The Leonardo whom we discover in Fantasia does
not, perhaps inevitably, reveal the same genius of the Leonardo we encounter in
paintings such as the Last Supper or the Mona Lisa. These fables and stories show
us a Leonardo with whom we are less familiar—a more human and intimate Leonardo,
who could laugh and joke and despair. They give us, in a sense, the “table talk”
of one of history's great geniuses— the Leonardo that his friends would have
known in his moments of relaxation.
His obvious joy in telling stories or recording arcane details about mythological
creatures suggests that these efforts were sources of great pleasure to him as he
worked on his larger commissions. Indeed, many of them were written in the early
1490s, when he was working on the Sforza Horse (a giant bronze equestrian statue)
and about to embark on the Last Supper—two projects that were time-consuming
and both intellectually and physically taxing. In these stories and riddles, Leonardo
undoubtedly diverted himself every bit as much as he entertained the restless courtiers
And we, too, are entertained. The fables, riddles and bestiary leave us, finally,
with the glimpse we get of Leonardo at the start of his marvelous career: the curly-headed
youth with the knowing smile, his mind teeming with an abundance of invention.
(answers are below)
Leonardo's riddles maintain the technique of giving a
clever and baffling description of something we see every day, often revealing the
paradoxes and absurdities of things we take for granted. A ditch, for example, is
something that, paradoxically, grows in proportion to how it is diminished.
- Flying creatures will give their very feathers to support men.
- Men will speak with each other from the most remote countries, and reply.
- Those who give light for divine service will be destroyed.
- Feathers will raise men, as they do birds, towards heaven.
- Things that are separate shall be united and acquire such virtue that they will
restore to man his lost memory.
The Leonardo who emerges from these strange fables and
quaint tales is an appealing one. In them we get a glimpse of the man who loved
learning of every sort, who immersed himself in books, and who elegantly and wittily
entertained the courts. From a young age he would have read charming, moralistic
stories featuring foxes, ravens, moles and hares. He loved the unusual, the grotesque,
the fantastical, the out-of-all-proportion.
Constancy may be symbolised by the phoenix which, knowing that by nature it must
be resuscitated, has the constancy to endure the burning flames which consume it,
and then it rises anew.
Virtue in general
The caterpillar, which, by means of assiduous care, is able to weave round itself
a new dwelling place with marvellous artifice and fine workmanship, comes out of
it afterwards with painted and lovely wings, with which it rises towards Heaven.
- Of Feather-beds
- Of writing Letters from one Country to another
- The Bees which make the Wax for Candles
- That is, by the Letters which are written with Quills
- That is, Papyrus sheets, which are made of separate strips and have preserved
the memory of the things and acts of men