time, and I think we don't do enough either," said Ross.
"We get very fixated on getting the latest data… sometimes it's nice to shut all of that out and go beyond the five senses and let the imagination take us somewhere we're not expecting and maybe didn't know existed."
** This episode was produced by Matthew Lazin-Ryder.