Leonardo da Vinci’s strict ‘vegetarian’ diet

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The painter, anatomist, architect, paleontologist, botanist, writer, sculptor, philosopher, engineer, inventor, musician, poet and urban planner Leonardo da Vinci died five centuries ago in the French castle of Clos Lucé, in the Loire area. Surrounded by a light similar to that of his beloved Tuscany, the Italian genius worked and went out in this castle on May 2, 1519 after living there for three years protected by Francis I, a monarch who revealed himself to be his best patron and who did not even He entrusted him with any work or task. He simply asked the Florentine to enjoy the place and do what he did best: create and discover. A 500 meter tunnel between the Royal castle of Amboise and that of Clos Lucé allowed the King and the artist to see each other on a daily basis.

In the twilight of his life, when he was in his sixties, Da Vinci devoted himself to drawing the movements of storms, designing special effects for the king’s festivals, and give brushstrokes to his famous and enigmatic Gioconda. Despite the fact that he spent his life drawing small sketches and illustrations, the truth is that he only produced about twenty complete paintings in his entire life, some of which his authorship is still questioned. This is not the case with the Mona Lisa because the grim reaper practically surprised him with his hands on the brush. Until his last day on the face of the earth, he continued to retouch this painting, among the infinity of tasks and projects that he had always half done.

Upon the death of the painter, Francisco I took ownership of the work, either because he had previously bought it or because he thus applauded it. This is confirmed by the painter and biographer Giorgio Vasari in a document written in 1550: «He made for Francesco del Giocondo [mercader de textiles y seda] the portrait of his wife Mona Lisa and, despite dedicating the efforts of four years, left it unfinished. This work is held today by Francisco de Francia in Fontainebleau ».

The fascination for nature

But beyond his best-known painting, the great obsession that on a personal level accompanied the Florentine to his end was his strict vegetarian diet and his love for nature. After spending his childhood in rural TuscanyDa Vinci got used to always living outdoors, surrounded by nature and observing its mechanisms to apply them in his inventions or reflect them in his works of art. The natural world amazed him and his diaries indicate that he had a special interest in the properties of water and air, as well as in the movements of birds of prey. His earliest recorded memory is traditionally considered to be of a dream in which a bird landed on his face and pushed the tail feathers between his lips. During his life he cared for various birds and dedicated himself to buying the caged to free her.

The Last Supper, his best work.
The Last Supper, his best work.

His love of nature made him embrace a strict vegetarian diet for much of his life. It is believed that he fed mainly on legumes, fruits, vegetables, cereals and nuts, although his list included eels, more exotic fruits and other fish, but always looking for a diet that he described as «simple», but at the time it is extreme: «Does not nature produce enough simple foods to satisfy you? [en referencia al hombre]? And if you are not satisfied with the simple ones, can’t you combine them to form an infinite number of compounds?

The theoretical justification for avoiding meat, which he did buy for his servants as revealed from his “shopping lists,” was based on a science-based ethic. As Walter Isaacson explains in his book ‘Leonardo da Vinci: The Biography’, published in Spain by Debate, Leonardo perceived that animals, unlike plants, did feel pain because “they had the ability to move the body.” «Nature has made living organisms that have the faculty of movement sensitive to pain, to preserve the parts that could be destroyed by movement. For plants, pain is not necessary.

All this derived from his enormous sensitivity to the pain of others. His friends joked that Leonardo “was incapable of killing a flea” and even “He preferred to dress in linen so as not to carry the remains of the dead».

Why don’t you help the other animals, except so that they can give you their young for the benefit of your gluttony?

The Florentine’s work is replete with more arguments than, in an anachronistic sense, could be interpreted as environmentalists. In a literary genre that he gladly cultivated, sobering texts with little riddles and “prophecies” as a play on words, Leonardo reflected on many occasions his love for animals and nature: “An infinity of beings will have their offspring taken away, to which their throats will be cut and savagely butchered “, referring to the sheep and cows that humans eat.” Furthermore, Leonardo’s literary notebooks include passages directly critical of the habit of eating meat: «If you are, as you have written, that of animals […] Why don’t you help the other animals, except so that they can give you their young for the benefit of your gluttony? ‘

A vegetarian nod in his masterpiece

In one of his most famous paintings, “The Last Supper,” Leonardo also reflected that taste for vegetables and fruit among the dishes displayed among the apostles. In a 2008 issue of ‘La revista Gastronómica’, historian John Varriano analyzed the food on the table in the play and found that many traditional meat dishes that are often depicted in this New Testament passage are replaced, under Da Vinci’s brush, by foods such as “eels adorned with oranges,” occupying the place of the traditional lamb, so common in all Mediterranean countries.

Along with the bread and wine on the usual table, you can find a plate full of whole fish that can be seen quite clearly, while the dishes on the right side are certainly blurred, except for one, in which the eel is identified. roast decorated with delicate orange slices.

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