Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci

Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci

In the early 1500s, the city of Florence, Italy, created a competition between two larger than life Renaissance figures: Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. To glorify the political power of the Florentine Republic, the city commissioned these two artists to paint frescoes on opposite walls in an important public building. The sketches they each produced were stunning works of art which offered dramatically different perspectives on the human condition and the nature of war. In a new book, art historian Jonathan Jones details the lives of these men, the competition between them and how their contrasting visions of mankind continue to influence art and culture today. Please join us to talk about the lives and works of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.


  • Jonathan Jones Art historian and art critic, The Guardian

Read An Excerpt

Excerpted from The “Lost Battles” by Jonathan Jones. Copyright © 2012 by Jonathan Jones. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from Random House, Inc.


  • 11:06:55

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Leonardo DaVinci and Michelangelo were two of the greatest artists of all time, and for a time in the early 1500s, they were fierce competitors working side by side in the Florentine Republic. Art historian Jonathan Jones details how their competing visions of human nature transfixed the citizens of Florence and profoundly influenced art and artists for centuries.

  • 11:07:27

    MS. DIANE REHMHis new book is titled "The Lost Battles: Leonardo, Michelangelo, and the Artistic Duel that Defined the Renaissance." Do join us, 800-433-8850, send us your email to, follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to you, sir. Thanks for joining us.

  • 11:07:52

    MR. JONATHAN JONESGood morning. Hi.

  • 11:07:54

    REHMJonathan, give us an idea of the city of Florence in the 1500s.

  • 11:08:01

    JONESWell, it was the center of renaissance art. It was the place where everything was happening and renaissance art. We all know that. We all know as a city the Medici family, Lorenzo de' Medici, the Magnificent. But actually in 1500 it was not quite that city. It was not quite the city we think we know. The Medici had been thrown out by a revolution in 1494. That's one of the startling things that drew me towards this moment in Florence.

  • 11:08:31

    JONESSo it's actually a republic. It was a republic which was ruled by what they call a great council of all the citizens, and it was the closest thing to a democracy in renaissance Europe. I mean, it was -- which isn't very close by our standards. What it meant was that all male citizens had a say in the great council, but it was a face-to-face society. I mean, there was a population of about 50,000, but it was a sense that everybody knew each other.

  • 11:09:04

    JONESEveryone lived in -- their families had lived in the same neighborhoods for ages. They had affinities of sort of kin and friendship, and so it was just this -- and there really is this sense that when, you know, the sort of heroes of this book, Leonardo DaVinci and Michelangelo, and Niccolò Machiavelli who also features in it, you know, they're walking around and people will know who they are, and they'll say, you know, there goes Leonard DaVinci. It's that kind of very -- it's a very intense face-to-face society.

  • 11:09:36

    REHMAnd that face-to-face society brought together Leonardo and Michelangelo and they had a spat. What is the spat about?

  • 11:09:53

    JONESYes. I mean, when we say there's a spat, I mean, it's literally -- there's literally a very good, very reliable source. I mean, obviously they -- the sources are very rich for renaissance art, for this period and these artists, all kinds of things including their own notebooks and diaries and so on, letters. But there is a very reliable story which comes from a source that does not tend to make things up, which is that one day in about 1503, on the streets of Florence, Leonardo DaVinci is -- he's walking along and he's hailed by a group of citizens who are Dante.

  • 11:10:33

    JONESDante is kind of poet laureate of Florence. I mean, he was, long dead by this time, but his, you know, his divine comedy is the great work of Florence and literature and very naughty theological work. So they're discussing a naughty point, and they ask Leonardo because he's Leonardo DaVinci the genius, which tell you a lot about his status that by this, you know, he's in his 50s at this time. He's come back to Florence after long time away and, you know, they see him as this genius who can explain everything that they ask him.

  • 11:11:01

    JONESAnd then he sees -- but then he sees Michelangelo, and he says, well Michelangelo can explain it to you. Michelangelo's a much younger man. At this time the staff of the 1500s say Leonardo's in his 50s, Michelangelo is still in his 20s. He's just in his late 20s. And Michelangelo comes over and he glares at Leonardo DaVinci, and he says, you explain it yourself you who said you could cast a great bronze horse in Milan and couldn't do it and gave up in shame.

  • 11:11:30

    JONESAnd then Michelangelo turns on his heel and walks away, leaves Leonardo red-faced. The source actually says he's blushing with shame and with bafflement, really.

  • 11:11:39


  • 11:11:40

    JONESReally there's -- and that's, you know, it's a very reliable kind of anecdote by the standards of anecdotes. And Vasari wrote, you know, "The Lives of the Artists" in 1550 which is the -- this great compendium of all the biographies of renaissance artists. It's in a way the book that invents the renaissance as a historical period. And so it's 1550, and he says that the reason Leonardo eventually went to France and died in France, you know, Leonardo he died in the Loire Valley in France as a painter to the French king. He says the reason he left was because of the great disdain...

  • 11:12:22


  • 11:12:23

    JONES...that Michelangelo had towards him. So it's a real sense of not that they were rivals, but they were mortal enemies.

