Ludovico el Moro reigned Milan for six years, that is until the French allied with the army of the three Venetians and a battalion of Swiss mercenaries took the duchy from him in 1500. He died prince and exiled in the prison of Loches, and perhaps without another fortune than your memories. Gone were his many lovers, his legitimate children, some others recognized for their faith and the very Duchy of Milan, a line founded by his father and recovered by his son Maximiliano, 15 years later. Perhaps the strongest memory was entangled in the memory of Beatrice D'Este1, his legitimate wife and Duchess of Milan.
For history, Ludovico's capital was education. In the Renaissance educators and artists traveled aboard their fame and were coveted by different governments. Who was chosen to educate him was a humanist intellectual: the poet and translator Francesco Filelfo. With him, Ludovico learned the moral questions of sumptuous and overflowing life, pride and at least the sculptural arts. However, between the lessons of Greek and French, and the warnings of the epistolary exchange, it was the prince himself who forged the caution to face the future. He had only to observe the world around him, that of extravagance and that of inconvenience: Filelfo lived on his knees and from favor to favor to face his financial troubles. Ludovico, after all, ended up becoming a patron himself. This core learning led him to undertake works as valuable as they were unique and different: war, fine arts and engineering. Pride pushed him to settle and win the Duchy of Milan in the face of a family dispute. A French Louis claimed his share as a family. His vehemence instructed by Filelfo led him to conduct the Italian wars with mixed luck; Perhaps that is why he has planned to put an emphasis on finishing the Milan Cathedral and boosting education in Pavia. But Ludovico before ruling Milan was also a mercenary captain. And from that experience of leaders he learned to negotiate, speculate and fight side by side with the most convenient side. Even when the parties and banquets came to the duchy with the need to consolidate the power of the Sforza, their government did not manage to remain standing. Beatrice, Ludovico's wife was instead the extravagant leg to sustain and design the protocols. The meetings happened not so much as a custom but as a necessity adopted later at the time: the diplomatic missions. For the purposes of Quattrocento2, the court and the parties of Ludovico brought together both worthy intellectuals and arrogant military men. They were only variants occupied in guaranteeing governability in the face of the overwhelming Republic of Venice while proposing an artistic vision as a new inflection of Milanese power vis-à-vis the rest of the world. Meanwhile, the Borgias, the d'Este and the Gonzagas - the outstanding families of the Italian nobility - maintained bonding relationships, building suitable marriages that guaranteed heirs. Both Beatrice d'Este and her sister Isabel, dazzled at the time: refined, brilliant, beautiful and diplomatic. His aesthetic vision managed to favor the celebrations and impose the main ideas as necessary and unavoidable. They just needed a cohort of set designers, air fresheners, and of course, banquet masters. Just as Bianca chose Filelfo to train Ludovico, Beatrice was in charge of choosing her artists.
By then, and far from Vinci, his hometown, the restless Leonardo had already failed in the Florentine Tavern The Three Snails. Still, determined to get the job right, he didn't stop writing and thinking. In his gastronomic notes he not only pointed to excellence in the art of good eating. During his stay at the Sforza palace, Ludovico the Moor observed Beatrice's choice attentively and immediately trusted in her way of proceeding - an obvious humanist criterion - and in her ingenuity as a designer of domestic life; but he was also able to glimpse without effort the particular sensitivity of the Florentine in the art of cooking. And that was a piece of information that needed an urgent review.
Leonardo's recipes, perhaps saved under testamentary document by his assistant Francesco Melzi and eventually called Codex Romanoff, they are scattered drifts from his many unorthodox writings. Precise cooking times, humorous, medicinal warnings, painstakingly detailed food properties, royal sensibilities and moral rules. Cooking recipes seem like formulas written with a certain ingenuity but with the undeniable vehemence of honesty and a taste for simplicity. This is how we could understand the preparation of his distinguished «Bee cake» or the aesthetic capitulations reported under the topic «The sadness of polenta».
It was not all of course. Leonardo also promoted exclusive conditions for a correct arrangement of sick diners at the table and suggested brutal recipes for restless tavern fighters: the «Inedible turnips» In the Renaissance, customs and social morals presented difficulties that Florentine society already foresaw as a future norm: hygiene. Court gastronomy sought to regulate the medieval moral gargantuan to turn it into diverse pleasures and refinement. Perhaps Ludovico appreciated the good manners of the d'Este sisters but also the disgusted remarks of their more educated lovers and courtesans. Banquets urgently required a strict hygiene protocol. Ludovico was left exhausted in front of the landscape of stained and destroyed tablecloths of festive and diverse bizarre. Beatrice highlighted the troubles and entrusted Leonardo with an urgent solution for his patron. It was not possible for a table to resemble a contest, or more precisely «[...] to the spoils of a battlefield» For Ludovico it was a priority; for the artist, a new test of ingenuity in front of his benefactor. He did not hesitate too long. He thought of an insightful and unprecedented solution so far: an individual piece of cloth for each diner so that each and everyone could degrade it to their liking by means of their cutlery and their hands to finally hide it folded without presenting displeasure. The designer's first concern were two baseline questions: «¿Cóhow will there beé to call these pañyou?3 ¿Cóhow will there beé to present them?»
At the same time and in front of the facts, the diners observed these small rectangles, stupefied, some deciding to blow their noses with them, others using them to keep the surplus supplies - something expressly prohibited - or directly sit on them in the absence of a more revealing function. Ludovico was satisfied. For Beatrice something was still missing. The banquet master completed his original idea, as it always did, with machinery that offered a further step after the celebration spectacle: a gigantic mechanism for washing and drying the napkins.
