Re: virus: Re: Science and Religion

David Leeper (
Mon, 26 Nov 1956 20:40:27 +0000

:>>What's the meme for keeping precision to a minimum?
:>David Leeper
:>Homo Deus
:And art would seem to me to be precisely the opposite. Very few artists (I
:think, since I try to include myself in the group) use memes of
:obfuscation, and I would contend that art is a primal communication,
:whatever that means (I'm still working on this....)

I'm busy right now. Here's a reply from Prof Sir Ernst Combrich, O.M., C.B.E., F.B.A., and
author of "The Story Of Art" (Be forewarned, he likes to talk alot)...

There is another work of Leonard's, which is perhaps even more famous than "The Last Supper". It
is the portrait of a Florentine lady whose name was Lisa, "Mona Lisa". We become so used to
seeing it on picture postcards, and even advertisements, that we find it difficult to see it with
fresh eyes as the painting by a real man portraying a real woman of flesh and blood.

What strikes us first is the amazing degree to which Lisa looks alive. She really seems to look
at us and to have a mind of her own. Like a living being she seems to change before our eyes and
to look a little different every time we come back to her. Even in photographs of the picture we
experience this strange effect, but in front of the original in the Louvre it is almost uncanny.
All this sounds rather mysterious, and so it is; that is so often the effect of a great work of
art. Nevertheless, Leonardo certainly knew how he achieved this effect, and by what means.

The great works of the Italian Quattrocentro masters who followed the lead given by Masaccio have
one thing in common: their figures look somewhat hard and harsh, almost wooden. The strange
thing is that it clearly is not lack of patience or lack of knowledge that is responsible for
this effect. No one could be more patient in his imitation of nature than Van Eyck, no one could
know more about correct drawing and perspective than Mantegna, And yet, for all their grandeur
and impressiveness of their representations of nature, their figures look more like statues than
living beings.

Artists had tried various ways out of this difficulty. But only Leonardo found the true solution
to this problem. The painter must leave the beholder something to guess. If the outlines are
not so firmly drawn, if the form is left a little vauge, as though disappearing into a shadow,
this impression of dryness and stiffness will be avoided.

I'm back, thank you Professor. If you look at the Mona Lisa, you'll see that even the background
is drawn at one height on one side of the picture, and another height on the other side of the
picture. And don't forget, this is the Mona Lisa. As we move to Impressionism, Cubism,
Expressionism, and abstract painting, we move farther and farther from reality. More and more is
left the observer of the painting.

David Leeper
Homo Deus