  • 11:12:29

    REHMBut had DaVinci been an older man, perhaps he wouldn't have taken that as such demeaning insult, but because he respected Michelangelo as he did, it made it all the worse for him.

  • 11:12:51

    JONESExactly. I mean, first, the thing about the story which I -- there's another side -- that story is very rich, in fact. It's very -- as I say, I looked again at the source recently, and, you know, obviously when I was writing the book, I looked at it very hard and one of things I say in the book is that how the witness -- there seems to be an eye witness and they remember the color of Leonardo DaVinci's clothes. And strangely enough, there's an inventory that Leonard DaVinci actually made of his clothes which exists in his notebooks in 1504, and I can actually say, yeah. He had a tendency to walk around in pink clothes, and this person remembers he wore pink clothes, which is great.

  • 11:13:29

    JONESBut even apart from that, which, you know, there's also as if this -- Vasari and people, you know, they talked about -- they were fascinated by the lives of these men, but they also tended to make up stories as well about them sometimes. But this is not a made-up story. It's a source that's actually very dry kind of source. And I think they just --since we're -- Leonardo, when he says Michelangelo can explain it to you about Dante, now, it's true.

  • 11:13:57

    JONESThat suggests he actually knew Michelangelo rather well, and even as you say, you're quite right that he -- it mattered, because Michelangelo did love Dante and knew Dante off by heart. And so clearly they must have had some kind of intimacy that Leonardo knew that about him.

  • 11:14:10

    REHMExactly. Jonathan Jones, he is the art critic for The Guardian newspaper and the author of a new book, it's titled "The Lost Battles: Leonardo, Michelangelo, and the Artistic Duel that Defined the Renaissance." Do join us, 800-433-8850. You say that the antagonism between them didn't simply rise out of thin air. What was that piece of sculpture that Michelangelo referred to?

  • 11:14:55

    JONESWell, Leonardo had spent many years in Milan as a court artist in Milan, and one of his great projects in Milan was to -- he wanted to build a colossal bronze horse. It was to be a monument to Francesco Sforza who had been -- who was the dead Duke of Milan, and Leonardo worked for his son, and this was going to be -- but it became a sort of -- it's the image of Leonardo's -- I mean the thing about Leonardo is he was not only an artist, but he was a scientist as well, and an engineer.

  • 11:15:28

    JONESAnd I try in the book to see him -- to understand how all those things connect. And the horse, this bronze horse was a kind of -- it was a kind of scientific experiment almost. I mean, there are all these wonderful notes and diagrams that he did of it in which, you know, he's really -- he was trying to invent new ways of casting and, you know, everything that he did, it would never be -- I mean, the Pope Leo X said he wasn't going to commission -- later on that he wasn't going to commission anything from Leonardo in Rome because, you know, he's start off by trying to do experiments on, you know, the how to make the paints, you know.

  • 11:16:03

    JONESI mean, but it was sort of true that he didn't do anything like other people did. And everything he did, he did in this meditative, thoughtful way.

  • 11:16:10

    REHMExactly. And these drawings of the muscles and the veins and, you know, what look like sculpture came through in those drawing.

  • 11:16:25

    JONESThat's right, yeah. His anatomical draws are just incredible, and, I mean, they really started in this period in Florence as a result, and I think they're influenced by his kind of conflict with Michelangelo. The reason Leonardo and Michelangelo were in conflict, the reason they became these kind of enemies is because they were thrown into competition by the city of Florence. As I said, the Medici had been thrown out and it was the Medici who had been the great patrons of art.

  • 11:16:59

    JONESYou know, the patrons of Botticelli, you know, the people who had really overseen the rise of the renaissance in Florence and made it this sort of art city, and they had been thrown out. So now you have this republic, and the republic wanted to prove that it could commission art. It wanted to in a way, erase the memory of the Medici through art with public works of public art that were even greater than that and which were about the republic.

  • 11:17:26

    JONESAnd so it commissioned Leonardo DaVinci to do a great wall painting. I would say fresco, but Leonardo didn't use the proper fresco methods in "The Last Supper" in Milan, and he didn't on this. But they wanted him to do this big wall paining in the great council hall which was the new hall for the republican council basically. So it was very political, very much about Florentine pride and the republic. And then they got Michelangelo to do another picture in the same room on the same wall probably in direct competition.

  • 11:17:58

    REHMDid they deliberately set up that competition?

  • 11:18:03

    JONESAbsolutely. Absolutely. And the competition was -- the competition was a Florentine obsession actually. I mean, we -- I mean, this is one of the ways in which I think the renaissance is the birth of the modern world because, you know, we might think of competition as something that starts with, you know, with commercial society, you know, with modern commercial society, where, you know, a competitive society. But definitely it's in all Vasari -- everybody talks about how renaissance influence was all about competition.

  • 11:18:30

    REHMJonathan Jones. The book we're talking about is called "The Lost Battles: Leonardo, Michelangelo, and the Artistic Duel that Defined the Renaissance." More on this after a short break. Stay with us.

  • 11:20:04

    REHMAnd welcome back. Jonathan Jones is with me. He's art critic for The Guardian newspaper of England. His new book is titled, "The Lost Battles." And that is all about Leonardo, Michelangelo and the artistic dual that defined the Renaissance. Now, this dual literally takes place in a single hall. The two painters each revered by the Florentine people and each asked to create a work of art defining what?

