Leonardo, La Gioconda and Martorell

             In a passage of my book Los mensajes ocultos de Leonardo da Vinci I wrote: "In a drawing of the collection Windsor (Royal Library, number 12.496), Leonardo da Vinci represents a wolf driving a boat, that is approaching to a shore where a crowned eagle stands on a globe. The waters near to the right shore are stormy, while which bathe the opposite shore, from which the wolf parted, are by the contrary quiet... The wolf has semihuman form, and sets its course with a maritime compass (which touch with one of its claws). The mast of the boat is an olive tree in full glory, holding a sail, swollen by the wind. The title by which is referred this drawing is Allegory with a wolf and an eagle; although I prefer to call it Allegory of the navigation".

 Allegory of the navigation. Notice the glyphs "Martorello", "Barchino" and "Olivella". See also written the word "ven", o "vé" [go])


            In Los mensajes ocultos de Leonardo da Vinci I explain that some people think that the animal which leads the boat cannot be a bull because does not have hooves, but claws, in its extremities. However, what should be its ears seem actually to be horns. Is by this that other scholars affirm it is a bull; is more, they have considered it as an heraldic symbol of the Borgia family (a bull), in relation to the French or Spanish Crown (the crowned eagle).

            There are some curious details. Firstly, at the base of the tree, which is held precariously on the boat, you can see two letters and an accent: "vé" (the Spanish word "ven"). From my point of view, this tilde alludes to an "n", and the message would be 'come'. This refers to a displacement, which is actually being done by the passenger of the ship from one bank to another, in a stormy sea. The presence of this Spanish word ("vé") perhaps indicates the destination of the trip. Perhaps Spain?

            The eagle can symbolize the victory (vincit, referring to Leonardo's last name?), but as it is on the top of a "mundus" (the globe, or terrestrial sphere), that would take place on the orb, not only on one country or continent. In short, the eagle reigns over the world.

            Curiously, this eagle has a crown with some florets very similar to the ones that has the Gioconda in her neckline. Some confuse them with flowers of lis. I see figures with the shape of a cross. In all case, in those times in which hypothetically Leonardo would have made the cited drawing (in some moment of early the XVI century), only the King of Spain could hold the title of "Emperor". And on the other hand, as I explained in my book Los mensajes ocultos de Leonardo da Vinci, if the Gioconda assumes the role of Isis (or the black Virgin), as I think, she could be called "Empress of the world", as she is described in numerous pious works with praises to the Virgin.

            In Los mensajes ocultos de Leonardo da Vinci I argue that as we see in the Codex Windsor, Leonardo was very fond of making glyphs (also called rebus), a very common pastime in his time, in which the nobles were interested in topics such as "allegories" and the noble art of designing coats of arms. If we perform a reading of the drawing, not only as an allegory ("of the navigation"), but also in their constituents elements, disaggregated as pictograms, we can find some curious details:



Codex Windsor. Leonardo made almost 200 glyphs (or "rebus")


            1. An "olivo" (olive) and a "vela" (sail). So we have "olivela", perhaps in allusion to the catalan surname Olivella (that derives from a village, and several castles and houses with the same name), both in Italy and in Catalonia. 

            2. A boat and a wave. If we unite the Italian "barchino" (small boat) and the catalan "ona" (wave) we have "Barchinona" (name that received the city of Barcelona in the XV century). Although we reject the suffix "ona", the word Barchino still has this meaning. 

            3. A "mare" (sea) and a "torello" (calf, or small bull). With this combination we have the toponym "Martorello": that is, the name of Martorell (province of Barcelona) in Italian.


            Olivella, Barchinona and Martorello seem quite eloquents. The allegory seems to tell us: "come" to Martorello, near Barchinona, and there you will find someone called Olivella. In a document of the year 1484, copied by the Archivist of Montserrat Benet Ribas i Calaf, we can find a Benedicto Solivella. Would be the Olivella that Leonardo was referring to? Notice that the surnames Olivella and Solivella share a same coat of arms: an uprooted olive.



Passage from the Annals of Montserrat, of Benet Ribas i Calaf. The original is dated in the year 1484


            This very recent discovery (I write in mid-February of 2013) has made me consider seriously what interest could have Leonardo in the town of Martorell. To understand this, we must analyze the work by which he is best known: La Gioconda.


The landscape of La Gioconda. ¿Real or imaginary?


             In my book El viaje secreto de Leonardo da Vinci I pretends to prove that the landscape of La Gioconda is not a product of the imagination. The rocks and the road on the left (both on a disproportionate scale, which indicates that it is a kind of collage), as well as the mountain of the botton, the slope and the river valley (with a scarce flow of water), the color of the earth, the plain and the atmosphere, are characteristic of the vicinity of Martorell, from the top of the Serra de l'Ataix , in the massif of the Ordal. The bridge is identical to the one of Monistrol de Montserrat.



