A Short Story by Richard Wallace
What you are about to read is pure fiction. There is not a grain of truth in any of it. Well, there could be a few grains in some of it, but not much.This is a story about Leonardo da Vinci and one of his most famous paintings, you know, the one of the girl. Never stops smiling. That one. You might find some snippets of information that could be of some interest to you. These snippets have been added to complement the da Vinci persona. Actually, this is a story about how this most famous painting got its name.
It could be true. After all, isn’t truth stranger than fiction?
Leonardo’s Job Search
I didn’t know Leonardo personally. He died in 1519 and I wasn’t born until 1943. It is safe to say that nobody who is alive today knew him either.
So how do we go about passing on little known or even well known information about Leonardo da Vinci without using the dreaded “P” word? That would be as in ‘plagiarism’. Where do we go and how do we get there from here?
Obtaining information about Leonardo da Vinci is really quite easy. Countless books have been written about him and of course there is always the good old internet. How much we obtain from the internet depends on how much we need and how much time we have. It goes on forever. Much of it is regurgitated and shifted from one source to another, so let the regurgitation begin.
In order to spare the reader needless pages of bibliography I’ll just offer a special thank you to Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and if I can ever find out who invented the internet I’ll thank that person too. To make a long story short, no pun intended, I’ll just flat out thank everybody. Here we go.
Leonardo was born out of wedlock to a peasant woman, Caterina, and one Ser Pieor da Vinci. Actually, Leonardo didn’t have a last name. His name was Leonardo, son of Da Vinci.
His father, Ser da Vinci was a notary public and a silk merchant of some wealth. To be addressed as ‘Ser’ was recognition of wealth and of being a gentleman. Ser da Vinci was all of that. He had money was well connected.
It is said that Leonardo had a normal childhood. For the first five years of his life he lived with his mother, Caterina, in a small village.
At some point during this time his father married a sixteen year old girl and Leonardo went to live with them. Apparently this young girl loved Leonardo but unfortunately she died an early and unexpected death.
All in all Leonardo’s father married four times. It can be assumed that Ser da Vinci dabbled in pursuits other than the silk trade and one might wonder if he was an habitual dabbler or maybe even an addicted dabbler. Whatever the situation, dabble he did. We can only speculate.
Leonardo’s childhood was unremarkable. He no doubt ate grapes when he wasn’t supposed to, chased chickens when he wasn’t supposed to and got into all kinds of mischief when he wasn’t supposed to. That seems like a normal childhood to me.
As Leonardo got older he grew into a remote and distant person. He had a personality that lent itself to doing all sorts of ‘shouldn’t’ things. He was not afraid to challenge authority and to take issue with social norms of the day. To his adversaries he was no doubt a ‘pain in the neck’.
He was also afflicted in other ways. He could be highly focused on a specific problem but what we can’t be too sure about was the length of his attention span. It seems that he was forever starting a new project and never quite getting around to finishing the last one. Hence, he would often find himself with unfinished projects and just a little short of money. This might seem to be a common affliction among artists and Leonardo was not spared; therefore, the job search.
Before we go too deeply into this job search it should be noted that Leonardo was a polymath kind of guy. Polymath is a somewhat obscure word and it refers to a person who is well rounded, hyper inquisitive and driven to know everything about everything. Leonardo simply had to know how everything worked. He was a driven man.
It must have been tough on Leonardo, being a polymath and all, because his search for knowledge was never over. There wasn’t any time for a vacation or even a day off. It makes a person tired just thinking about it.
This constant search for knowledge placed Leonardo with a group of men who are admired as ‘great thinkers’. There is no doubt that Leonardo was a Renaissance Man.
This term has been applied to Galileo, Michelangelo and Copernicus. Actually, Copernicus was born in Poland and his last name was Kopernik; a German spelling. He was a painter, a mathematician and an amateur astronomer and changed his last name to Copernicus to make it sound better. His father was a Mr. Nicolaus Copernicus so just why he started out as a Kopernik is beyond me and quite confusing. I guess it worked. Let’s move on.
