José Luís Espejo - Leonardo in Catalonia

Leonardo in Catalonia

 

If you are interested in this topic, you will be interested in my book EL VIAJE SECRETO DE LEONARDO DA VINCI (Editorial Base).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Between 1479 and 1485 some plagues occur in Florence and Milan. During those years practically nothing is known of Leonardo. However, in 1483 he paints the Virgin of the rocks, and in 1484 begins to write his famous notebooks.

Leonardo disappears from Florence sometime at the end of the summer of 1481, and appears in Milan at the beginning of the spring of 1483. Shortly before his departure from Florence, arrives at the Court of the Medicis a legacy of Fernando el Católico of Aragon. His name: Joan Margarit. This person, great friend of the cardinal Rodrigo of Borja (the future Pope Borgia, Alejandro VI), comes to Italy to mediate between the Italian States, engaged as were in fratricidal fights, while the thriving Turkish empire attacked Italy in its South flank (invasion of Otranto in 1480). As I said, Leonardo left Florence in the same dates that the legacy of the King of Aragon negotiated with Lorenzo de Médicis. Is it casual? I think that the answer is negative, given the role of the Italian artist as spy, throughout his life (in Barcelona, yes, but also in the papal court, with Cesar Borja, and even in Milan, during the French rule in this city). See in this regard Leonardo, spy in Montserrat (year 1482).

Giulio della Rovere (future Pope Jules II) was then Abbot "comanditario" of Montserrat, although he had ceded his powers to father Llorenç Marull. In March 1483 Giulio della Rovere makes a change with the Abbot of Santa Maria della Grotta (Sicily), the catalan Joan de Peralta. This one aims to introduce some monks of Padua (he fails), and is responsible for the construction of a building destinated to be the new church of Montserrat, with the help of Jacopo Verginali, an Italian citizen. Ferdinand II of Aragon (Fernando el Católico) insists on passing this monastery to the obedience of the St. Jerome order. Therefore, the new monks can have a good reason to acquire a painting in honour of this Saint, translator of the Latin Bible (the famous Vulgate). This is the historical context in which I frame the visit of Leonardo to Barcelona, between 1481 and 1483: his 'lost years'.

Montserrat had previously Italian monks. Six arrived in 1443 from Montecassino (Frater Henricus de Alamania, Frater Ciprianus, Frater Simplicius, Frater Baptista, Frater Antonii, Frater Natalem).

In times of Fernando el Católico, Catalonia is full of Italian intellectuals. Among them: Antonio and Alejandro Geraldino, Peter Martyr de Angleria, or Lucio Marineo Siculo. Pere de Cardona attracts them from the papal court (Catalan and Valencian) of the Borja (or Borgia, as they are known in Italy).

 

Antonio Geraldino, ambassador of Florence in Barcelona, belonged to the Geraldini, family very close to Leonardo. Not in vain the famous "Mona Lisa" of Vasari was Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo (la Gioconda). His other brother, Alejandro Geraldino, went to America with Colón, and there would be the first bishop of Santo Domingo. Americo Vespuccio (in fact, Aimerich Despuig, perhaps related -as Leonardo- to catalan ancestors) was a friend both of Columbus and of Leonardo. This is a circumstance that opens promising questions about the life of both historical figures.

Leonardo had other ties with Spain. An ancestor oh him (Giovanni Da Vinci) died in Barcelona in 1406. It is posible that he had family in this city.Leonardo painted a portrait of Ginevra de Benci (1475), commissioned by the Venetian diplomat Bernardo Bembo. He did a tour in Spain between 1468 and 1469.

These are some examples of the historical context in which I inscribe my hypothesis:

LEONARDO DA VINCI SPENT A YEAR IN MONTSERRAT, BETWEEN 1481 AND 1483.

Fruit of this experience, he painted the picture entitled the Virgin of the rocks, where the rocks of Montserrat are clearly seen. In Montserrat he would have left his St. Jerome, now in the Vatican museums. The history of this painting is very illustrative: it would be stolen by the troops of Marshal Suchet, in 1812, and it would have been bestowed on Joseph Fesch, uncle of Napoleon. When he died, his family sold it to the Vatican Museum. An sculpture of the catalan artist Pau Serra, in 1755, is very similar to the Saint Jerome of Leonardo, which would prove that the aforementioned painting (the Saint Jerome) would be in the monastery of Montserrat during those years.

Leonardo would do a second trip to Barcelona after his flight from Milan, in the first 1500. On this trip he would take notes of the surroundings of Martorell, reflected in his famous Gioconda. He also would repaint the Annunciation, detailing landscapes of Catalonia: the Canigó, Montserrat, and the city of Barcelona, whose port appears in construction (the works in this port began in 1477).

Why did Leonardo come to Catalonia? Possibly for three reasons: the order that the monastery of Montserrat would did to Leonardo to paint a Saint Jerome (as well as a Virgin; perhaps the Virgin of the cat); his condition of practitioner of the Cathar cult, alive in his days both in Italy as in Catalonia; and perhaps his interest by the Alchemy. In this regard, the future Jules II, Abbot of Montserrat during those years, is known as the Alchemist Pope.

Both Catharism and Alchemy were practiced in Catalonia. Near of Flix, in Tarragona, have been found places of Cathar worship, dated towards the end of the 15th century. Montserrat and the monastery of Sant Cugat del Vallès were alchemical centers. Some alchemical incunabula are preserved in the library of Montserrat.

