In 2019, we celebrate Leonardo da Vinci’s 500-year anniversary (15 April 1452 – 2 May 1519), who is one of the foremost exponents of the Renaissance and considered by many as the epitome of the Universal Genius.
Most people are familiar with Leonardo’s achievements and inventions in painting, sculpture, anatomy, and astronomy; however, many don’t know that Leonardo was also a man of letters, and among his many writings, one can find “facezie” or funny jokes. Leonardo cracking jokes in between his studies and research should not be considered an exception to the rule for a great genius, but rather a philosophy that was shared by the people of his contemporary Tuscany, a tradition that has endured to this day.
Indeed, it was in the fourteen century that “poesia giocosa” or “poesia burlesca” (playful poetry) became popular. This form of poetry was in contrast to the more sophisticated poetry of the time, the “Dolce Stil Novo,” making fun of the human condition and the hypocrisy of the Church establishment.
In the fourteen century, Florence was experiencing a burst of economic and artistic growth. One of the most ambitious projects was to erect the biggest dome ever built, to crown the city as the center of intellectual and political power in Europe. There was competition among the other cities of Tuscany as well, working to embellish their churches and buildings. Even with so much to accomplish, there was still room to laugh, poke fun at each other, without offense, but with a smile to be shared.
Leonardo’s writing doesn’t make exception to the jovial, spirited and irreverent attitude of the Tuscan people. In Leonardo’s Codex one can find little riddles or funny stories, some of which could be considered offensive, especially coming from the mind of a genius like him. Leonardo’s talking about farts? The most eminent professor at Harvard would definitely stay away from anything of the sort.
Tuscan humor is not about trying to be controversial or to offend people with malicious intentions but is rather an inborn capacity to see the ridiculous paradox of our existence. In essence, it is to see life as a serious affair, but not too serious.
In Tuscany, success in life is about building a marvel of a city, a dream of human realization, and still to have time to smile with a sense of gratitude.
Below are some of Leonardo’s jokes, which have been rephrased to make better sense in English.
1) There was a famous painter who the people in Florence praised for his beautiful portraits. One morning, when he was walking to his studio, he overheard two gentlemen talking about him: “How is it possible that he can paint such beautiful figures, but his children are not that good looking?” The painter turned around and without hesitation told the two gentlemen: “I paint during the day with the light of the sun which makes it easy to draw my portraits on the canvas. But my children, I made them at night, under the covers, in the dark of my bedroom. What do you expect?”
2) A group of people were wandering through the woods at night. A man in front was leading the group. The one right behind him said: “It’s a dark night without the moon, but I see that you really care that we don’t get lost. How could we? You haven’t’ stop farting since you were in the lead.”
3) The wife told the husband to get out of bed as the sun has risen in the sky. The man responded: “If I had to complete as long of a journey as the sun, I would have woken up a long time ago. But since my journey is not that far, I can indulge some more in bed.”