Tthe woman in Leonardo da Vinci’s life finally belongs to her. Leonardo’s new drama, which is set to begin on Amazon Prime on April 16, pulls Caterina da Cremona out of the shadows. Written as his “muse” and starring Matilda de Angelis from the film “Undo”, this forgotten Renaissance woman appears in commercials deep in an intimate dialogue with Aidan Turner as Leonardo. Looks like a full Poldark will pass.
You may have heard rumors that the great Renaissance man was gay. That’s not the whole story, says show screenwriter Steve Thompson. “Some of his relationships were with men; those were significant connections, ”he told Variety. “But perhaps the most important relationship in his life was with a friend who was a woman, with whom he was very close, and we unpacked that.” Note that he claims the historical basis for the breath in the show between De Angelis and Turner. Although Leonardo is conceived as a murder mystery, he claims to use this device to realize the reality of who Leonardo is.
But Caterina is a fabrication, a fantasy, a complete piece of tosh, invented by a 19th-century Romantic, and for some reason given a modern biographer Charles Nicholl an extremely unconvincing faith.
If Leonard’s creators wanted a strong female character, they had a lot of historical possibilities. He apparently got along well with Cecilia Gallerani, the mistress of the ruler of Milan, whom he portrayed as holding a very phallic militia, perhaps to symbolize her power over men. He was also friends with Isabella d’Este, the ruler of Mantua and an art connoisseur. Most fascinating was his encounter with one Lisa, the wife of the Florentine merchant Francesco del Gioconda. She is said to have made musicians play her and entertained her with jokes when she posed for a painting we know as the Mona Lisa. What did he find so mysterious about him? But there is no hard evidence that he ever had a romantic relationship with a woman – either sexual or platonic.
His reputation for loving men was never hidden. Giorgio Vasari’s book “Lives of an Artist”, first published in 1550, suggests that he was robbed with his male assistant Salaì, “who was the most beautiful in grace and beauty, had fine locks, twisted into ringlets, which Leonardo delighted “. Gossip became entrenched in social history when documents were found in the early 1900s showing that Leonardo was accused of “sodomy” before the Florentine magistrates in 1476.
All the evidence is that men who had sex were frequent in the art workshops of Renaissance Florence. The sodomy charge against Leonard was filed fantastically by the so-called Office of the Night, the only sexual crime agency founded in 1432 to counter what was considered a particularly Florentine vice. Records from the Office of the Night, brilliantly analyzed by historian Michael Rocke, reveal that in Leonardo’s time, “most local men were officially incriminated at least once in their lives for engaging in homosexual relations.”
As for Leonard, he lived with his entourage of handsome assistants and students, dressed them and himself in luxurious clothes, including pink and purple leggings, and drew incredibly sensual male nudes.
But for some people it leaves something missing from his life. That is how his relationship with the woman from Cremona was invented in the era of romanticism. The Italian writer claimed to have seen in Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks a mention of his female mistress called “La Cremona”. The passage is not found in any of Leonardo’s surviving notebooks. And even in the age of romanticism it didn’t catch on.
I’m trying to understand why anyone would desperately want to dig up this slender story. Yet one of Leonardo’s modern biographers, Charles Nicholl, tried to resuscitate it. Nicholl noticed one word, “Cremonese,” on the list of names in Leonardo’s newspaper in the Royal Collection and argued that it might mean La Cremona. Nicholl then speculates that Leonardo, who would then be 57, slept with this northern Italian sex worker. He claims that he cannot paint female nudes without experiencing heterosexual love. It is as if Leonard’s homosexuality is incompatible with the universality of his art. Now television will translate it into popular culture.
Instead of being confused by Turner and De Angelis, why not go to the National Gallery when it reopens and take a look at Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks. The most hypnotic figure in it is an angel whose long curly hair coincides with Vasari’s description of Salaì and whose tender pale face is magically androgynous. This angel is the most beautiful and strangest part of painting in Britain. The Leonardo I want to see on screen is the man who painted this.