  • 11:20:50

    JONESWell, defining Florentine pride, Florentine patriotism. They were both -- they were battle paintings. They were -- Leonardo was commissioned to paint the Battle of Anghiari. And the Battle of Anghiari it happened in 1440, which is, sort of, you know, but -- more than 60 years before. It was -- it was a defining moment in Florentine history is when they stood up to the armies of the Duke of Milan -- mercenary armies. All these city states, you know -- I'll step back a moment and say in Italy at this time there was no -- there was no Italy. There was no nation state of Italy -- not until the 19th Century.

  • 11:21:24

    JONESThere were city states. They were all self governing and rivalrous. And, obviously, a lot of the energy of that culture comes from these competing city states with their -- and also from the, sort of, idea of self government and republicanism, which they got -- and, of course, that came, as well, from ancient Greece and Rome, that this is the Renaissance. The Renaissance means, you know, the rebirth, the revival of classic co-antiquity.

  • 11:21:50

    JONESAnd so their reading Roman authors. They're reading Cicero. They're reading Livy and, you know, that's where they got the idea of republicanism from. So there was this great patriotic moment -- the Battle of Anghiari when little Florence beat the much bigger city of Milan. It protected its liberty. It was a moment when Florence and liberty was defended. That's what Leonardo...

  • 11:22:09

    REHMAnd Leonardo is asked to portray that.

  • 11:22:12

    JONESTo commemorate it, yeah, well, allow a painter to actually paint the battle, yeah. It's a big -- a huge, you know, huge mural depicting the Battle of Anghiari and everything that's supposed to have happened in it.

  • 11:22:21

    REHMAnd Michelangelo.

  • 11:22:23

    JONESAnd then Michelangelo he's -- when he's -- he's brought in and he's given another battle, which is also, by the way, what makes the competition -- they're doing the same kind of thing. It's not like they brought Michelangelo to do a sculpture in the same room to decorate, you know, to complement what Leonardo did. It's direct head-to-head competition, no question about it.

  • 11:22:42

    JONESSo he does the Battle of Castillon which was another Florentine military victory, but earlier in the 14th Century. But, again, it was a famous victory, very much of Florentine's, sort of, identity. You know, they're like -- maybe like, you know, I don't know, the great battles of the war of independence, I suppose, you know, of George Washington's victories or something, you know.

  • 11:23:00

    REHMBut are you telling me that the two men would be in the same place at the same time working on their respective pieces of art?

  • 11:23:14

    JONESWell, absolutely. I mean this is what they're asked to do, which -- it was a sort of impossibility. I mean one of the reasons the competition happened -- one of the reasons it came about, Leonardo was actually commissioned first, you see. He -- he was -- because he was more famous -- this -- I mean he's much older that Michelangelo remember. Michelangelo is still a young artist who's still, you know, emerging, as we might say nowadays, still, you know, still making his name.

  • 11:23:40

    JONESWhereas Leonardo has been -- he's been -- is very famous the things he's done -- he's done in Milan. Even though he never cast his bronze horse, it was actually very famous. And his Last Supper was already famous. So he's already a celebrity. He was recognized as a genius. These were not -- he's not like Vincent van Gogh or somebody working in, you know, well, no one knowing what they were doing. They were really famous in their day.

  • 11:24:00

    JONESSo -- and the trouble is -- but the other thing that was already becoming famous by Leonardo da Vinci was that he didn't finish things. And so he was working very slowly. And he hadn't even started painting on the wall, like, you know, months after he was supposed to. And he was -- the -- the states -- the Florentine republic was, you know, paying him a salary and providing a place to live and work free of charge in Santa Maria, you know, valet in Florence in the cloisters. Very nice, I think, for Leonardo.

  • 11:24:27

    JONESSo -- and he's doing -- what's he actually doing is all his research. He's even planning to fly. We can get into that later. But he's working on, you know, flight and everything and studying horses for his battle scenes. He's going to have lots of great horses. So he's drawing horses. And then Michelangelo -- what's been happening -- but there's something else that's happening at the same time.

  • 11:24:44

    JONESWhile he's doing that Michelangelo -- this young sculptor, Michelangelo -- is at work in, sort of, in secret in the workshops of the cathedral on a great, kind of, massive statute. And then that's unveiled while Leonardo has gone on for months and months not making much progress on this great public project. They then unveil this -- Michelangelo finally unveils this statute and it's David -- David. And it's a great -- and, you know, well, we know what David is.

  • 11:25:14

    JONESBut what, perhaps, what we don't, sort of, think about so much now is it's a republican symbol for the Florentines, David standing up to Goliath. He's eyeing -- you know, he's standing there and he's got his slingshot and he's eyeing up the enemy. He's -- he symbolizes the, you know, the -- the -- the little man, the people, standing up to tyrants. That's how they saw it at this time. And that's, you know, it was very much a political symbol. And so -- and it was -- and they decided to put it right in front of the Plata Servicio. The Plata Servicio there -- if anyone goes to Florence you go to -- you know, right in the middle of Florence...

  • 11:25:45

    REHMOf course.

