Leonardo da Vinci’s Bizarre Caricatures & Monster Drawings

The caricature was once a highly-regarded art form, before it was cornered on the upper end by the New York Review of Books and on the more pedestrian side by boardwalk and street fair artists. During the European Renaissance and the ensuing centuries of artistic development, nearly every artist had a caricature side project—if only in the margins of their sketchbooks—and some, like Leonardo da Vinci, were widely known and appreciated for their skill in the art.

Generally renowned these days for the high seriousness of his Mona Lisa, Last Supper, and Vitruvian Man, Leonardo does not tend to be associated with grotesque humor. Yet the caricatures “were some of his most popular and influential works,” writes Jonathan Jones at The Guardian, “from the 16th century up to the time of [William] Hogarth,” the hugely popular 18th century English visual satirist.

These caricatures connect Leonardo not only to graphic art of the future but to an earlier, Medieval world—the “hellish visions of Bosch and Bruegel.” They are “Gargoyles,” wrote critic Kenneth Clark, “the complement to saints; Leonardo’s caricatures were complementary to his untiring search for ideal beauty.

And gargoyles were the expression of all the passions, the animal forces, the Caliban gruntings and groanings which are left in human nature when the divine has been poured away.” Clark tempers this characterization by noting that these drawings “in their expression of passionate energy, merge imperceptibly into the heroic.”

Indeed, Leonardo loved unusual faces and heads—he found odd-looking people of all kinds fascinating, and turned them into tragicomic figures fit for the stage. Giorgio Vasari, the 16th century biographer of Renaissance artists, wrote that Leonardo was “so delighted when he saw curious heads, whether bearded or hairy, that he would follow anyone who had thus attracted his attention for a whole day, acquiring such a clear idea of him that when he went home he would draw the head as well as if the man had been present.”

We can’t say that stalking exhibits much respect for the kinds of boundaries most people would prefer to maintain, but Leonardo’s behavior does display a reverence for interesting human physiognomy, both a source and a foil for his idealizations of the human form. Leonardo’s caricatures resonate into the late 20th century in the work of Ralph Steadman, the gonzo illustrator and political cartoonist.

In his satirical illustrated biography of Leonardo, Steadman remarked that the Renaissance artist who ennobled the human form also found “that man was not what he appeared to be, despite the prevailing atmosphere of fine thoughts and high aspirations.” Steadman quotes a passage from Leonardo’s notebooks that sounds much more Swiftian or Rabelaisian than high-minded Renaissance humanist:

His Holiness the Pope surrounded himself with none but craven guzzlers, gross pretenders and a host of fawning dignitaries who grimaced through their days at court with no more grace than beggars I had entertained in days gone by — though they had neither choice nor wit to rise above themselves and in that they had a reason.

Oh that I had ways to surely serve their putrid masquerades and twittery to make a dragon from the very menagerie within the Vatican itself.

If I could take for its head that of a mastiff or setter, for its eyes those of a cat, for its ears those of a greyhound, with the eyebrows of a lion, the temples of an old cock and the neck of a water tortoise. 

O vile monster! How much better it for men that thou shouldst go back to hell! For this the vast forests shall be stripped of their trees; for this an infinite number of creatures shall lose their lives.

Though the caricatures may not go as far as the horrifying hodgepodge in this description, they do portray human beings with rather less classical equanimity than the serene Mona Lisa or the very composed Christ. But due to Leonardo’s skill and seemingly irrepressible love for the human form—even if he had a jaundiced view of human nature—the caricatures continue to be inspiring pieces of work.

Related Content:

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Ralph Steadman’s Wildly Illustrated Biography of Leonardo da Vinci (1983)

What Leonardo da Vinci Really Looked Like

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Dr. Weil’s 60-Second Technique for Falling Asleep

Give Dr. Andrew Weil three minutes, and he can teach you a 60-second technique for falling asleep. Above, the alternative medicine guru walks you through the 4-7-8 breathing method. As he demonstrates, it “takes almost no time, requires no equipment and can be done anywhere.” And once you master it, you can use the 4-7-8 breathing technique (explained and demonstrated in greater detail here ) to lower your anxiety levels (useful these days!), navigate tension-filled moments, and deal with food cravings.

