A new TV series called “Leonardo,” beginning April 16 on Amazon Prime, tells the story of Da Vinci’s life through his paintings. A particular line in the script makes the point: “Only art can turn the pain and suffering of our lives into beauty.”

In question

The series, then, is an inspiring look at a great mind and soul. Unaccountably, the takeaway in the mind of Britain’s veteran art critic Jonathan Jones isn’t about art at all. The headline for his review in The Guardian says it all: “Leonardo, ladies’ man: why can’t we accept that Da Vinci was gay?” The subtitle for his review pushes his take, saying that the series spends too much time on the artist’s relationship with Caterina da Cremona “for which there is “no historical evidence.”

An answer

Screenwriter for the series, Steve Thompson, acknowledged to The Guardian that Leonardo had “significant” relationships with men.

But he also told Variety that because Catarina was his close friend, “we unpacked that.” Jones rejects that notion, contending that Caterina is “a complete piece of tosh, invented by some 19th-century Romantic biographer, Charles Nicholl."

But wait, does any of this really matter? Clearly to Jones it does, and in case there are more of you out there in reader land who feel as he does, I enter the fray to suggest that there’s some evidence that Leonardo was attracted to both sexes. I’m thinking of Lisa Gherardini (Mona Lisa). Consider these facts.

The lowdown

Lisa Gherardini’s husband, Francesco del Giocondo, commissioned Leonardo to paint his wife’s portrait in 1503 to commemorate the birth of their second son, Andrea.

Leonardo “lingered over it for four years,” observed art historian Giorgio Vasari. And as art historian Mina Bacci put it in her 1961 book “Leonardo,” he endlessly caressed the face of Mona Lisa with his brush.” Then, when King Francis of France invited him to his country for a commission, Bacci noted that he brought the portrait with him, tagging it “among his most cherished possessions.” He died in France with the portrait still in hand.

Summing up

Given this information, it’s fair to surmise that while painting Lisa Gherardini, Leonardo became smitten, reportedly even hiring musicians to entertain her. How else to explain the four years it took for her to pose for him? We’re talking about a tiny picture, only 20 inches by 30 inches. And how else to explain why he never consigned the picture to the man who commissioned it?

Other portraits he painted on commission were readily consigned, such as his painting known as Lady with an Ermine, which portrays Cecilia Gallerani, mistress to the ruler of Milan.

But, Whatever Leonardo’s sexual orientation was, Jones surely missed the point of the television series. And it’s not the first time. In 2017, he wrote in The Guardian that Mona’s smile isn’t wide because she suffered a sexually transmitted disease. And last year, he called JMW Turner’s Slave Ship, a.k.a. Slavers Throwing overboard the Dead and Dying an “erotic fantasy.” We all think about sex, goodness knows, but with Jones’ it looks to be non-stop.

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