  • 11:25:46

    JONES...There's this wonderful piazza with the Plata Servicio -- this fantastic medieval, kind of, castle. But, you know, it wasn't the castle of a lord or anything. It was the castle of the republic. It was the seat of government. That's what the Plata Servicio originally was. And that's what it was at this time. And the Great Council Hall as I've been talking about where Leonardo was supposed to paint the battle painting is inside the Plata Servicio. You know, it would have been built just as an extension of the Plata Servicio, so right in the middle of Florence.

  • 11:26:11

    JONESAnd so if you can imagine Leonardo is supposed to be working in the painting in the hall. And at the front door, which leads to the hall, they place Michelangelo's David. And so at that -- and basically within a few weeks of that Michelangelo is commissioned to the do the rival battle painting. So it's sort of like, hey, you know, Leonardo, you think you're so famous.

  • 11:26:34

    JONESBut Michelangelo he's actually delivered something, which is a great -- which already is a great work of public art that symbolizes the republic and liberty and standing up to tyrants. And so why don't we get him to, you know, we'll get him to do -- and what, you know, I think what they hoped for from that was to give Leonard a good scare to make him get on with it. You know, and also what if he didn't get on with it. They have the Michelangelo.

  • 11:26:55

    REHMAnd what did Leonardo have to say about this glorious statute of David?

  • 11:27:04

    JONESWell, yes. I mean I've, you know, I've talked about -- Michelangelo was -- well, the records of Michelangelo have been very rude to Leonardo. But Leonardo did get his own back -- not so much in -- not in the kind of open aggressive way, but in a more insidious way. There was -- and there's an amazing -- I mean the, you know, the evidence of this -- it sounds like I'm -- I'm not making this stuff up, you know.

  • 11:27:27

    JONESIt's quite astonishing how much evidence there is about this particular city at this time. And there is actually a transcript, which exists, which was written down by a clerk, you know. And it's a transcript of a meeting that was held of all the famous artists in the city, all the leading craftsman, as they would have called them, to actually discuss where to put Michelangelo's David.

  • 11:27:48

    JONESAnd this young sculptor has finished this wonderful statute -- it was originally -- it had originally been intended to actually stand on the buttress of the cathedral where no one would have seen it, you know, high up. And, although, it's obviously, it was too good to go there. And they had this meeting and Leonard da Vinci is one of the people who was there. And the discussion hovered around and it came down to should it be in front of the Plata Servicio, which is where it was put, of course, which made it a great public symbol.

  • 11:28:13

    JONESOr should it be, perhaps, under the Loggia, which is, you know, which is also -- now has lots of sculpture under it. But it was -- some people said it should be, maybe, yeah, on the Loggia. That would be safer because of -- there was an argument about whether the marble was strong enough. Then Leonardo speaks and he says -- well, it's recorded -- and he says, yes, I think it should be under the Loggia, but right at the back and on the wall so it doesn't -- so it doesn't -- so it doesn't get in the way of the ceremonies or the officials, you know. So, you know, I mean, he's already saying, you know, don't make it too (word?) so put it back there a bit. And also it needs decent ornament. And that is the only reference in that meeting...

  • 11:28:50

    REHMDecent ornament.

  • 11:28:52

    JONESDecent ornament.

  • 11:28:52

    REHMTo cover the genitals.

  • 11:28:55

    JONESTo cover its loins, exactly. I mean it's only -- and it's the only reference in the whole -- you know, none of the others are, kind of, you know, bold enough to refer to the fact that David is naked and he has massive genitals.

  • 11:29:05

    REHMAnd do we have any record of how Michelangelo responds?

  • 11:29:11

    JONESNo, we don't. I mean, of course, the thing about Michelangelo -- the records of Michelangelo insulting -- the stories of him insulting Leonardo may come after that. It's hard to tell where the chronology actually -- maybe that's why. Maybe that's why he was so -- maybe Leonardo fired the first shot. And it's quite a shot because Michelangelo identified with David. There's even a poem -- Michelangelo started to write poems at this time. He became a great poet, but he started at this time. And I think, you know, anyway -- then there's something where he says David with his slim and I with my bow.

  • 11:29:44

    JONESMichelangelo, by bow, he meant a sculptor's bow drill. The used a kind of -- they would use a -- like a bow. And they would move it back and forth to actually operate as a drill. So he, you know, he identifies with David. And yet it's a kind of self portrait. And so if Leonardo is saying cover up its -- yeah, cover up its genitals. Cover up this -- this, you know, this is obscene. Cover it up. I mean he's, sort of, attacking Michelangelo where it hurts.

  • 11:30:11

    REHMWhat about the Mona Lisa? How does she fit in here?

  • 11:30:17

    JONESYeah, well, that's the other thing. I mean David -- Michelangelo's -- well, while Michelangelo's working on David Leonardo is working on the Mona Lisa in the same city at the same time. You know, so even before they go to direct competition, they're already kind of -- they're making the -- well...

  • 11:30:38

    REHMHead to head.

  • 11:30:39

    JONESWell, you could argue that David and the Mona Lisa are the world's two greatest works of art. And they are literally made in the same city -- the small city, you know, about 50,000, 60,000 people. They're made in this small city at the same time, you know. And people are watching. And what happened with the Mona Lisa, yes, Leonardo had -- just stepping a little bit in narrative terms.