Elsewhere, Weil has said, “If I had to limit my advice on healthier living to just one tip, it would be simply to learn how to breathe correctly.” Hence why he created an audio recording, Breathing: The Master Key to Self Healing, which you can still purchase online.

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via The Ladders

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How to Cook Like Frida Kahlo & Georgia O’Keefe

It’s a myth that starving artists don’t eat.

They do, just not often or well. Their meals rarely rate recipes, let alone cookbooks.

Those cookbooks do exist though….

The mostly conceptual Starving Artist Cookbook put together by EIDIA (aka artists Paul Lamarre and Melissa Wolf) comes close to the spirit of sustaining life through meager ingredients… like spaghetti or 4 pages of shredded Pravda.

Not so this other title, which approaches cute overload with an abundance of Instagram-worthy illustrated fare—mojitos, an unstructured berry tart, a “manly” burger….

Do “starving” artists no longer fear being outed as posers?

Successful artists may not worry about that, as they eat whatever and however they want.

Andy Warhol had the taste of an eccentric child.

Marina Abramović takes the ascetic route.

Many have glady traded the candle in the chianti bottle for the most rarified restaurants in town.

Georgia O’Keefe and Frida Kahlo, PBS Digital Studios’ series the Art Assignment informs us, took cooking—and eating—seriously.

So seriously, their culinary efforts led to cookbooks, which the Art Assignment’s host, curator Sarah Urist Green, tries out on camera.

O’Keefe, who grew up in Wisconsin on homemade yogurt, homemade cheese, and plentiful homegrown produce, ground her own flour in order to bake daily loaves of whole wheat bread.

Green treats viewers to a brief overview of O’Keefe’s life and work as she struggles with the grinder. (You might get the same, or better, results if you take a $5 bill to a good bakery right at opening.)

She also tackles the wheat germ Tiger’s Milk smoothie advocated by Adele Davis, a nutritionist whom O’Keefe  admired, and Green Chiles with Garlic and Oil and Fried Eggs, using recipes from the cookbooks A Painter’s Kitchen and Dinner with Georgia O’Keefe.

Before attempting the same, you might want to watch the Kahlo-centric episode, above, in which Green discovers a much better method for roasting the poblano peppers she haplessly substituted for New Mexico chiles in O’Keefe’s egg dish.

Here, they’re used for Chiles Rellenos, a dish whose pronunciation the self-effacing Green butchers, along with a multitude of other Spanish phrases, a fact not lost on the video’s Youtube commenters. They also take issue with the presence of plantains, her preparation of the Nopales Salad, and her cooking skills in general. No wonder Green—a self-proclaimed wussy where serranos are concerned—seems so eager to reach for a shot of tequila as dinner is finally served.

Green chose the dishes for this episode from Frida’s Fiestas: Recipes and Reminiscences of Life with Frida Kahlo by Marie-Pierre Colle and Kahlo’s stepdaughter, Guadalupe Rivera.

Kahlo herself learned to cook from her mother’s copy of El Nuevo Cocinero Mejicano, and from husband Diego Rivera’s first wife, Guadalupe (leading one to wonder if some of that cookbook’s recipes aren’t misattributed to the more famous cook).

As with the O’Keefe video and the cookbooks cited herein, there’s a wealth of vintage photos and reproduced artwork on display.

Even though Green alludes to Kahlo’s dark side, sensitive stomachs might have trouble with the inclusion of the graphically violent Unos Quantos Piquetitos. Another painting, My Nurse and I is at least related to eating, if not cooking and recipes.