Leonardo had been working on a painting of a young lady but typically he was never satisfied with it and he couldn’t get it finished. He called the girl in the painting ‘Mona” but he thought that just calling her ‘Mona’ was not enough. ‘Mona’ by itself lacked fire and imagination. The name of this young lady needed something more.
Now you might not have known this but Mona in Italian can be used as a form of respect. Mona is from ‘Ma Donna’, (thank you internet), and is used in the same fashion as ‘My Lady’ or ‘Ma’am’. That is a fact.
It is also a fact that in some Italian dialects to call someone ‘Mona’ is considered vulgar so we won’t talk about it anymore.
So there we have it, Leonardo, our Renaissance Man, with more than just a few unfinished paintings and no money. He needed a job.
Leonardo knew what kind of a job he didn’t want. Restaurant work was out of the question. He knew that he was just a little bit prickly and wouldn’t have any time for a customer complaining about the food or the quality of service. That would not be good for Leonardo or the customer.
Building trades suffered the same fate. He didn’t fancy himself building horse-drawn carriages although he was confident that he could design a better carriage than those being built at the moment. That’s just the way his mind worked.
Leonardo, with Mona rolled up and tucked under his arm, set out looking for a job. He hadn’t gone far when he saw a ‘help wanted’ sign in the window of a paint shop. The sign read, “Help Wanted – Apply Within”.
It turned out that this was a sign painting shop and he could see that the type of painting that was required was well below his skill level. None the less he figured that it was worth a try.
He was definitely not impressed with the company slogan of “Let Us Paint You A Brighter Day”. He thought that he would have to change that for sure.
Leonardo presented himself to a young lady at the front desk and told her that he was applying for the job that was posted in the window. She disappeared for a few minutes and returned to tell Leonardo that the boss, Mr. Julius, was busy at the moment but would be glad to see him in about twenty minutes. She asked him to have a seat and Mr. Julius would be along shortly. The young lady did warn Leonardo that Mr. Julius could be just a little bit difficult and wished him good luck. Leonardo didn’t like to wait.
After about thirty minutes Mr. Julius called for Leonardo to come in to his office. Leonardo could see that Mr. Julius was just finishing up his lunch, a little early in the day perhaps, but then who was he to judge. He did not appreciate waiting in the lobby for thirty minutes while Mr. Julius was busy eating but decided to just put it in the back of his mind. Mr. Julius spoke first.
“I see that your name is Leonardo and you fancy yourself a painter.”
“That is correct.”
“Do you mind if I call you Leon?”
“Yes I do. My name is Leonardo and that is what I will be called.”
Mr. Julius seemed somewhat taken aback by Leonardo’s sharp reply and asked of Leonardo:
“What experience do you have as a painter?”
Leonardo replied, “I have been a painter my whole life and I feel very confident that my ability as a painter is more that adequate for your standards and the skill level required.”
“Very well, Leonardo, tell me, what is that paper rolled up under your arm?”
“It is a painting.”
“May I see it?”
“Of course, but this is not a paper. It is a canvas. This is a painting that I have been working on for quite some time but it is not finished.”
Mr. Julius looked at the painting and agreed that it could use more work. He told Leonardo that he would have had the light shining on the girl from a different angle but did agree that is was a good start.
Leonardo rolled up the canvass and thought to himself that this interview was not going well. He could see that he and Mr. Julius were in the midst of a personality clash and they had known each other for only a few minutes.
Mr. Julius then asked, “ Leonardo, if we have a problem on the shop floor how would you go about solving it?”
“Well, Mr. Julius, I’m a rather polymath kind of guy”…
Mr. Julius interrupted, “I was never any good at math; how would math solve a problem on the shop floor?”
“Mr. Julius, polymath doesn’t have anything to do with math. A polymath person is one who has considerable knowledge and vast experience as well as a multitude of interests. He calls on this knowledge to invoke the principles of problem solving when solving a problem. This works, no matter what the problem is or where it comes from.”