  • 11:30:59

    JONESBut Leonardo had been in Milan for a long time, 20 years really. He had been away. He comes back to Florence and he'd also been working for Chesaray Borger (sp?) as a military engineer, which was a bit of an adventure. And after that adventure, which is -- got a bit hairy, actually, he comes back to Florence and he finally realizes, yeah, I'm going to have to settle in Florence for a while. Which, you know, Florence was his city. They were both citizens of Florence. They were Florentines, but Leonardo seemed to always want to get away from Florence.

  • 11:31:31

    JONESBut, anyway, he's back in Florence and he basically starts this portrait and -- and a record resurfaced just a couple of years ago, just while I was working on the book. Somebody actually found -- a record turned up in Heidelberg University library which, you know, confirms, where somebody actually says, Leonardo, and he's working on the portraits of la Gioconda.

  • 11:31:54

    REHMThe exact one.

  • 11:31:55

    JONESThe Mona Lisa -- he's actually, yeah. So he actually -- so it's now known, you know, that -- that he started this portrait in the first half of 1503 in Florence. And she's the wife of a Florentine merchant. And I think it's, you know, as I say, it's the Florentine republic, it's the people, it's a city of the people, you know, not meaning the poor people. But meaning the middle class, I suppose. It's a middle class republic of merchants.

  • 11:32:22

    JONESAnd, I think, you know, he had just -- just before that, he'd basically rejected -- you know, there was a -- Marquesas Isabella D'Este (sp?) , you know, who was an art lover and beautiful -- a powerful woman, actually -- one of the few powerful women in this period in Italy. And she wanted -- she was desperate for Leonardo to do her portrait. But he didn't do it. And instead he started the portrait of a Florentine merchant's wife. And I think this is, you know, it was to -- it's a set piece, a calling card, for the Florentines.

  • 11:32:55

    REHMJonathan Jones, he is the art critic for the Guardian newspaper, author of a brand new book titled, "The Lost Battles," Leonardo, Michelangelo and the artistic dual that defined the Renaissance. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I know that, as an art critic, you've been examining works of art over long periods of time. But what got you started on this particular story?

  • 11:33:37

    JONESWell, first of all, I should say that I'm from -- obviously, I'm British. I'm actually Welsh from North Wales. And my parents are school teachers and so it's a personal anecdote, but I mean my parents are school teachers. And when I was a child they took me to Italy on holiday. And I went to Florence. And I think the first exhibition I ever saw was an exhibition of Leonardo's anatomical drawings that happened to be on in Florence.

  • 11:34:00

    JONESAnd basically from the moment -- I just think this art is -- I do think it's the greatest art, basically. I mean certainly the most rewarding.

  • 11:34:09

    REHMJust went nuts over it, yeah, right.

  • 11:34:11

    JONESI went nuts over it. And that was,, okay, that's a long time ago. But then later on, I became an art critic and I write about all kinds of art, modern art and, actually, American art is one of my favorite fields. But I came across this story and I think it was Vasari. I just found the story slightly bizarre, let me say. I think it's absolutely mad that you would have a competition between Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo because how could you possibly say which of those two artists is the greatest?

  • 11:34:39

    JONESThis is a paradoxical -- it's almost surreal, you know. It's...

  • 11:34:42

    REHMBut did you stumble on it? Did you fall in love all over again with Florence? Is that how it happened?

  • 11:34:52

    JONESYes, it was both. I mean, I stumbled on -- I remember reading this story in a paperback of Vasari's life on a train going back from Florence. And I went -- yeah, I went back to Florence. I hadn't been there for quite a long time. And I suddenly, yeah, fell back in love with it as it were. I mean, it's an extraordinary city. I think all, you know, Italy is lovely, obviously.

  • 11:35:13

    JONESBut what I tried to do in the book, though, I mean, I love going to Florence and love -- I was just there a few weeks ago and it's just every time the art is -- I mean, you know, there's a thing called Stendhal syndrome. There's a medical condition which is known as Stendhal syndrome named after Stendhal, the French 19th Century writer, which is -- it's actually a -- the medical condition of being made, sort of, ill by the aesthetic intoxication of looking at works of art in Florence.

  • 11:35:38

    JONESYou go to -- you look at so many works of art and get so, sort of, addicted to them that you actually become woozy and ill. And that's actually a, you know, it's a recognized medical condition.

  • 11:35:47

    REHMDo you think that happened to you do you?

  • 11:35:48

    JONESAnd I've -- it happens to me every time I go. I mean, if I'd actually, you know, cultivate it. You know, I mean it's just getting high on art, though, you know. And it's just, you know, it's an intoxicating place, but actually the book is trying to also say -- to make us see the Florence that we experience today, obviously, is a, sort of, pale shadow of what it was like 500 years ago. And the beauty survives, but the violence and tension and competition and aggression, of course, you know, they're not there.

  • 11:36:23

    JONESI mean there's, you know, I think this culture in which you might see two famous artists having a spat on the street. But also, you know, culturally it was very violent where people were -- you would see public executions and torture, as in any city at that time, but -- and, also, politically divided. You know, the Medici did not have it all to themselves. They were able -- they came back, of course. The thing is the Medici came back after this -- and that's one of the reasons these battle paintings are not there to see in Florence.

