How Leonardo da Vinci asked for a job

Imagine we turned back the clock and said you were Leonardo da Vinci, but not exactly the well-known man in the portrait. Rather, let's say you were a much younger Leonardo, about 30 years old, and you really needed to land a job. What would you say to a prospective employer? How would you market yourself?

How about something like this:

"Dear Sir, I know you've interviewed a lot of people for this job and seen their proposals for your military projects. Their concepts relate to standard procedure. Without prejudice to anyone, I'd like to show you some of my private work and offer my services. I'll list some below.

"I can build some pretty light but strong bridges that you can carry around with your army; and I can build mortars that can throw hundreds of stones and terrify your enemy; and I have quite a few other useful contraptions I'd like to show you. Oh, and in times of peace I can also paint, design buildings (both public and private) or even create sculptures, if you like."

Remarkably, this is more or less how Leonardo presented himself in 1482 to Ludovico il Moro, the Duke of Milan. His words have been an interesting resource for many scholars.

Recently, Marc Cenedella of the job site posted a photograph and translation of the enquiry letter on his blog page. He calls it Leonardo's "resume'." It's intriguing to read it.

Here are some excerpts:

1. I have a sort of extremely light and strong bridges, adapted to be most easily carried, and with them you may pursue, and at any time flee from the enemy; and others, secure and indestructible by fire and battle, easy and convenient to lift and place. Also methods of burning and destroying those of the enemy.
4. Again, I have kinds of mortars; most convenient and easy to carry; and with these I can fling small stones almost resembling a storm; and with the smoke of these cause great terror to the enemy, to his great detriment and confusion.
10. In times of peace I believe I can give perfect satisfaction and to the equal of any other in architecture and the composition of buildings public and private; and in guiding water from one place to another.

In closing, Leonardo offers to work on a large bronze horse sculpture. He also says he's willing to prove himself, if necessary, by conducting demonstrations on Ludovico's property to show his inventions in action.

In case you're wondering, Leonardo got the job. He lived in Milan for 17 years and produced many famous works.

If you'd like to read more, here's the link to Cenedella's post. It points out the advantages of Leonardo's marketing approach: Leonardo da Vinci's Resume'

Related da Vinci posts in this blog:

Why do we merely play with our tools?

Two mysteries solved.

Oops! Headlines that aren't quite right

A friend of mine passed along these headlines and the attached comments. They make one wonder whether the newspaper writers and proofreaders who put these together were a little hung-over. Strange and delightfully off-balance:

Man Kills Self Before Shooting Wife and Daughter

It took two or three readings before the editor realized that what he was reading was impossible!


Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says

No, really? Ya think?

Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers

Now that's taking things a bit far!

Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over

What a guy!

Miners Refuse to Work after Death

No-good-for-nothing' lazy so-and-so's!

Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant

See if that works any better than a fair trial!

War Dims Hope for Peace

I can see where it might have that effect!

If Strike Isn't Settled Quickly, It May Last Awhile

Ya think?!

Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures

Who would have thought!

Enfield ( London ) Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide

They may be on to something!

Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges

You mean there's something stronger than duct tape?

Man Struck By Lightning: Faces Battery Charge

He probably IS the battery charge!

New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group

Weren't they fat enough?!

Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft

That's what he gets for eating those beans!
---------------- ---------------------------------

Kids Make Nutritious Snacks

Do they taste like chicken?


Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half

Chainsaw Massacre all over again!


Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors

Boy, are they tall!


And the winner is....

Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead

Did I read that right?

A religious order, a great man and an intriguing Chinese map on display in Washington

Some called them the Pope's "spiritual commandos." In the 1500s and 1600s, they travelled the world in missionary work and education and left their mark in many unexplored places. Courageous, tenacious and erudite, they followed a form of military disciple. That is not surprising, considering their teacher was himself a former soldier. He became a fighter for the church after he was wounded defending a Spanish citadel. A cannonball broke his leg. He survived, and during his convalescence he studied the great spiritual heroes of Christianity. After a period of study in several European universities, he gathered a growing number of followers. They pledged a bond of poverty and chastity and then presented themselves of service to the Vatican.

We are speaking about the Jesuits and the founder of their order, Ignatius of Loyola.

They certainly left their mark in history. And now the work of one of their own, a large map on display in Washington, is drawing the attention of scholars and the public alike.

The Jesuits travelled widely and converted many people in remote areas of the world, including the Indian sub-continent, North America, South America and also in Japan, where they established a connection with Japanese ruling class, who admired their sense of discipline and hierarchy.