Design can be seen as the most reasonable critical path towards solving an epochal conflict. In the same cookbook, the «White Mosquito Pudding» Leonardo's completes a fabulous idea about the reality of imaginary objects versus the reality of history. The recipe is as follows: «Chop well-peeled almonds with a pinch of elderflower and put them through the strainer. Heat them slowly over the fire for half an hour,ñadd honey, a cap brisketón boiled and mash it all. Sprinkle with rose water and serve immediately. This dish requires a long digestióny is not good for people suffering from cóliquor or flu. But it is beneficial for those who have the plague»
So far the complete recipe step by step. However, the artist closes the note with a warning: «And to those who ask me whyé thoseí called, I will not be able toé give them rootón»
The mosquito pudding shamelessly absent its main ingredient: the insect. Conjecture offers an imaginary and a real perspective. In one, the mosquito has been dwarfed to the point of disappearing: Can a tiny insect intermixed with the rest of the ingredients become visible? Could it be a confused memory, the drag on a forgotten Renaissance flavor?
The objects have their own scale, only depending on the environment and the culture to which they belong. Thus, they owe their visual understanding to a historical and technological relativity as well as to their geometric and spatial perception. It can be considered small or immense in relation to other similar ones and within a certain context; hardly measured on themselves. In any case, an object is small in relation to another similar to which it has been redesigned, reducing it for this purpose. In opposition, an object without any reference can be observed ambiguously. Is the bug small or is the pudding huge? What is the difference then between a real object and an imaginary one? The question does not apply to the favors of the virtual world, but to the minutiae of the mind. What is the imagination and wonder that apparently defines one and the other? In principle we should consider the aspects of culture whose particular features are only understandable from their own environment. This restless news, —the customs and manners; morals and norms — were and will continue to be fundamental to turning a nameless object into something more than a thing identified as such. A designed object is transformed into a concrete and identifiable function. The need to name begins to be a priority in the face of the advance of the modern world, something that the naturalist would resolve two centuries later. Linnaeus4, creating a form of normative classification. The so-called taxonomy was established in a binary nomenclature whose efficiency continues to apply to this day to name all known natural processes.
The notion of the identifiable starts from a verifiable fact: Identifying is a tension that turns the strange into one's own. It does so by tacit agreement that admits general beliefs as its own. In the same way, the identifiable and the unrecognizable establish one of the most certain relationships, not the only one but fundamental, to control and produce terror in the arts and the spectacle. We are frightened by what we cannot name. If therefore knowing, in the immediate, agrees to perceive, the result is very simple. The weather frightens us because the vast cosmos, called in its visual proximity — nature — is itself indecipherable only relativized by the presence of an eventual God who can protect us from an unknowable infinite. The Mosquito pudding, although we know perfectly its classification: -Mosquito común Culex pipiens, Linnaeus 1758, today fills us with uncertainty.
Ludovico lost the Italian wars while dining on the memories of his intelligible feast. Then he had a sour milk that Beatrice filled with tears when she saw him flee. Perhaps in prison he fasted regularly because his plate only showed the secret, absent and delicious ingredient. The table was gigantic in his empty cell. The insect that proportionally to our known world should measure a length of one centimeter, in the representation of Ludovico's memory will have been out of scale, it could be greater than or equal to the table where he had just posed. The only way to represent this deformity would not have been in any other way than by maintaining the relationship of the table with the room, the room with the window and the window with the table in turn, a circular mechanism that would relate the relative sizes of each of the the objects that made up the scene in scale. The insect may have then become a monstrosity even though its scale was correct as it represented a rare biology that terrified it.
Perhaps the Kafkaesque beetle from Metamorphosis and The Fly de Cronenberg5, were Imaginary insects of Ludovico el Moro, a delight prisoner of his slight exoskeleton; a complete human in crisis. Ludovico, feverish, remembers his life at court in prison. His dialogues with Beatrice, the fatuous celebrations, the commissions to Leonardo. Where will your pepper shaker have been? The artist managed to design an artifact that Beatrice needed to grind spices and avoid the destruction of the diners on the table of her Lord, a technical response that to this day maintains its same appearance and functionality: the pepper mill was inspired in the curious grace and due importance of an iconic object: the Spezia lighthouse6.
It is clear: Design was always a necessity of culture. Did Ludovico ask to hide his main ingredient to seduce his guests? Bodies are tangible as long as the mind asks about them.
The perception of a design object within a historical period — pudding is — eventually does not need further explanation. The past meekly reports its norms and its technology, its social discourse and its political evolution. One of its evidences is the question of scale and materiality. Leonardo's napkin washer is such complex machinery that its appearance would not immediately reveal its reason: it is difficult to understand not only the process, but its destination. Where will the magnificent «Ingenuity to remove frogs from drinking water barrels», a mechanism that today can be unashamedly associated with the torture tactics of Tomy and Daly, (Itchy & Scratchy) the cartoons that amuse Bart and Lisa Simpson on TV?
The continuous present of the creative work defines the actuality whose ephemeral and unstable permanence determines the created object. The contemporary is nothing more than an instance in transit made of irreducible memories, of concepts —the ingenuity of Beatrice d'Este—; the very instant where the new object is still thought. The future, on the other hand, is an ambiguous construction, merely speculative, whose weakness is a form that fails to measure the consequences of its destiny. In all cases, the imagination is congruent with the past, stubbornly unattainable in the face of an unfinished present to suppose the future as a decorative conjecture. Thus real objects as well as imaginary ones need a plausible discussion even within the limits of their own fiction.
Aftermath Laika / Buenos Aires / May 2021
Cooking notes by Leonardo Da Vinci, Ediciones Temas de Hoy, Madrid: 2005. compilation and editing by Shelag and Jonathan Ro