Art history with attitude. The lost identity of the Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci's creative autism, and parallel situations set in two centuries, five-hundred years apart. For those who love a long read - it's a renaissance mini-series between the covers of a book.
The working date for 'Second Lisa' to be posted as an e-book, print-on-demand, and local publishing, is August 2, 2012.
Supportive sites and pages are presently under construction that will link to social networks and where to purchase.
SECOND LISA: first six pages
From inside the ‘Mona Lisa’, Lisabetta calmly muses how bizarre it is that the dead still have birthdays, but that was in the naïve springtime of 1519, when the French countryside of Amboise was unbelievably sweet with anticipation, and she believed that her death was pure and uncomplicated.
For now, innocence is bliss: Leonardo still feels immortal, and Lisabetta is a daydreamer who has forgotten the invisible hour when she had painted a wish on heaven’s door, like the mark of plague.
In the enchanted April, when Lisabetta is forever fifty-years-old and her brother, Leonardo, turns sixty-seven, waiting for a loved one to die is a peculiar mixture of guilt and relief. Lisabetta senses Leonardo’s transition is only a matter of days away, but she forgets her brother’s tenacity to live beyond normal human expectancy.
Lisabetta had stopped aging after she died, which meant she would never be older than fifty, but she had been delighted to discover her ability to revisit her younger years with ease. In many ways, Leonardo had been her first mother, but after Lisabetta turned six, she had returned the favor by mothering Leonardo for the rest of his life.Brother and sister share the same date of birth, born six years apart; today is their birthday.
Across the room, Leonardo is too busy to notice his sister’s mood, but then, it was typically so; work is a blindfold to the everyday things of life when your name is Leonardo da Vinci.
Lisabetta is lured from her portrait towards the blue sky of the open window. She walks past Leonardo and his table strewn with papers, and his abandoned midday meal. Mathurine’s soup of the country grows cold next to the old man intent on documenting the entire world.
The gargoyle on the roof outside Leonardo’s bedroom window, seems poised to leap at a passing sparrow hawk. Lisabetta looks out over its stone wings to the Leonardo Tree below. From this vantage she is reminded that the scale of trees is irrelevant. It was one of the first art lessons Leonardo had taught her. Together as children, they had gathered trees that fit into the palms of their hands, and studied the forms of the cloud trees that had towered over the Tuscan landscape.
Lisabetta is momentarily distracted by the figures of a woman and a boy moving diagonally across the lawn. Her eyes track them as they walk in a beeline for the main door until they disappear out of sight.
Behind her, Leonardo’s pen scratches furiously at the design of a fountain for King Francis’ new palace.
“Leonardo,” Lisabetta announces abruptly, “it is time.”
“Time?” he answers absentmindedly, “for my medicine?”
“Time to eat your soup... to breathe fresh air... to feel the sunshine... and to put down your pen,” she says.
Leonardo responds with a smile, but he mischievously writes one more thing to vex her: ‘here I must stop because the minestrone grows cold.’
Leonardo’s last stroke has puckered his left hand into a feeble paw which still allows him to sketch and write, but his paints have long been abandoned in favor of designing follies for the King of France.
It is unusually warm for April. Newborn bees test their wings in the sun, and Leonardo is persuaded to set aside his frantic scribbling and venture downstairs on Cecco’s arm. Leonardo’s Tuscan chair is carried ahead with blankets and silk pillows, and a tray of his favorite delicacies: a platter of marzipan pigs and Madagascar dates, and a blue majolica bowl filled with crystallized ginger.
The young bees serenade the first flowers beginning to blossom in the walled garden. Cecco chooses a perfect yellow rose from the adjacent conservatory, and tries to lure a fat bee onto it with a small net, but the bee is provoked into a frenzy until Lisabetta cups her hands around it and sets it gently onto the head of the flower. The calmed bee burrows contentedly into the petals and is transported to the front lawn, where Leonardo dozes in the half-sleep of old-age.