  • 11:36:55

    REHMIndeed and those battle paintings had been lost for centuries. But now they're may be an opportunity to -- through peeling and peeling and peeling finding, at least, one?

  • 11:37:14

    JONESWell, the Medici came back in 1512. This was a divided city. It was -- the people wanted to be a republic, basically. They didn't want to be ruled by one family.

  • 11:37:25

    REHMAll right. You're going to have to finish that story after we take a short break. Jonathan Jones is my guest, art critic for the Guardian newspaper, author of "The Lost Battles."

  • 11:40:04

    REHMAnd welcome back. If you've just joined us, the art critic for "The Guardian" newspaper, Jonathan Jones, is here with me. He's written a fascinating new book about the relationship between Leonardo and Michelangelo. He's calls it an artistic duel that defined the Renaissance. The book is titled "The Lost Battles."

  • 11:40:32

    REHMAnd just before the break we were, I had asked you about whether in fact one of these frescos or murals had been discovered. Here's an email to that very point from Luke. He said, "I heard this fresco was recently discovered existing beneath another from a later era. Is this true and will it be restored?" Jonathan?

  • 11:41:05

    JONESIt's, the search has been going on for a long time for the "Battle of Anghiari." It is, the man who repainted the room, redecorated it, was actually Vasari, the same man who the lives of the artists. And he revered Leonardo and so there's every chance that he might've tried to preserve it in some way. And the search has now reached the point where they've found traces of pigment inside the wall and they say this is it.

  • 11:41:35

    JONESBut there are a lot of skeptics, in Italy, and actually around the world, you know, sort of experts. I mean personally, I think it's perfect, extremely possible actually, because I think there wasn't really anything else, there isn't a record of any other paintings being done in the room and so if you find a large painting that seems to be inside the wall then there's a very good chance that that's it.

  • 11:41:58

    REHMAnd here's another email that goes to the heart of the character of these individuals. It's from Ava, who says, "I've heard that Michelangelo was a tenacious penny-pincher, eating only fruit and drinking wine. I've also read Leonardo sublimated his sexual energy into feeding his genius. How did self-denial also relate to the competiveness between the two masters?"

  • 11:42:42

    JONESNow, that's very interesting question. And the other thing about Michelangelo is that he wore the same boots for months on end, he never changed his boots. He was quite proud of that fact.

  • 11:42:53

    REHMHe was a penny-pincher?

  • 11:42:55

    JONESI don't -- penny-pincher, I think, I don't know. I'm not sure about that. I think he was an (word?), yes, and he claimed to be celibate and although he became quite wealthy, yes, he lived in a very simple way. And he left a lot of money to his family, he became quite rich. And he was accused later on, it was a big dispute about the tomb of Judas II and there was a big dispute about whether he was sort of, you know, cheating on the money. He wasn't, he wasn't.

  • 11:43:26

    REHMAnd what about Leonardo?

  • 11:43:29

    JONESYes, well, the thing about Leonardo and sublimation, and this is, now this a very interesting point, whether both of them sort of sublimated in different ways, sublimated their energy into their art. And it's actually Sigmund Freud who said that Leonardo sublimated his sexuality into his art, you know, Freud wrote a book about Leonardo in 1910 in which he argues this and psychoanalyzes Leonardo.

  • 11:43:53

    JONESI think that Freud was wrong. I think it's a fascinating book actually, which is deeply suggestive in lots of ways. But I think he was wrong to say that Leonardo sublimated his sexuality. Leonardo was twice accused -- one of the reasons Leonardo left Florence as a young man is that he was in trouble. He was accused of sodomy which was, you know, their word for gay sex.

  • 11:44:15

    JONESHe was accused of sodomy twice and he had a kind of studio -- to be honest, it almost reminds me of Andy Warhol's factory. He had these young men around him, Salai was the most famous. And as Vasari says, he delighted in Salai's curly hair. He basically -- and in his drawings, he shows erect penises, anal sphincters. I don't think Leonardo was repressed, personally. I don't think he was sublimating.

  • 11:44:46

    REHMAll right. Let's go to Tim, who's in Fort Wayne, Ind. Good morning to you, welcome.

  • 11:44:55


  • 11:44:56


  • 11:44:57

    TIMI'm enjoying your program. I'm not an expert, you know. I'm a painter, but I'm not an expert on art, but I'm pretty well versed at it, in the art history. And I have that volume of Vasari's book and a lot of it's very amusing, especially, you know, he talks about Veronese at the Christ in the House of Levi and he says, you know, it's full of dogs, Germans, dwarfs and other vulgarities.

  • 11:45:29

    JONESThat's right, yes. In fact, Veronese was interrogated by the Inquisition because of that. He was accused of filling it with vulgarities like that and that's what the Inquisition accused him of.

  • 11:45:40

    TIMAnd he's an artist himself, Vasari, and so he has agenda himself. I don't know, I love to read it and most of it is true but you have to be careful using as an absolute art historian.