Those with stomachs of steel on the other hand can continue on to another Art Assignment—the supremely gross Meat Sculpture from the Futurist Cookbook.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Discuss Emily Dickinson with her informally at Pete’s Mini Zinefest in Brooklyn this Saturday. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Émile-Antoine Bayard’s Vivid Illustrations of Jules Verne’s Around the Moon: The First Serious Works of Space Art (1870)

What does space travel look like? Even now, in the 21st century, very, very few of us know first-hand. But we’ve all seen countless images from countless eras purporting to show us what it might look like. As with anything imagined by man, someone had to render a convincing vision of space travel first, and that distinction may well go to 19th-century French illustrator Émile-Antoine Bayard who, perhaps not surprisingly, worked with Jules Verne. Verne’s pioneering and prolific work in science fiction literature has kept him a household name, but Bayard’s may sound more obscure; still, we’ve all seen his artwork, or at least we’ve all seen the drawing of Cosette the orphan he did for Les Misérables.

“Readers of Jules Verne’s early science-fiction classic From the Earth to the Moon (De la terre à la lune) — which left the Baltimore Gun Club’s bullet-shaped projectile, along with its three passengers and dog, hurtling through space — had to wait a whole five years before learning the fate of its heroes,” says The Public Domain Review.

When it appeared, 1870’s Around the Moon (Autour de la Lune) offered not just “a fine continuation of the space adventure” but “a superb series of wood engravings to illustrate the tale” created by Bayard. “There had been imaginary views of other worlds, and even of space flight before this,” writes Ron Miller in Space Art, “but until Verne’s book appeared, these views all had been heavily colored by mysticism rather than science.”

Composed strictly according to the scientific facts known at the time — with a departure here and there in the name of imagination and visual metaphor — the illustrations for A Trip Around the Moon, later published in a single volume with its predecessor as A Trip to the Moon and Around It, stand as the earliest known example of scientific space art. Verne went as far as to commission a lunar map by famed selenographers (literally, scholars of the moom’s surface) Beer and Maedlerm, and just last year the Linda Hall Library named Bayard a “scientist of the day.” As with the uncannily accurate predictions in Verne’s earlier novel Paris in the Twentieth Century, a fair few of the ideas here, especially to do with the mechanics of the rocket’s launch and return to Earth, remain scientifically plausible.

Whatever the innovation of the project’s considerable scientific basis, its artistic impression fired up more than a few other imaginations: both Verne’s words and Bayard’s art, all 44 pieces of which you can view here, served as major inspirations for early filmmaker and “father of special effects” Georges Méliès, for instance, when he made A Trip to the Moon. Disappointed complaints about our persistent lack of moon colonies or even commercial space flight may have long since grown tiresome, but the next time you hear one of us denizens of the 21st century air them, remember the work of Verne and Bayard and think of how deep into history that desire really runs.

Via The Public Domain Review.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

A Massive 55-Hour Chronological Playlist of Bob Dylan Songs: Stream 763 Tracks

Cropped image by Rowland Scherman, via Wikimedia Commons

Shakespeare may have come up with the seven ages of man (see: As You Like It for more info), but Bob Dylan has had more than seven ages in his five decades of making music. There’s the young Woody Guthrie fan, the protest singer, the poet of a generation, the recluse, the Christian convert, the man who made Greil Marcus ask “What is this shit?” about his 1970 Self-Portrait album, the Mystic who channeled “old weird America” as Marcus would also define it, the endless touring workhorse, the Traveling Wilbury, the pencil-mustache dapper standards interpreter, and on and on.

You get the point, so this Spotify collection (gathered together by Samuel Huxley Cohen) sets out to take on this monumental career with a 55 hour playlist of Dylan’s music, 763 songs in total, in chronological order, from 1962’s “You’re No Good” to “Melancholy Mood” from 2016’s Fallen Angels. (His current album from this year, the three-disc Triplicate is not represented, though it’s separately on Spotify here.)

Not only can one chart the artistic progression from earnest folkie to living enigma, one can chart the changes in Dylan’s voice over time, which has long been the subject of criticism. His young voice was once compared to a “cow stuck in an electric fence,” and now in his 70s, “ Dylan’s voice has been in ruins during many of his recent concerts, somewhere between Howlin’ Wolf’s growl and a tubercular wheeze,” as the Chicago Tribune’s Greg Kot wrote recently. But in between, there were softer moments. As a younger Dylan fan I was exposed at first only to his classic 1960s trilogy—Bringing It All Back Home through Blonde on Blonde—and his nasal, accusatory tone, only to be befuddled by the voice on Nashville Skyline. It didn’t even sound like the same person.

