By Stuart Mitchner
The massive crossbow that felled a dragon in the final season of Game of Thrones was meant as “an homage to Leonardo da Vinci,” the show’s weapon designer told IndieWire. The “outer shape” of the scorpion has the “exact same look” as Leonardo’s drawings.
After watching the vengeful Mother of Dragons lay waste to King’s Landing on Mother’s Day, I knew it would be a challenge to launch a column about the man who died 500 years ago this month, May 2, 1519, without at least mentioning that apocalyptic spectacle, however absurdly out of proportion it is next to the pop song based on Leonardo’s most famous creation. Surely the fire and fury of HBO’s sensational series is a better fit with the 21st century than the legend that Nat King Cole’s manager strenuously advised him not to record “this off-beat thing about an old painting.”
When “Mona Lisa” was released in May of 1950, it went to the top of the charts, was number one for eight straight weeks, and dominated the hit parade for the rest of the year. The plaintive hymn to “the lady with the mystic smile” was heard over radios and on jukeboxes in bars and diners around the country.
While the banal fate of Leonardo’s masterpiece may conjure up the old “turning over in his grave” trope, evidence that he accepted art’s susceptibility to the lesser realities can be found in Walter Isaacson’s Leonardo da Vinci (Simon & Schuster 2017). The final words in Leonardo’s hand appear on “what may be the last page of his notebooks,” where after drawing four right triangles and fitting rectangles into each and making note of what he’s trying to accomplish, he abruptly “breaks off” to explain why he’s putting down his pen: “Perché la minestra si fredda.”
Isaacson reimagines the event, “our last scene of him working”: Leonardo’s cook is in the kitchen, other members of the household are already at the table while “he is still stabbing away at geometry problems that have not yet yielded the world very much but have given him a profound appreciation of the patterns of nature. Now, however, the soup is getting cold.” more