Comparison between an observatory of Martorell and the Mona Lisa


            Here we find an element out of place (the bridge), what makes think again in a collage, a resource that Leonardo had employed already in his drawing of the Valley of the Arno, dated in the year 1472.



Landscape of the Arno, of Leonardo, dated in the year 1472. Note the mount Monsummano


            Recently I had the opportunity to speak with the leading expert on local history of the city of Martorell: Alfred Mauri. This senior scholar has explained to me that at the end of the XV and beginning of the XVI centuries (that is to say, at the time that Leonardo would have visited the place), the town of Martorell was walled, and communicated with its environment through two main roads: the first went through the so-called congost del Llobregat, a narrowing of the Llobregat Valley, guarded by several observation towers. The second "gave access to the road of Corbera and Olesa of Bonesvalls, and to the cami vell of Barcelona, rectified at the beginning of the XV century" (encyclopedia Catalunya Romànica).

            This road was located on the exact spot which appears in the painting (not far from the rocks of the Matauet, which are those that appear on the left) and had -still has- steep slope. In the vicinity of the city of Martorell marked one accused S (clearly visible in La Gioconda), which has been preserved –even in our days- in the configuration of the urban grid of the city.



Network of ancient roads in the vicinity of Martorell. The center one (the way to Corbera) would appear in the Mona Lisa



Leonardo exhibited at La Gioconda (Paris and Madrid), and even at the Codex Madrid II, the profile of the rocks of the Matauet (Martorell)


            There was a third important way in the vicinity of Martorell. It started from the modern village of Sant Andreu de la Barca (received this name because of a boat -in the absence of a bridge- to cross the Llobregat river) and headed up to the vicinity of Gelida, without having to traverse the congost del Llobregat (travelers would save the toll of the so-called "bridge of the devil", which in the days of Leonardo was called of St. Bartholomew). 



Bridge of the Devil (or San Bartolomé), with the road passing by the congost del Llobregat. In the background, Montserrat. Image courtesy of the historian Alfred Mauri


            Martorell was part of a line of defense, fortified by at least four castles within a radius of a few kilometres: Castellví de Rosanes, Rosanes, Gelida and Subirats. From the year 1474 on the villages of Castellbell, Molins de Rei, etc., some castles, and the town of Martorell, were part of the inheritance of the Requesens family. That is something that I already knew, but the collaboration of the historian Alfred Mauri made me aware of the importance that this family might have in the development of the second voyage of Leonardo to Catalonia.


The second travel of Leonardo to Catalonia and the Requesens family


            In my book El viaje secreto de Leonardo da Vinci  I explained that Leonardo had visit Catalonia, in 1504, for a number of reasons that would take long to explain. In Los mensajes ocultos de Leonardo da Vinci I would add three extra arguments:


            1. The Anonimo Gaddiano, dated in the year 1540, says that Leonardo made a trip "to France and elsewhere" (Catalonia?) after his collaboration with Cesare Borgia (1500-1503). This should happen towards the years 1503-1504.

            2. In the Madrid Codex II appears a list of clothing, with the heading In cassa al ministerio (in the case of the monastery); between the pieces of clothing we find "a catelano rosato" (catalan pink cloak). This Codex is also dated on the year 1504. Some experts think that this monastery could be Santa Maria Novella, although in the anonymous Gaddiano, before quoted, is said that Leonardo actually left his things in the hospital of Santa Maria la Nuova (in the opposite side of the city of Florence); so we can rule out Santa Maria Novella. Which monastery would be talking about? Why no Montserrat? Not by chance, this listing of clothing is overlapping the outline of a drawing of a landsacpe similar to Montserrat. The letters, written in pencil, have been erased in a premeditated way.



A supposed map of Rocafort, in Martorell (Codex Madrid II). On the reverse can be read the phrase "a catelano rosato". The words have been erased deliberately


            3. In the book La Perla de Cataluña, by Gregorio de Argaiz, we are told that the year 1503 Cardinal Francesco Soderino struggled with Cardinal Cisneros by the right of possession of the monastery of Montserrat. Finally the King Fernando el Católico decanted the balance in favour of the Spanish. Perhaps Leonardo played some role, by order of Piero Soderini, gonfaloniero of Florence, and brother of the cardinal Soderini? Perhaps by this reason he was in Montserrat?


            We must not forget that in another document of the Codex Madrid II, dated around the year 1504, we see a drawing in ground plan and elevation of the castle of Salses (near Perpignan, in North Catalonia), which at that time had just been rebuilt after the French siege of the year 1503. This means that Leonardo could visit Salses in the year 1504. This recurrent date coincides in a not casual way -from my point of view- with the time in which, according to his biographers, Leonardo would have begun to paint La Gioconda.