Yes, there are bones to pick with this playlist, mostly in its strict adherence to release date chronology and not so much recording chronology, which would make more sense (but would be way more time consuming). The Basement Tapes make more fascinating listening coming as they really did after Blonde on Blonde in 1967, after Dylan’s motorcycle accident and before John Wesley Harding, the album highly informed by those sessions. Not so much placed here right after the astounding but intimate and bleak Blood on the Tracks. And a lot of the live and rare recordings found on the ever increasing Bootleg Series are just a jumble.

But put it this way, the man himself could care less in what order you listen to them, or if at all. A really thorough chronology might reveal the “real Dylan,” but then again…maybe not. Enter at your own risk.

Click here to access the playlist on Spotify. Or stream it above.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

How Did the Egyptians Make Mummies? An Animated Introduction to the Ancient Art of Mummification

Not every child looks forward to a trip to the museum, but how many have failed to thrill at the sight of an ancient Egyptian mummy? How many adults, for that matter, can resist the fascination of this well over 5000-year-old process of preserving dead bodies in a state if not perfectly lifelike then at least eerily intact? If you’ve ever wondered exactly how mummification worked — or if you’ve simply forgotten the descriptions accompanying the displays you saw on those museum trips — this short video from the Getty Museum’s Youtube channel provides an insight into how the ancient Egyptians did it.

The video uses a real mummy as a case study, the preserved body of a twenty-year-old man named Herakleides (as we know because his mummifiers, though themselves unidentified, wrote it on his feet), who died in the first century A.D. He had most of his internal organs removed — even his heart, which common practice usually dictated leaving in, but for some reason not his lungs  — and spent forty days buried in salt that drew every last bit of moisture out of him.

He then received rubbings of perfumed oils, followed by a poured-on layer of resin to which strips of linen (the mummy’s characteristically copious “bandages” of popular culture) could adhere. Wrapped onto a board, equipped with a “mysterious pouch” as well as a mummified ibis, and covered with an unusual red shroud emblazoned with symbols and a portrait of himself, Herakleides was ready for his journey into the afterlife.

“Such elaborate burial practices might suggest that the Egyptians were preoccupied with thoughts of death,” says the Smithsonian’s page on Egyptian mummies. “On the contrary, they began early to make plans for their death because of their great love of life. They could think of no life better than the present, and they wanted to be sure it would continue after death.” The ancient Egyptians believed “that the mummified body was the home for this soul or spirit. If the body was destroyed, the spirit might be lost.”

If you find yourself sharing these beliefs, do have a look at National Geographic‘s guide on how to make a mummy in 70 days or less. And just as you’d need to arrange the right ingredients to prepare a satisfying meal, something else the Egyptians enjoyed, don’t attempt any mummification at home without making sure you’re fully stocked with resin, ointments, lichen, strawdust, beeswax, palm wine, incense, and myrrh. And it goes without saying that however many feet of wrappings you’ve got, it couldn’t hurt to have more.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Ralph Steadman’s Wildly Illustrated Biography of Leonardo da Vinci (1983)

It is for good reason that we forever associate illustrator Ralph Steadman with the delirious work of Hunter S. Thompson. It took the two of them together to invent the gonzo style of journalism, which we may almost call incomplete now if published without the requisite cartoon grotesques. Steadman conjures visions of devils and demons as deftly as any medieval church painter, but his hells remain above ground and are mostly man-made. Whether illustrating Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary, George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the cast of Breaking Bad, or the visages of American presidents, he excels at showing us the freakish fever dreams of the modern world. He may, wrote The New York Times’ Sherwin Smith in 1983, “be the most savage political cartoonist of the late 20th century.”

Steadman’s illustrative legacy places him in the company of history’s greatest visual satirists, but also makes him an odd choice for a biography of Leonardo da Vinci. Though Leonardo frequently drew caricatures in his notebooks, the bulk of the Renaissance genius’s work concerns itself with order and precision—the purposefulness of his line a stark contrast to the crazed ink splatters of Steadman’s work.