  • 11:45:53

    JONESAbsolutely, I mean, no, historians aren't -- I think the whole discipline of art history for the last 200 years as been based on knocking holes in Vasari. I mean, clearly he's a great -- he invented art history, he's a great raconteur, he's one of the best writers, one of the most entertaining books ever written.

  • 11:46:09


  • 11:46:09

    JONESYou know, I'm here to pluck my own book, but it could go wrong in a way because I could just plug Vasari, you know, why don't you just go and read Vasari because it's hugely entertaining. Now, I have a very strong view about this. I feel that art historians have gone too far in debunking Vasari.

  • 11:46:27

    JONESObviously, this is a man who wrote to the end of the Middle Ages. Clearly, his idea of history is different from ours, his idea of fact is different from ours. But it's such a rich book and even where the stories are silly you can get -- it tells you about how people thought at that time. And this particular story, this story I tell doesn't sort of rely Vasari.

  • 11:46:48

    JONESI mean, Vasari does tell it, but it's documented by, you know, there's a vast range of documents actually which enable me to tell the story. So I don't rely -- in a way what I do as a journalist, speaking as a journalist, I also write for a paper, so I would say it's what we call standing up the story. In a way what they do is to take the Vasari antidotes and show from other sources that it's, you know, how true it is.

  • 11:47:10

    REHMThanks for calling, Tim. To Columbia, Md. Good morning, John.

  • 11:47:16

    JOHNGood morning, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.

  • 11:47:18


  • 11:47:18

    JOHNI'm a second-time caller so I can say, good, hello again.

  • 11:47:21


  • 11:47:22

    JOHNI have a -- sometimes when I get together with my friends and we're talking about or the subject comes up of Leonardo da Vinci or sometimes I try to steer it there -- and I'm a collector of just basic facts on Leonardo da Vinci. And I try to provoke my audience by saying there's a direct contact, although it's 460 years separated between Leonardo da Vinci and me, and of course my audience scoffs and they deride me with disbelief.

  • 11:47:54

    JOHNBut the reason I say that is because I did run across a reference to Leonardo da Vinci being invited by the King of France to possibly work for him, and the reference is very sketchy, but that he also stayed at the Chateau of Fontainebleau. Fontainebleau is a city 60 miles, 60 kilometers south of Paris and it was also the hunting lodge and the summer retreats for all the kings of France.

  • 11:48:21

    REHMAll right. So your question is...

  • 11:48:23

    JOHNMy question is, can Mr. Jones provide any information or refute that fact or provide any information on Fontainebleau and Leonardo da Vinci and the king inviting him to France?

  • 11:48:34

    JONESAbsolutely, yes. It's true, it's true. Leonardo died in France. He did become -- he was invited to be painter to the French king, Francois I, and he went to France and the king gave him a chateau his own to live in.

  • 11:48:49


  • 11:48:50

    JONESWhy, because he was the greatest artist in the world.

  • 11:48:54

    REHMBut why would Leonardo wish to leave his beloved Florence?

  • 11:48:57

    JONESWell, that's the thing, that's the thing. From the, you know, you can see why the French wanted him but in Italy at this time they call people north of the Alps barbarians. Italy was the cultural center of Europe. It is a mystery as to why Leonardo would, of all people, would've left. And the truth is, because after this competition he was, his name was mud in Italy. He lost this competition to Michelangelo, that's the point. You know, we might find that hard to believe because Leonardo's stature has grown and grown.

  • 11:49:26

    REHMWho decided that he lost the competition?

  • 11:49:30

    JONESThe Republic of Florence and he lost it, it wasn't, because it was a sort of unofficial competition it was nastier in a way. If they'd had a prize in a form, you know, that would've been different. But this was, what happened was that Michelangelo, by the end of it, the government of Florence was telling the pope, Julius II, that Michelangelo was the greatest artist in Italy, if not the universe.

  • 11:49:52

    JONESThey actually used that word. And that he was, you know, a young man who had done a great service to the republic, who was working on a great battle painting for the republic and, you know, recommended him. And while at the same time, (unintelligible) was telling -- they were telling everybody who was interested that Leonardo da Vinci, this was in the Judgment of the Florentine Republic, was a laggard who took money and didn't finish things.

  • 11:50:13

    JONESAnd after that, Leonardo never got, you know, this had direct consequences. The Florentine Republic tells Pope Julius II what a good young man Michelangelo is, what a genius. What happens? Very soon, Michelangelo is painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling. That's what this leads, this leads to Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

  • 11:50:37

    JONESLeonardo da Vinci never gets another public commission from an Italian. I mean, he, the French invaded Milan and the French tried to get him to do something in Milan. That goes wrong too but he's, and this is the beginning of the High Renaissance. This competition is the beginning of the High Renaissance and the next few years they were, you know, Raphael was even, even painted someone's bathroom in Rome.

  • 11:50:58

    JONESYou know, they were rebuilding Rome and repainting Rome. This is the age of, you know, Raphael's frescos, Michelangelo's frescos and Leonardo is just, but Leonardo was just sitting around. They didn't trust him afterwards.

  • 11:51:11

    REHMSo even after the Mona Lisa this...

  • 11:51:16

    JONESWell, that's just a portrait.

  • 11:51:18

    REHMJust a portrait?