“Leonardo, I don’t understand.”
“I was afraid of that.”
“What it means is, identify the problem.”
“Leonardo, I don’t have any idea of what you are talking about!”
“I was afraid of that.”
“Tell me, Leonardo, if I gave you a job how would you approach your work?”
“The first thing I would approach would be that ridiculous slogan of yours that is hanging on the front of your shop.
“Yes, the one that says, Let Us Paint You A Brighter Day.”
“That slogan is the work of my son; the slogan stays.”
“I was afraid of that.”
Mr. Julius was starting to get just a little bit agitated. Leonardo had put him on the defensive.
“Leonardo, if I gave you a job what advantages would you bring to me?”
“Well, Mr. Julius, for a start, you could teach me your bad habits instead of breaking me of somebody else’s. That would be of considerable value to you and your business.”
“Leonardo, I am not aware of any bad habits.”
“I was afraid of that.”
It seemed to Leonardo that in addition to not being aware of any bad habits, Mr. Julius had a larger problem of just being aware.
Leonardo began to wonder how on earth he could ever work for Mr. Julius. This job interview had been going down hill from the moment they met.
He began to think that in an intellectual ocean Mr. Julius was an island of ignorance and a very small island at that.
Leonardo was the first to express his doubts about this job opportunity. He told Mr. Julius that they seemed to have some differences of opinion on a lot of things and the prospects of long term employment looked rather dim.
Mr. Julius agreed. He said that he did recognize a possible clash of personalities and that on this one topic they were painting with the same brush.
Leonardo groaned but he certainly did agree.
As Leonardo was leaving he spoke to the young lady at the front desk. He told her that he was intrigued by her gentle countenance and that she seemed so content just being herself.
He complemented her on her most unusual smile and said that he couldn’t figure out if she was starting a new smile or finishing up an old one.
In a soft and caring voice she touched his arm, thanked him for his kind words and wished him well.
“Tell me young lady, what is your name?”
“My name is Lisa”
“Thank you Lisa.”
The Orkney News has published poems and another short story by Richard Wallace you can use our search engine to find them.
I wrote this to Fred Turner a few years ago, when we were discussing artistic transference – it may be of interest………….
“ I recently watched a three-part television programme about Leonardo da Vinci, which was very good. Sometimes, a programme looks potentially interesting, then it turns out to be one which trivializes or sensationalizes the subject, but this one was well done, and told me more of Leonardo than I already knew. On your blog, which I hadn’t noticed before, was your translation of Leonardo’s letter to the Duke Sforza, concerning his ‘viewing’ of 1999.
I’d wondered at Leonardo. I know that some are touched by the Gods, and have so much in them, it’s hard to even contemplate, but Leonardo seemed like he must have nearly burst with what was in him, there was so much, but, if he’d seen forward, to 1999, and seen all that, well, he would be nearly fit to burst! It’s surprising it didn’t drive him mad. It’s a testament to Leonardo’s innate genius, that it didn’t send him crazy. Maybe this is it, there is what we’re given, either by ‘viewing’, or by direct ‘dictation’, but there is also what’s in the individual person, as to what they make of what they see, or what is working through them, or with them. It can drive some ‘crazy’, or we can work with it and produce good work, while maybe being a bit ‘crazy’ too. Inspired, or crazy? What’s in us, and what works through us? I was then looking along the shelves for something to read, and hit on ‘The New Machiavelli’ – H.G. Wells – and chose that, only realising later, that my brain was still with Leonardo, as in, it was Machiavelli’s influence which led to Duke Sforza mis-trusting and disposing of, Leonardo’s friend. Or, according to the television programme, this was so. I never entirely trust television programmes!
Our brains, compute away, and we’re not even aware that they’re doing so!”
And why did I write this to Fred Turner? Because Fred, wrote this on his blog………….
Hey Bernie, I also share your distrust with television programmes. What I don’t need is somebody taking a biased view and trying to stuff it into my head. Oh well, what can you do. Leonardo was ‘quite a guy’.