The Jesuit presence in China is remarkable, too, because of the work of one man in particular, Matteo Ricci, who worked in China for 27 years. During that time, the Italian scholar rose to the position of court mathematician in Peking and successfully bridged the cultures of Western Europe with those of the Chinese empire. He adapted completely to Chinese customs in dress and behaviour and wrote extensive scientific works in Chinese.

He is remarkable for another of his many talents: map making. Ricci produced incredibly detailed maps of Asia. His world map of 1602 made a significant contribution in bringing together the political and religious goals of both Rome and the Chinese emperors. It seems odd that a map could do this. But the document was much more than an accurate geographical representation of land masses and geographic features; it was a layered record of subtle and important diplomatic undertones. Henry Kissinger must be an admirer of his work.

What's of notable interest these days is that the Matteo Ricci map of 1602 is now on display at U.S. Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. There is much more to learn about this exhaustive work.

The New York Times' presents an interesting perspective. The article is linked here: "A Big Map That Shrank The World."

For more information, see the following:

Matteo Ricci and his contributions to science in china.
History of the Jesuits.

Image of Ricci is in the public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Musings about the classics

Not being a regular visitor to the symphony, I wasn't sure if I would like attending a concert by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. I usually don't listen to classical music. I have absolutely no ear for music. But midway through a violin concerto by Dvorak, something stirred in my soul and I realized why classics are classics.

The concerto featured violinist Jennifer Koh. She was mesmerizing. I'm a neophyte, as I said, but I could appreciate both the intensity and subtlety in the interpretation. There was something in her playing, in the dialogue between her and director Kazuyoshi Akiyama, that was not of this world. The audience called her back three times with applause and a standing ovation.

Thinking back on the creative works that have touched my life, I remember certain moments as flashes of deep connection. Maybe the same thing has happened to you.

And there's the answer: sometimes you encounter something so sublime, so deeply emotional and personal, that the experience transcends both the artist and the work. It's a moment that lifts you out of your skin, lets you abandon your problems, allows you to "slip the surly bonds of earth," as the poem goes. It's communication with the universal spirit. I believe that's one reason we call them classics and why they last forever.

Stories emerge from our links to past shared experiences

To enter the world of literature is to enter into a collective, shared experience that connects us to the ancients.

The other day I heard a story about Australian aboriginal people. It appears that some of their myths for explaining the constellations in the night sky are very similar to those of the Greeks. In one aboriginal group's oral history, for example, the Pleiades star cluster is described as a group of seven sisters chased by a hunter. This is identical to the Greek myth of Orion chasing the seven daughters of Atlas. Is this mere coincidence?

The renowned Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye talked about humanity's shared literature. He saw it as a pool of the collective imagination from which every work of art emerges. Frye looked back on centuries of literature, starting with campfire tales. He concluded that "a myth is a simple and primitive effort of the imagination to identify the human with the non-human world, and its most typical result is a story about a god. Later on, mythology begins to merge into literature, and myth then becomes the structural principle of story-telling (...) the containing framework of the mythology takes the shape of a feeling of lost identity which we had once and may have again."

We often experience that feeling of vague familiarity when we read a story or view a film. James Cameron's movie Avatar is structured around a storyline that many recognize as a retelling of the American legend of the relationship between Pocahontas and European settler John Smith. Others see shadows of The Last of the Mohicans.

In creative work rarely, if ever, is something truly original. As creative people, we seem to build on the concepts and stories that have found their way into our deepest consciousness. In the retelling, we see faint reflections of ourselves in a vast ocean of shared experience.

References and Links

1. The Pleiades myth
2. The Northrop Frye quotation is from the CBC Massey Lecture, The Educated Imagination, first published in 1963 (Chapter V. The Verticals of Adam).
3. Avatar
4. The photo of the Pleiades star cluster is from a sky survey conducted by NASA/ESA/Aura/Caltech.

Art for sale

I have never given much thought to art galleries. I don't mean the galleries in museums. I mean galleries that sell art, the places you find in some of the trendy parts of town that have a lot of space and expensive items on the wall. I've never seen myself as an art connoisseur or as someone who would buy expensive art from a gallery. But I'm learning new things all the time.

On a recent Sunday walk with my wife, we stopped at a local gallery. Hanging in the Jennifer Kostuik Gallery in Vancouver (1070 Homer Street), the work of two photographers caught our eye. One was the work of Dianne Bos. She travels the world and takes long exposure shots with a simple pinhole camera. The other was the photography of David Burdeny. He also travels the world and likes those long exposure shots. Both of their images evoke dreamlike qualities. Burdeny's web site explains it best: "...David purposefully photographs in poor light and near darkness. He uses unusually long exposures to see that which our eyes can not. Moving beyond the literal, his images have been described as ominous, haunting, beautiful and meditative." And they were.