At sixty-seven, Leonardo projects the aura of an ancient magus ensconced on his wicker throne – an ordinary chair made from the reeds of the Vincio River near his birthplace. It’s strategically placed in the shade of the great oak that Cecco dubbed the Leonardo Tree – so named, the day of their arrival three years ago, at King Francis’ pleasure. Leonardo had placed his hands on the tree and said he could feel a numinous energy within it. “Here is power” he had said, and claimed the oak as his.
Leonardo wears a violet skullcap, and a matching shawl. His legs are tucked snuggly under a regal coverlet embroidered with his own device: the monogram LDV worked into an elaborate Vinci knot. It is the same design that Cecco has engraved in the bark of the Leonardo Tree.
Leonardo sits like an emperor – a noble figure with flowing white beard, resting his chin on one gnarled fist, his lion-head cane gripped by the other, soaking up the magic.
Lisabetta runs ahead of Cecco and whispers to her sleeping brother: “Leonardo, I will be right back.”
“Monsieur Léonard,” Cecco says with mock formality, addressing Leonardo by his French name. “You have a visitor.” He presents his fragile offering, lifting the net slowly. The bee remains settled. “Voila! Maestro, may I present a small admirer, who brings you this birthday gift as a token of his esteem.”
Leonardo is delighted to observe one of his favorite miracles of flight so closely, but the bee buzzes after Lisabetta, following her signature of violet perfume, in a disappearing trajectory of yellow and black.
Leonardo inhales the rose’s fragrance and closes his eyes. “This yellow… I am reminded of a canary I once...” he starts, but his voice trails off at the sad memory. He looks lost. “Where is Rinato?” he asks.
“Maestro, Rinato was before my time. He has been gone for many years now, but the house dogs are near. Do you want me to bring one of them?”
“Rinato must be with Lisabetta,” Leonardo says.
“Of course, Maestro, that must be where he is,” Cecco replies.
Leonardo clutches the yellow rose tightly with his good hand and cuddles an invisible dog. “I’ve left Lisabetta too long” he says, and waves the flower like a scepter. “This is for her,” he says, and begs Cecco to take him and Rinato inside.
THE MANOR HOUSE OF CLOUX, AMBOISE, FRANCE
MAY 2, 1519
Lisabetta is surprised to know that she has been dead eleven years. She surmises it from the trembling date, 1519, that Leonardo had scrawled in the margin of his notebook next to the words: ‘di ieri di domani’ – more than yesterday; less than tomorrow.
There had been signs over the past few weeks to indicate that Leonardo’s death was imminent. Today, Lisabetta can see his form waver, translucent against the sky and the green lawn, as he gathers the waxy clusters of lily-of-the-valley sheltering between the toes of his namesake tree.
Lisabetta believes a gentle heaven awaits her after Leonardo’s death, and that the power of life before death, is all the authority one may possess. She looks forward to the joyous day of her brother’s transition when she will teach him to fly. She had created her heaven for one – crafted it all her life, but after her death she had spent her time polishing it for two.
With the shiver of heaven so near, she and Leonardo had discussed it of-ten with eager anticipation, but once, a thought had troubled Leonardo’s aged face. “Rinato can come, yes?” It was the question of a child.
“Of course,” she had said, “Rinato can come.”
It is pleasant enough for Lisabetta to wait for Leonardo in the landscape he painted behind her. Lying under her stars, she is free to imagine her heaven somewhere overhead, waiting. From here she can turn her head and see Leonardo’s bedroom window as a distant flickering light, but as she watches, the horizon flashes with silent colors, and the wind, stirring with the sound of a million agitated bees, begins to grumble with approaching thunder.
Lisabetta flies towards the bright square of the window, and hovers over the manor house crouched small against the storm. The skies above Cloux churn with anger. A raw streak of power sizzles night into day as an electric claw rakes the sky with white fingers. The Leonardo Tree explodes into sparks.
Lisabetta listens for her brother’s voice, but the thunderclap crackling with ozone, startles her.
