The Morning Forum of Los Altos launched its fall season Sept. 21, with 300 members logging in via Zoom to author Caroline Cocciardi’s presentation on “Leonardo’s Knots.”

Cocciardi, a student of all things Leonardo da Vinci, discussed her discovery of da Vinci’s knot patterns. A resident of Saratoga and Italy, her role as an art scholar led her to study da Vinci’s work. She shared how she was quite familiar with da Vinci’s art for years, and one day studying his paintings she saw a magnified picture of his most famous work, the “Mona Lisa.”

Looking at an enlargement, Cocciardi realized that there were many hidden messages in the form of knot symbols. Observing other da Vinci paintings, she noted that a variety of knots were present and were a secret ingredient in all of his compositions. It seems that no one else had previously discovered the knots that appear in all of da Vinci’s known paintings.

Her observations shed new light on the Renaissance master and led Cocciardi to a 20-year study of da Vinci’s work, including his paintings and his notebooks housed in Stanford University’s special collections. She said da Vinci was not only an artist, but also a gifted mathematician.

According to Cocciardi, many Renaissance artists were familiar with the three historical knot symbols: the knot of Isis, Solomon’s knot and the Eternity knot signifying no beginning and no end. These symbols and many others are present in all of da Vinci’s paintings, and Cocciardi said they carry hidden messages about fate, belief and man’s connection with the creator.

Knots appear to originate with the Celts and were part of the language of the nonverbal world. Cocciardi found many variations of the knots of octagons and hexagons throughout da Vinci’s paintings and notebooks. In his paintings, she said, knots appear in many parts of bodies and clothing as well as in the background. Cocciardi believes that da Vinci’s talent as an artist and a mathematician made him a master of geometry in his art. He appeared to learn about knots and math from mathematician Luca Pacioli.

Only a dozen da Vinci paintings are extant. He also wrote extensively – Cocciardi searched 23 notebooks and 7,000 pages to find notations and doodles of intertwined knot collages.

Cocciardi said da Vinci’s knots were both a message and a clever and subtle way of signing his paintings.

In both his paintings and his notebooks, Cocciardi noted, the complexity and ubiquity of the knots show da Vinci’s skill as an artist and a mathematician, and serve as a signature of his artistry and intelligence.

The Oct. 19 Morning Forum will feature a presentation by photographer Pete McBride and filmmaker Kevin Fedarko, “Into the Grand Canyon: A 750-mile Exploration.”

The Nov. 2 gathering will spotlight chef Carl Raymond’s expertise with his presentation “From Dickens to Downton: The World of Victorian and Edwardian Food.”

Morning Forum is a members-only lecture series that meets twice a month, online for the near future. Membership is open.

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