Left, floor and elevation of a castle (Leonardo). Center, aerial view of the castle of Salses. Right, study of a ravelin, by Gonzalo de Ayora (above) and Leonardo (below)


            We have already seen that the Allegory of navigation has a detail (the "floron" of the Crown from the eagle) very similar to the embroidery of the trimming from the neckline of the Mona Lisa. It may be coincidence. But is a remarkable fact that in this allegory appears, in form of pictogram, the place name "Martorello", place from where -from my point of view- Leonardo would have taken notes -of the landscape- to paint La Gioconda. It should be noted that this name (Martorell) is documented, at least, from the year 1032.

            I have already pointed out that the town of Martorell, and the castles of its environment (in the barony of Castellvell, and the lands of Martorell) belonged to the Requesens family (they were marquis of Martorell). These territories had been won, with the opposition of the Council of the city of Barcelona -to which belonged-, by their support given to the King John II of Aragon in the Catalan civil war of 1462-1472. In 1472 these lands were transferred to Lluís of Requesens de Soler, to which is added the privilege of include in his coat of arms the blason of Aragon. In 1474 they were sold to them, in order they could consolidate this possession. This Lluís de Requesens (who died in the year 1509) was secretary of the King; He had a son named Galceran Lluís de Requesens i Cardona, which -from my point of view, not by chance- in the year 1505 was bailiff of the castle of Salses (that, as we know, Leonardo had visited just a year before).

            It seems to me a big coincidence that Leonardo had been in two places (Martorell and Salses) so linked to the figure of two Requesens (father and son). It is necessary to take into account that this family had a napolitan branch, with interests also in Sicily, led by Galceran de Requesens i Soler, brother of Lluís de Requesens (previously cited), which was distinguished by the King Ferrante of Naples with the title of count of Trivento and Avellino. Her daughter, Isabel de Requesens y Enríquez, married Ramon Folch de Cardona, the viceroy of Naples. She was -allegedly- portrayed by Rafael de Urbino, and by his pupil Giulio Romano, in 1518.



Portrait of Isabel de Requesens, by Raphael and Giulio Romano


            It is a curious fact that Lluís de Requesens was secretary of Fernando of Aragon (the Catholic King), as also were Antonio Geraldini and Francesc Vidal de Noia, which, as I explain in my book El viaje secreto de Leonardo da Vinci, could have had some relation with Leonardo; the Geraldini, as family of Lisa Gherardini (the Gioconda), and Francesc Vidal of Noia -perhaps- as ancestor of Carlo Noya, supposed owner of the table known as the Virgin of the cat, today disappeared. But all this is just an hipothesys.

            So, the Allegory of the navigation presents us a series of toponyms (Barchinona, Martorello) that make think us in a displacement (as indicates the word "vé" that appears in the drawing) that would have had place in a date very concrete (the year 1504). If this is really true, and not a product of a big chance (of a "ruse of the demon"), the fact that Leonardo had been in two places (Martorell and Salses) linked to a lineage so important as the Requesens has a certain sense. Not in vain, they were admirals, royal counselors, governors, viceroys and ambassadors of the parliaments of Aragon and of Naples. Immediately over they only was the King... And God.


Why went Leonardo to Martorell?


            Now, if Leonardo was in Martorell, and from the top of the rocky massif that is located behind the population drew the landscape of La Gioconda, what was he looking for in this place? Perhaps, merely, to find a nice view for his drawing. But is very possible that others motives moved him.

            Leonardo employed "white lead" (a carbonate of lead, of white color) to make his pictures. If really painted the St. Jerome and the Virgin of the cat, as I believe, in the monastery of Montserrat, perhaps would have gone to Martorell lead mines, located two kilometers away of the town, on the road in direction to Corbera that appears on the left of the Mona Lisa, to acquire a bit of this mineral, which emerges almost on the surface.

            It is true that both pictures were painted in 1481-82, more than twenty years before his second visit. But, perhaps, he intended to paint some other picture in Montserrat, in the year 1504. Or perhaps he needed lead for some other reason (Alchemy, foundry, etc.).

            In any case, the mines of lead (or their outcrops on the surface) have been exploited, in Martorell, from Roman time (and even before, in times of the Iberians). In the centuries XVIII to the XX have been made major works of prospecting and excavation of galleries. But they were known since inmemorial time. In the toponymy of the place there are at least two names alluding to the mining activity: Torrent del Vernís and Costa de l’Argentera.

            If Leonardo had really been in the mines to take some lead, he might have performed the journey (to go and return), from Montserrat, in one single day, if he traveled on horseback. Those are very close to the route of Corbera. Perhaps, just before starting the way back to the monastery, or even to the city of Martorell, he had seen the superb landscape of the natural observatoy of the Serra de l'Ataix, from which Montserrat appears as a giant imposing mountain, dominating the plain in which converge the rivers Llobregat and Noia (that gave name to the neighbouring region of l'Anoia).

            Perhaps this is one of the hidden secrets of the most enigmatic picture in the History: La Gioconda.


Historical images of Martorell


Courtesy of Alfred Mauri, historian and chronicler of the city.