Leonardo hears it too. She senses him stir within his sleep – roused enough to call out: “Lisa is that you?”
The hem of Lisabetta’s borrowed dress ripples across a tapestry of Persian flowers in a cloud of emerald silk and rustles towards the old man in the canopied bed. “I am here” she says. “It’s me... Lisabetta. Leonardo, I think it’s time.”
Lisabetta takes Leonardo’s lifeless arm and they walk towards the open window, but she remembers the painting beside the bed and tells him to go on without her. “I will be right back,” she says. “I just want a word with Cecco.”
Inside her portrait, Lisabetta looks out at the red and gold room and the young man in attendance, the apprentice, Francesco Melzi, dozing in a chair. She had recruited him for Leonardo, and now he is responsible for Leonardo’s legacy and the future of the painting that had been her recent home.
Lisabetta’s work is almost over. She notes the rich bedclothes and the fragile contours of the newly-abandoned human shell beneath them. She calls out excitedly: “Cecco, wake up. It is time. Leonardo is safe with me now.”
Cecco startles from the sound of a loud crash within a dream where a dog had been barking excitedly. Furious rain pelts the windowpane as simultaneous thunderclaps and flashes of lightning shake the walls and panic the flames in the fireplace.
In Cecco’s dream, a young boy had been shushing Joan of Arc, who brandished a square shield with great urgency. The shield had been painted with an image of her face. The dream had shown her, as the locals so often recounted, a young peasant girl sacrificed by fire. Cecco had been witnessing Joan’s martyrdom – seen her face age inside the flames until her skin was covered in fine cracks. A crowd had hung her shield over an altar as a religious icon and were worshipping her as a saint, scattering violets at her feet.
Cecco experiences the anxiety of the dog as his own.
The voice in his head is insistent: “Take the ‘Mona Lisa’ to the king.”
“Maestro, did you call?”
The ‘Mona Lisa’ lies face down on the floor. Still disoriented, Francesco places the painting back on the easel. Leonardo must have reached for her again.
For five-hundred-years, Lisabetta will remember clearly, the midnight window that hangs like a painting on the far wall. She smiles at the trans-parent form of her brother, no longer an old man of sixty-seven, but as he used to be when he was her twelve-year-old hero, standing now with his back to her, gazing spellbound at a shimmering vista of the Loire Valley. He holds their scrawny terrier, Rinato, over his shoulder, and Lisabetta struggles against the varnish to rejoin them: “Don’t leave me. Wait”, she calls into the drone of bees humming.
Leonardo, replies with his back to her: “Come out crazy girl and be quiet or he will hear you and come back.”
The last thing Lisabetta sees is the eyes of the animal which plead with her to follow as boy and dog are pulled into a blue flash and disappear into the night sky like stars returning home.
Since her death, Lisabetta had moved freely across the threshold of her portrait in response to Leonardo’s every summons, loyal to his need, but now he abandons her like all the rest. Leonardo had been the only one with the power to call her out, and a disturbing new thought overwhelms her. Perhaps she had been wrong. Maybe there is a god after all, and what if that god is just another man?
MUSÉE DU LOUVRE – PARIS
APRIL 15, 2007
You would think one of the museum cleaning staff would use their unique opportunity to examine the art up-close, but they mop the floors as if they’re sweeping straw from a hovel. It’s a job. Ashes to ashes - broom to broom. The same dust lands on treasures and ancient litter alike, and heaven knows enough archaeological detritus lies pristine under-glass as privileged car-bon-dated memories, no less valuable than diamonds displayed in a jeweler’s showcase.
The Salle des Etats is the first salon to be cleaned and the last to open. April filters through a decorative row of lattice bars set deep into the high windows along its east wall. Inside the gallery, the ‘Mona Lisa’ broods behind an impenetrable curtain of transparent steel. Inside the painting, Lisabetta frets under an assumed name. Five-hundred-years of captivity seems penance enough for a crime she can’t recall committing.
