Jackie Kennedy and Leonardo da Vinci?
“Style is a simple way of saying very complicated things.” It was Cocteau who said that. Well, he was French.
The latest news about da Vinci is that Italy’s National Committee for Cultural Heritage is trying to crack a real-life da Vinci code: What he might have hidden in Mona Lisa’s eyes – like there are some numbers and letters, 72, LV or whatever. Some also want to exhume his body to measure his skull to see if Mona Lisa was a self portrait. All this makes my Jackie and Leonardo pairing pretty ordinary by comparison.
Leonardo was not alone, if he did indeed hide some messages in his pictures. The late German modern artist Sigmar Polke did too, just for fun. And I found that out in a most extraordinary way. See my comment in this link.
But is it really possible for us to know more about da Vinci, or Mona Lisa by cracking this ‘da Vinci code,’ if any? Or is it necessary for us to know what Polke hid in his pictures in order to appreciate them? No to both, I think.
The best pictures, and the best styles, are just what they are – everything is there for our eyes to take in. We just have to learn to look. (Or un-learn to look).
If Mona Lisa is the most beautiful and perfect painting we recognize, Jackie Kennedy may be its equivalent in style and elegance in our recent memory. Both are enigmatic. The former a culmination of da Vinci’s passion and accomplishments; and we know that Jackie was not just a superficial fashion plate. She spent the last 20 years of her life working as a book editor, out of her love for writing and literature, enabling the publication of many books that otherwise would not have seen the light. She was also a passionate campaigner for conservation and the architectural environment.
So, simple things only look simple. Visual beauty, perfection, elegance, style…ultimately must come from something deeper, a sort of intelligent substrate, a humble humanity behind those forms and shapes.
Otherwise they are just empty forms and shapes, with even less meaning than whatever the artist might have intentionally left hidden in it.