Famed Renaissance man Leonardo da Vinci used intertwining knots as his signature on his works of art. In the wake of the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death, writer/filmmaker Caroline Cocciardi unraveled the mystery of the knots in an Aug. 22 Rotary Club of Los Altos presentation.
While da Vinci’s artistic legacy rests on a limited output of a dozen or so paintings, he was a prolific author, writing 23 codices that filled 7,000 pages about the myriad subjects he had studied. His interests ranged from engineering to science and mathematics, all consistently revealing his fascination with mathematical knots.
Cocciardi, author of “Leonardo’s Knots” (Mona Lisa Knot, 2019), first noticed the knots when viewing da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa,” visible in dramatic enlargement in Pascal Cotte’s spectral photography displaying the painting at 240 million pixels.
A 1-inch-by-4-inch section of the painting depicts embroidered interlocking knots decorating the Mona Lisa’s bodice – not typical of female fashion during the Italian Renaissance.
“Why would her wealthy silk merchant husband allow his wife to be portrayed in a frumpy green wool house dress rather than rich silk?” Cocciardi wondered.
While studying da Vinci’s unabridged writings at Stanford University, Cocciardi discovered a variety of ancient knots the artist had painted using a pointillism technique.
In “The Annunciation,” the Archangel Gabriel’s sleeve bears the interlocking knots of Isis, the Egyptian female goddess.
“The Last Supper” features a knot of Isis first found in early Egyptian art; it reveals da Vinci’s continuing fascination, including knots like the one he tied in the tablecloth in the lower-right corner of the masterpiece.
Cocciardi showed a video that displayed how the “Mona Lisa” knot, with nine crossings and twisted threads, could be unraveled into one untangled, straight line – the knot of a mathematician, she postulated.
The “Mona Lisa” seems to have been da Vinci’s favorite portrait, Cocciardi said, for he kept it throughout his life, carrying it with him when moving 200 miles from Florence as he shifted to the patronage of the Duke of Milan, and later to the Loire Valley under the sponsorship of French King Francis I.
For more information on Cocciardi’s “Leonardo’s Knots,” visit leonardosknots.com.
Marlene Cowan is a member of the Rotary Club of Los Altos. For more information, visit losaltosrotary.org.