The work of Bos and Burdeny is not simple photography. It's art. Theirs are images that engage you, draw you in, makes you think differently about your life or about the subject.

I realized that day that I would never have been struck in the same way had the works been on a web site or in a magazine. I've suddenly gained a new appreciation for the role of the art gallery: it's the intermediary between artist and public. When things go well, a mutually rewarding relationship is formed between gallery and artist. A gallery needs to sell items to stay in business. The owner must have a clear idea of what he or she will display. Not all artists are working simply for the act of creating, some wish to find a market for their work and cultivate an audience. The owner must meet and get to know them and select the ones best suited for the gallery. My wife said, "The gallery acts like an athlete's agent." She's right -- a kind of Jerry Maguire for artists. I hadn't quite seen it that way before. The artist needs someone who will market the work, who will test the market, negotiate the best price, motivate him or her to do better. A good relationship with a gallery gives the artist peace of mind to create while the gallery does the marketing work .

The laws of economics are also at play. A little-known artist will not command a high price; one whose reputation is known and who is in high demand will command a high price. This is good for the gallery, good for the artist and also, I believe, good for the public, as more people become aware of the works.

I will probably never walk by a gallery without thinking about the relationships on display there.


1. Dianne Bos
2. David Burdeny
3. Jennifer Kostuik Gallery
4. Pinhole camera
5. Jerry Maguire

Vintage images highlight the positive aspects of our social history

If you walk along the lower floors of crowded Pike Place Market in Seattle, you come across a quiet shop called "Old Seattle Paperworks." It seems fitting that it's across the hall from a nostalgic magic shop. For anyone interested in reliving a bit of the past, the Paperworks is an old curiosity shop of printed memorabilia that opens a door to another time.

You can't avoid slipping into a reverie as you flip through antique travel posters and magazine advertisements, beautifully-preserved "Life" magazine covers from the 1930s to the 1970s, vintage movie posters and newspaper headlines.

Media theorist Marshall McLuhan once wrote that "ads are the cave art of the twentieth century." It's true they offer insights into the aspirations of the times. Like explorers, we now rediscover them. For example, I came across one ad that showed a photograph of a man and a woman in business suits standing next to a plain, round, stainless steel barrel on a table. I didn't understand what the barrel was at first, but when I read the caption it revealed the virtues of the 10 A.M. coffee break in the office, apparently a new idea in 1946.

French bicycle manufacturers in the early 1900s created masterful drawings of nymph-like nude women with long hair riding the latest bike models. Reminiscent of Lady Godiva, they must have been popular. From the early 50s, an American drawing shows a slim, beautiful brunette in form-fitting pants and a sweater. She's smiling to herself and reading a book while seated on a large pillow. She's being attended by a handsome man. The tag line says many women wish to remain slim and avoid heavy snacks. They need a light, refreshing beverage that doesn't fill too much. Their choice is Pepsi.

Not all are quaint. Some of the most popular items in the shop are the Camel cigarette ads from the 1940s: "More Doctors Smoke Camels Than Any Other Cigarette."

In the travel section, illustrations promote travel to Hawaii, New York, America's national parks or European destinations like the Alps, Paris or the Riviera. For collectors, these posters are real works of art, all drawings in colour that ignite the imagination in ways that today's photographs cannot. Posters for airlines in the early 50s show passengers walking across an airport tarmac to a waiting DC-3 propeller airliner. The men are wearing pressed suits, fedoras and ties; the women, elegant dresses, stylish hats and heels. Not even a hint of a security check, simply the romance of flight and travel.

What strikes one after a half-hour of browsing is the overall optimism that seems to permeate society from about the late 40s to the early 60s. We were free of the horrors of the Second World War and moving forward. And despite the political tension of the Cold War era, there appears to be an abundance of positive energy and, in particular, a sense of America driving itself upward to a better future. This comes through in the magazine articles as well as the posters. Of course it was a highly selective and idealized view of the times, and today's advertising probably creates a similar effect; but still...what a view it was.

Notes and links:

1. The poster above was selected by an interesting site called Found in Mom's Basement, which is a collection of vintage advertising.
2. The original source for the poster shown above was the Ski Zermatt web site, located here.
3. A newspaper story about the "Old Seattle Paperworks" can be found here.