 

Cathar inscriptions near Flix, Tarragona. They are dated at the end of the 15th century. In them we find the word "Magdalena". Photos: Frank Roch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

The so called "alchemical peach", crystallized in stone, preserved in the Archaeological Museum of Barcelona (even though, officially, is nothing more than a product of handicraft in marble). It was found in 1972 hidden in a niche of the monastery of Sant Cugat, Barcelona. Photo provided by the Museum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Catalonia was a Cathar refuge after the crusades against this gnostic sect, in the South of France (XIII century aC.). The population nearly doubled in the following decades after this war. Another lot of Cathars went to the North of Italy. The contact between the two communities was never lost.

"Catalonia" is derived from a surname with origin in Carcassonne (Catalan). Its first mention occurs in times of Ramon Berenguer III. Although the first evidence of the "Catalan" surname in Catalonia was found in Montserrat, in 1125.

Previously, Catalonia did not exist. It was simply an extension of the Kingdom-County of Barcelona. Catalonia might have received its name from the Cathar refugees. Perhaps then began to be called "land of the Cathars", or Catalonia.

From my point of view "Catalan", as "Cathar", is not derived from the word "kataros" (pure), but from "cattus" (cat). Not in vain, the last Cathar, burned in 1321, named Bélibaste, had a compound name: Bel and Bastet. Bel was the Supreme Canaanite being (equivalent to the jewish Yahweh), and Bastet was the goddess cat of the Egyptians (equivalent to Isis, or Ishtar). Catalonia would be the "land of the cat", in the same way as Occitania, further to the North, would be the "land of the goose". It is curious that Leonardo would paint a "Virgin of the cat", today lost, and one Leda accompanied by an swan (swan-goose, both have the same symbolic value), of which only copies are conserved.

In short, my book EL VIAJE SECRETO DE LEONARDO DA VINCI has two key points:

- The mystery of La Gioconda revealed: Leonardo was in Catalonia, and in Montserrat learned some important secrets. This is reflected in La Gioconda smile (sardonic).

- Catharism and Catalan identity are intimately linked. This is still a reality among the elites of this country. Only for religious reasons Catalan culture has withstood the influence of the Spanish culture.

In EL VIAJE SECRETO DE LEONARDO DA VINCI, I intend to discover the hidden face of Leonardo, that has never come to light. To do this, not forgotting his background (the historical and artistic context of his time), I do an analysis of the symbolic language of his work. This expresses a message, addressed to members of the secret order in which he was initiated. This is the different bias of my analysis of the work of Leonardo, in relation to other more conventional.

In what refers to the historical context, in my book EL VIAJE SECRETO DE LEONARDO DA VINCI I try to investigate the trade relations between the cities of Barcelona and Florence at the end of the 15th century. These were very intense. Earlier I referred to two families: the Vespucci-Despuig and the Geraldini. Both are an example of the close ties between Catalonia and Northern Italy.

Americo Vespucci signed as Despuche in Seville, according to documents kept in the Casa de la Contratación. This is a evidence of his catalan lineage, that we prove furtherly with the comparison of the coats of arms of the Italian Vespucci and the Catalan Despuig:

On the left, coat of arms of the Vespucci, according to the heraldic catalogue known as Spretti. Right, shield of the Despuig, as it appears in the Garcia Caraffa. Note that the Despuig boast, as the Vespucci, a set of wasps, accompanied by a honeycomb and a Fleur-de-lis, symbol of the city of Florence.

By its part, the Da Vinci could be linked -I don't know in what way- with the Geraldini, that in the same way that the Da Vinci, had the three bars of the Kingdom of Majorca (one of the variants of the Catalan flag) in its heraldic coat of arms .

  

 

 

On the left, coat of arms of the Da Vinci. To his right, shield of the ancient Kingdom of Majorca, for one hundred years detached from the Crown of Aragon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In later stages of my research I have come to the conclusion that the arrival of Leonardo Da Vinci in Barcelona could have been spurred by one of these two lineages: the Despuig or the Geraldini. I appreciate the help of Jordi Bilbeny and some other other members of the Nova Historia Foundation, in relation to some significant details about these "nissagues" (lineages). (Note that lately I have focused my attention in another lineage: the one of the Olivella.)

In short, this book investigates a stage in the life of Leonardo -the period between 1481 and 1483- that was completelly unknown: where he was, what he did, and why was lost his track. I bring several evidences to prove that Leonardo was in Barcelona (and more specifically in Montserrat), as did before different figures of history, such as Gerberto of Aurignac (the future Pope Sylvester II, Pope of the Millennium) and St. Francis of Assisi; and later other historical figures, such as Ignacio de Loyola (founder of the Jesuits). Because Montserrat was an Academy of Alchemy. The myth of the Grail has much to do with this universal fame, that attracted figures such as Goethe, Wagner or the same Himmler.

I can prove that in Montserrat Leonardo painted the St. Jerome, and was inspired to make the Virgin of the rocks, La Gioconda, some drawings, and the repainting of the Annunciation.

Much of the symbolism in the work of Leonardo -as his obsession with John the Baptist and the Magdalena- has to do with the Cathar roots of his family. As an accessory item, I question the hypothesis of the catalan origin of his lineage. The Da Vinci would be Cathar refugees of the Roussillon (French Catalonia) installed in Tuscany in the 13th century. I think I have important evidences to prove it. See my article (in Spanish) Reflexiones en torno al posible origen de la familia Da Vinci.

 

Return