  • 11:51:19

    JONESI mean, when it comes to frescos and public arts, you know, the real big stuff, he wasn't trusted.

  • 11:51:24

    REHMAll right. Let's go to Frankfort, Mi. Good morning, Camille.

  • 11:51:31

    CAMILLEGood morning, Diane. I wonder if Mr. Jones could comment on the following. For these men, creative thinking and art and science was all an integrated, you know, endeavor and it was for Ghirta (sp?) even 250 years later. But I'm wondering how much of what they accomplished in the significance of it happened because of the lifestyle, the way that people lived then. And what is the likelihood that, I guess really what I want to know is when do you think that shift occurred, where it would no longer be possible for individuals to survive history in that way?

  • 11:52:29

    JONESYou know mean...

  • 11:52:31

    CAMILLEHow much time?

  • 11:52:32

    JONESWhen you say survive history, well, I think the big thing about art science, anyway, was at this time science was still new. I mean, people knew very little, the great thing about the Renaissance is a time of infinite curiosity when people are just starting to think about these things and starting to expand their minds.

  • 11:52:53

    JONESOf course, Columbus had, you know, discovered the New World in 1492 just before this and this is the time when Amerigo Vespucci, a Florentine who actually knew, you know, Leonardo was part of the same sort of circle as all these people, was sending back incredible reports from the New World that led to his name, Amerigo, becoming America.

  • 11:53:12

    JONESSo this is a time of discovery and Leonardo's science, the wonderful thing about Leonardo's science and Michelangelo as well, who was an, he did everything, he was an architect, an engineer, he became a military engineer, which isn't, very little known but I talk about it in the book that he actually outdid Leonardo as a military engineer.

  • 11:53:28

    JONESBut this experimentalism, at this time they could do anything, it sort of starts to change a century later as the scientific revolution takes off. Leonardo could do science because anybody could do science at that time because it was really just speculation. But as soon as you have Galileo and Newton and math becomes integrated with science then it becomes more specialized and then art and science separate.

  • 11:53:53

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And what about Leonardo working on the idea of flight?

  • 11:54:03

    JONESWell, yes, I mean, the most, for me the most sort of extraordinary aspect of this competition, in his notebooks, Leonardo's notebooks are where he put all his science and everything is documented. But some of them are dated and there's a dated entry which shows that he was planning to launch, he was planning to launch his airplane. He was working, all his life he worked on flight. But he was actually planning a test flight of his flying machine from the hills outside Florence in 1505 as he was working on this competition.

  • 11:54:32

    JONESIn other words the Florentine government was right because he was obviously using the work space to build his airplane. And he was, you know, working on a flying machine.

  • 11:54:41

    REHMBut he did not take that idea then with him to France?

  • 11:54:47

    JONESYes. The thing about the King of France, he did, he actually had a very high, he was living in a chateau in France and also the French king apparently didn't care whether he did any art. The French king saw him as a philosopher. Francois understood him actually and appreciated him for what he was. And so he died fully appreciated and understood.

  • 11:55:07

    REHMAll right. And one last call from Tallahassee, Fla. Good morning, Matt.

  • 11:55:15

    MATTGood morning, Diane. You're the greatest host in all of radio.

  • 11:55:18

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:55:19

    MATTI just wondered if quickly could you comment on the role of private money in all of these public works projects? I mean, in many ways these works projects were funded by mysterious super-package kind of groups and what role do you think private money's had in the public works that shapes the careers of Leonardo, Michelangelo and all of these other gentlemen?

  • 11:55:41

    JONESWell, public money and private money totally intertwined at that time. the Medici used private money to do public works. This was public money in the sense that, you know, the Medici weren't there. But then of course the popes used the money of the church as private money and, you know, so it's all very shady.

  • 11:56:00

    REHMBut then the Medici come back, isn't that correct?

  • 11:56:03

    JONESThat's right, yes.

  • 11:56:04

    REHMAnd then what happens to the artistic creations of these two geniuses?

  • 11:56:10

    JONESOkay, 1512 the Medici come back and this is, and it's very violent. They sack the city of Prato, which was the neighboring city of Florence and they do it to terrify the Florentines. And then they come back and the great council hall which is the symbolic center of the Republic which had been built, you know, to sell it to enshrine this new republic.

  • 11:56:32

    JONESSo what did the Medici do? They don't, they trash it actually. They let soldiers lodge in it, they let them vandalize it, but they actually use the word lay waste (unintelligible) they laid its waste. Now, Leonardo had begun, Michelangelo, the competition had come down in the end to two great drawings. They'd done these two great drawings called cartoons and those were displayed, those have been on display, those vanished completely. They were torn to shreds, they disappear, never to be found. Leonardo left something, we don't know what. Perhaps one day it'll turn up.

  • 11:57:06

    REHMJonathan Jones, he's art critic for "The Guardian" newspaper. His newest book is titled "The Lost Battles: Leonardo, Michelangelo and the Artistic Duel that Defined The Renaissance." Congratulations on this book.

  • 11:57:28

    JONESThank you.

  • 11:57:29

    REHMAnd thanks for being here. Thanks for listening all.

  • 11:57:33

    JONESThanks for inviting me, thank you.

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