Leonardo Da Vinci’s Horse

The husband was wearing a red t-shirt that had Leonardo Da Vinci’s drawing on it, that said, Simplicity is the ultimate Sophistication.

He was particularly fond of the t-shirt, especially as he was reading the biography of the great man.

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“Be like Leonardo Da Vinci guys. Be simple and eh… persistent.”, I said.

“Oh! I don’t know about that! Did you know about Leonardo Da Vinci’s horse? “, said the husband. He was reading the biography of Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson, which is to say we almost read it. The book is a lengthy one, and as he made his way through it, he shared tidbits of things that fascinated him.

Time has probably been kind to the memory of Leonardo Da Vinci. Most of us only seem to be remember his genius in art, his legendary stature as a polymath, he said. The husband chuckled as he read and told us about Walter Isaacson’s portrayal of him – a tempestuous man who often did not complete the commissions given to him. Leonardo Da Vinci’s horse is an excellent example.

He then went on to relate the tale to much mirth and chuckling from the children. Apparently, what was commissioned to him was to build an epic statue of the Duke’s son riding a horse. He then went off to live on a farm, to study horses. The farm life yielded a treatise – an unpublished book, on different kinds of horses, equine surgeries to understand horse anatomy etc. He had originally planned to create a statue of a rearing horse.

This is an image that is much popular in the art forms at Italy, I remembered. The raw power of a horse rearing up on its hind legs is both attractive and magnetic. I am not sure how riders feel when they are about to be bucked off, but it makes for good Art. The prince would have to look brave while clinging onto dear life.

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Abandoned Design. Image Courtesy: Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59580

Anyway, after a few years studying horses, their physiology, their movements etc, he started developing models for his statue. Clay, lead and bronze made its way from the armies to Da Vinci for his great statue. Then, he figured that the greatest statue of the magnitude he had in mind would not be supported by the hind legs structurally, and he went on to make it a standing horse. The prince riding the horse resplendently was forgotten!

These things took time, but it did not seem to perturb him. His sponsors may have been antsy, the bronze supplies may have been running low, the armies getting fidgety with not having enough new armor, but that was their problem, seemed to be his opinion.

In time, a large clay model of a beautiful horse may its way for the Duke’s inspection. The model won Da Vinci much critical acclaim. It truly was beautiful. If the Duke was slightly upset about not seeing his son on the horse, he did not show it. The royalty raise their children well.

Soon, war broke out, and no longer could his rich patron commission bronze and lead to be diverted to the most magnificent horse statue of all time. The clay model was put up in Milan, and was used as target practice by the young lads joining the army.

“But isn’t there a big horse in Milan or Florence? Da Vinci’s horse? I remember seeing a picture somewhere.” said I.

“Yes, but that was not done by him. Years later, somebody else finished it. “, said the husband.

By now, we were all laughing.

“What is remarkable is his insatiable curiosity and creativity however, and though he went off down rabbit holes, it was from a deep motivation to understand the world around him “, said the husband.

Read also : Gates Notes on Leonardo Da Vinci

“These days it is so easy to take a picture of a horse, model it, and run a simulation for structural evaluations. We sometimes forget how hard studying movement must have been!” I said, remembering the essay by Oliver Sacks on the Elephant’s Gait, in the book, Everything in its Place.

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He writes about how more than a century ago, Etienne-Jules Marey & Eadward Muybridge pioneered the study of animals running using 24 cameras along a track where the shutter would be tripped by the horses themselves as they galloped past to capture the movements of the horse as they raced.

Persistence comes in various forms, we all agreed. Muybridge and Marey were examples in a long list of people for whom a problem was intriguing enough to delve deeper and deeper into things that may or may not yield results.

But we never know the breakthroughs possible, and how things will change. That is why I am vary of futurists. A few centuries ago, to study the muscles straining for a horse running, one had to have an almost eidetic memory, along with a decent understanding of anatomy.

Today, photography has come so far as to allow us to snap a thousand pictures, take slow motion videos, and analyze everything from a butterfly flutter to the swift flying of hummingbirds. People are still extraordinarily creative with photography, and as long as we retain curiosity and creativity, I suppose we shall thrive.