Timothy Findley and Leonardo Da Vinci – Pilgrim
I could say that I decided to read this novel, Pilgrim, because I was attracted by the number and the power of the characters that the story deploys with such insolence. Yes, if you want to involve Carl Gustav Jung (the Swiss psychiatrist and originator of the theory of the collective unconscious), Oscar Wilde, August Rodin, Leonardo da Vinci and many other famous historical figures in a strange novel mainly set in a clinic in Zurich at the beginning of the twentieth century, you must have a sort of impudence and the steady courage of your convictions, it is true.
Timothy Findley speaks about Ernst Haeckel too (a German biologist of whom I’d like to write in a later article), Gustav Mahler, Sigmund Freud, Henry Adams (whose posthumously published book of memoirs The Education of Henry Adams won the Pulitzer Prize in 1919), Gertrude Stein (the famous America writer, critic, art collector and mentor), Alice Toklas (Stein’s life partner), etc., packing the six hundred pages of his novel with a collection of sub stories that sometimes are amazing and interesting, sometimes lacking in transition and quite forced into the plot. Moreover, Findley invented the character of Robert Daniel Parsons, who is entirely fictional, even though his figure seems fully realised and integrated into the main story. There is also a Parsons’ manifesto and the description of a movement, the Parsonites (‘We are the Parsonites. We follow this creed. Join us, and revel in the madness’).
By the way, the novel is about a man called Pilgrim, who cannot die, a man who may or may not be immortal.
To be sincere, however, the spark of interest lighted up only when I read in the foreword of the book that Pilgrim was, back in time, an enemy of Leonardo Da Vinci. Since I know the enthusiasm and the commitment that Angelo Paratico is putting into his studies and research into Leonardo’s life, my (shifty) intent was to provoke him with something he didn’t know – to surprise and catch him out, I mean, with a well-known account.
But then, having had the opportunity to talk with Angelo for long hours about Leonardo (or rather, it was he who told me so many things and gave me so much information that I was speechless), I thought that it would be better only to ask questions, waiting for his kind answers.
So, Angelo, please, tell me:
– Is it true that Leonardo raped Monna Lisa, or Elisabetta Gherardini, Madonna Elisabetta del Giocondo, la Gioconda, to punish her because she wasn’t her twin brother Angelo Gherardini? In fact, Elisabetta and Angelo used to play by exchanging their clothes: Elisabetta acting as a handsome young man and Angelo as a delicate madonna Florentine. And Leonardo was fond of him. Yes, because his passion – according to Findley – were the young boys, not the girls.
– Is that correct? And that one of his lovers was Alfredo Strazzi? And that in 1476 Leonardo was questioned by the Signoria of Florence, the committee of the town, in relation to his preference for young boys? And humiliated, condemned and fined?
– Is it true that Angelo Gherardini died of the plague?
– And that Elisabetta, la Gioconda, bore Leonardo’s son, who died aged one year?
– Finally, is it true that Leonardo didn’t paint Jesus’s face in his famous The Last Supper, but left it white, scared by Savonarola’s threats?
Leonardo Da Vinci, according to Findley’s book, appears to be a violent and moody man, so different from the usual descriptions I am used to. So, my curiosity about this strange genius has risen further.
Waiting for your explanations… take care, Angelo, and all the best!