All she wants, is to reach her heaven – the personal heaven she created worth dying for. It’s a humble enough appeal to make of an abundant universe, but dreaming too small is unworthy of an artist, and she had been nothing if not that.
When she does dream, it’s always the same: first the choking fire and an expanse of blue sky, then a dusty road beneath her feet, and she is running, running ... flying down the road to Fiesole towards Mt. Ceceri – the great swan. Next, there’s a sea of faces in a church, where she’s a saint offering communion from behind a silver altar, but the people’s mouths are closed and she has nothing to place on their tongues but fame, and all she can do is smile beatifically and try to wake up.
Lisabetta slips from her baroque frame and takes a turn about the gallery to study her companions for signs of habitation. The absence of visitors feels eerie, but the din of life will begin soon enough. She dances full circle about the room and comes to a stop, facing her portrait like a mirror, and melts into the Tuscan fields behind her patient smile. The months it took for her brother, Leonardo, to paint her had been a revelation. She had been forty-five then.
Lisabetta rests inside her painting, beside the track leading to Anchiano, and breathes in the sunshine of early spring – a renaissance Cinderella at the stroke of dawn, with her dress restored to emerald green and her hair returned to its natural shade of honey, plaited in a single braid.
She wonders if Leonardo will ever arrive to release her like one of his caged birds. Leonardo once had the strength to bend metal bars with his hands, almost as well as he manipulated the laws of science and tamed the forbidden powers of alchemy. His ingenuity could easily confound a crystal wall and the current laws of detention. She is sure Leonardo would rescue her if he could.
If only wishing made it so.
MUSÉE DU LOUVRE – PARIS
APRIL 1, 2008
It’s right there in the Louvre’s guidebook: portrait of Lisa del Giocondo, first floor, Denon Wing, Room 6, Salle des États – the ‘Mona Lisa’. What mortal would argue with the printed word or the French Republic? In French she is ‘La Joconde’; in Italian: ‘La Gioconda’ – the laughing woman. She is the pun, the twist of fate – the sainted name of a resident Queen.
There are times Lisabetta feels that the museum has been built for her alone and that the other works of art are her courtiers. She reigns in an emotional palace, enchanted under the terrors of magic: faerie glamour thrown over her destiny. History evaporated from a spell of protection gone awry.
But the fates still bend to her subconscious wishes: the fame and eternal life, and the elegant reckonings with her enemies as she once numbered them. Lisabetta had been clear when she planned her heaven, desirous of being surrounded by paintings and sculpture. Her temple beyond death must be palatial to compensate for a life spent in cottages and cramped studios. She asks for large airy rooms full of art where she will hold court, with her days of invisible servitude over. In her most intensive daydreams, Lisabetta envisions herself the center of attention, for once she will be an iconic lady, beset and acknowledged by admirers, celebrated by poets and kings – the equal of her illustrious brother. A principessa in her own right.
It is oppressive in the open space of the Salle des Etats. Lisabetta is rest-less as a caged lion. It’s a day of opposites: dull yet expectant – stifling with-out heat. Listless air fidgets in dry whorls and flaps into the corners of the ceiling like disturbed bats. The gallery holds her in a psychic vacuum. Today she is an exhibit rather than the star of a show. Her audience is reserved. No... transparent. They’re fading out, or she is. Vibrating too slow. Their voices speak in undertones, enveloped in fog, and Lisabetta craves distance where she can breathe back the spirit of her Italian sunshine.
Lisabetta hitches up her green skirt and scrambles up the steep rocks. A cloud of kites screech her up the last few feet to their eyrie. Her determination sends a crumble of stones behind her in a gentle avalanche. The toes of her shoes remain un-scuffed, but Leonardo’s veiled sun scorches her hair until she reaches a familiar plateau where she rolls into the shade. From here, she can view the full extent of her past, melting into the earth and grasses, camouflaged by the colors of nature as Leonardo had planned.