Nonetheless, Steadman’s I, Leonardo, which he undertook not on commission but on his own initiative, exhibits a profound insight into the Italian painter-sculptor-philosopher-inventor’s restless creative mind. Leonardo presented a very cool exterior, but his inner life may well have resembled a Steadman drawing.

The project came to life in 1983 as what Steadman called “a quasi-historical mishmash,” a “tongue-in-cheek” supposed long-lost autobiography of Leonardo in pictures. “It is more than a collection of illustrations on Leonardo’s life, based upon three years of work and research,” remarked a Washington Post review. “Steadman does not merely theorize about the man, but attempts to go inside the artist’s bones.” Steadman, writes Maria Popova, “even travelled to Italy to stand where Leonardo stood, seeking to envision what it was like to inhabit that endlessly imaginative mind.” The illustrations are a surprisingly effective combination of da Vinci-esque discipline and Steadmanesque sick humor.

In his introduction to the book, Steadman comments on Leonardo’s split persona. His “experience showed him that man was not what he appeared to be, despite the prevailing atmosphere of fine thoughts and high aspirations…. The purity of his painting set the divine standard of Renaissance art—and of any art for that matter. I believe he preserved intact a part of his private self which found outlet in his more personal notes and drawings.” Many of those drawings include the aforementioned caricatures of monstrous, grimacing beings who would fit right in with Steadman’s nightmarish drawings.

The gonzo illustrator found a kindred satirical Leonardo inside the famed master draughtsman and engineer. His interest in the Renaissance artist’s anarchic psyche mirrors that of another keen observer, Sigmund Freud, who described Leonardo as “a man who awoke too early in the darkness, while the others were all still asleep.” (Steadman’s first “historical mishmash” project was a 1979 illustrated Freud biography.) The artist behind I, Leonardo has a slightly different take on the subject. Steadman, writes Smith, saw Leonardo “in 1980’s terms—as ‘a man taken up by a corporation that couldn’t use him.’”

See many more of Steadman’s Leonardo illustrations at Brain Pickings and purchase a copy of the book here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Hugh Hefner (RIP) Defends “the Playboy Philosophy” to William F. Buckley, 1966

“Mr. Hefner’s magazine is most widely known for its total exposure of the human female,” says William F. Buckley, introducing the guest on this 1966 broadcast of his talk show Firing Line. “Though of course other things happen in its pages.” Not long before, publisher and pleasure empire-builder Hugh Hefner’s Playboy magazine ran a series of articles on “the Playboy philosophy,” a set of observations of and propositions about human sexuality that provided these men fodder for their televised debate. Hefner stands against religiously mandated, chastity-centered codes of sexual morality; Buckley demands to know how Hefner earned the qualifications to issue new codes of his own. Describing the Playboy philosophy as “sort of a hedonistic utilitarianism,” Buckley tries simultaneously to understand and demolish these 20th-century revisions of the rules of sex.

“The Playboy founder is no match for the Catholic who snipes him at will with ‘moral’ bullets,” writes the poster of the video. “The acerbic, dry Buckley is on attack mode with a conservative audience, in moral panic, behind him. The Catholic had the era of conservatism behind him. [ … ] In the 21st century though, Buckley would have a harder time defending morality with Hefner.” One wonders how Buckley and Hefner, were they still alive today, might revisit this debate in 2017. (Buckley died in 2008, and Hefner passed away yesterday at the age of 91.) Times have certainly changed, but I suspect Buckley would raise the same core objection to Hefner’s argument that loosening the old strictures on sex leads, perhaps counterintuitively, to more satisfied, more monogamous pairings: “How in the hell do you know?” Though this and certain other of Buckley’s questions occasionally wrong-foot Hefner, the faithful can rest assured that he keeps enough cool to fire up his signature pipe on camera.

Note: This post first appeared on our site back in 2012. We brought it back today for obvious reasons, and updated it to reflect Hefner’s passing. Since 2012, a huge archive of “Firing Line” episodes have been put online. Get more on that here.

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.

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