A trickle of water leaves a brown trail of minerals from a fissure high above in the face of the cliff, and Lisabetta makes a cup with her hands that interrupt the water’s journey towards a natural basin of stone lined with moss. The lip of the basin is dry. She strokes its emerald velvet with fondness – they are Leonardo’s miniature trees. It’s a grand memory. One that she hopes will stir others to uncover a way home. Home being a heaven she’s glimpsed only once, rather than a sterile museum.
Lisabetta’s base camp is the place where a windbreak of gorse forms a human-sized amphitheatre. Inside the curve of it, the mountain has made her a blanket of thatch and fern, woven by the wind and plumped into a cradle between the crevices. She settles down and closes her eyes to concentrate and tries to evoke the help of her brother, the master of this illusion. “Leonardo Leonardo Leonardo,” she intones, three times for luck.
Lisabetta draws down the mists clinging to the mountain peaks – Leonardo’s gauzy curtains of seclusion that turn landscapes into land-escapes, to put more distance between the Louvre’s intensity and her need for retreat. Her brother’s disposition and his frequent need for sanctuary had mirrored his observations of nature’s moodiness: damp wind and smoky rain and the heat rising from sun-baked stone. He had taught Lisabetta to surrender to the alchemy of weather for inspiration. His muses were hers. “Elemental answers wait inside torrential storms of nature and emotion for the patient artist,” he had said.
Leonardo had relaxed behind his screens – free to say and write and dream blasphemous ideas, dabbling with forbidden science, safely unobserved. His need to hide reflected a dangerous privacy.
Nature protected its own. Leonardo understood a town’s need for isolation and a hill’s need for solitude, and that an owl’s eggs begged invisible nests for survival, no less than bear cubs evaporated into the depths of a secluded cave. Horizons were compassionate places blanketed by mystery where anything was possible.
Leonardo’s ferocious melancholies had been comfortably masked by Lisabetta’s administrations.
His imagination had been the safest space for truth to flourish. Many times, Leonardo had disappeared on trips into wilderness like hers in order to insulate himself from the church and superstition, as well as bill collectors and public humiliation. Rebels need mountain hideaways to plot revolutions, and Leonardo was as passive a rebel as Lisabetta was an aggressive mediator.
Leonardo also told her that secrets had a chance to take root inside a storm. He could dream there, in its eye. Lisabetta hoped to meet him by chance, one day in her hills, testing the updrafts and measuring the degrees of opaqueness between seasonal miles of air. Perhaps copying illusions into his notebook, or scribbling occult dreams backwards in code.
Sometimes, Lisabetta sees Leonardo on a far-off hill, with his back against an oak, or under the arch of the bridge below, sketching the eddies of water from stones sent into the river by his own hand. But never any closer, and she has come to feel grateful to see him at all. Often, Rinato accompanies him – a small white energy darting like a butterfly over the grass. This is her country. Hers and Leonardo’s. It’s delightful, but it isn’t heaven. Leonardo would live large in her heaven, and Sandro and Leona, would be there, along with her old zoo: her pony, Stella; dogs, Rinato and Giallo; and Picolini and Simonetta with countless generations of their feline offspring.
Behind her eyes, Lisabetta trails out the played scenes of her life. Lily pads of time form rows like the words in a story. Carefully preserved experiences are counted as ripples of light: a wing here; a shadow following. Receding voices disappear like running feet, but she is the guilty center of the world, and not far from this spot, she is still a jumpy thread of posthumous nerves who resides in a museum room wound tight with adoration and disappointment.
She is determined to rake her years for a lost clue. Any signpost is wel-come if it points towards atonement. Lisabetta willingly revisits her scenes of misconduct, but none appear vile enough to warrant her unworthiness to fully die. No stray curse shows its teeth. No echoes of voices fly back that could injure a reputation. But she waits – something will come, and it arrives as the sound of her own laughter and horses clopping towards the horizon. Rinato’s faint bark chases the currents of the Vincio River while her sisters harvest the whispering reeds and silence them into bundles for weaving baskets. It must be September.