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Thursday, 28 July 2016

Leonardo Da Vinci (ILE): Personality Type Analysis


Leonardo da Vinci
or simply Leonardo, was an Italian polymath whose vastly diverse interests included invention, painting, sculpting, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, writing, history, and cartography. He has been variously called the father of paleontology, ichnology, and architecture, and is widely considered one of the greatest painters of all time. But how can Socionics shed light on this "Universal Genius"?

In discussions about Leonardo's type, it is often remarked how only a sensory type could achieve the beautiful detail and composition in his art. Given alone, this observation is not sufficient to conclude a type with strong S. This skill or eye for detail is trained by years of dedicated practice in the field. Secondly, a renaissance painter would not have worked alone, but would have had assistants. This was certainly the case with Leonardo. We actually know at least two of his assistants by name: Salai and Melzi. The danger we run into here is typing the job, not the person. The most telling thing about Leonardo is not what he does, but how and why.  

The "how" part of this equation is best solved through studying Leonardo's work techniques and habits during his painting of The Last Supper. Fresco was renowned at the time as the most difficult painting technique to master. The painter and biographer, Giorgio Vasari declared it "the most manly, the most certain, most resolute and durable of all the other methods". The key word here is "durable", and yet the mixture Leonardo used for the painting began flaking off the walls of the refectory almost as soon as he had finished it in 1498. But if it was so durable, why did it peel off?

In his letter to Ludoviko Sforza, the Duke of Milan, Leonardo vaguely concluded that he could "carry out ... in a painting whatever may be done, and as well as any other." Yet Leonardo did have a limitation when it came to painting. His teacher, Verocchio, never painted in fresco (but in tempera), and therefore would have been unlikely to pass down its secrets to Leonardo. Not only this, but he had also never worked on such a large painting. After abandoning several altarpieces unfinished, he was suddenly given the task of covering the north wall of the refectory with a painting fifteen feet high by almost twenty-nine feet wide. Despite all this, he proceeded to paint his Last Supper using an unorthodox method: by working with oils on a dry wall.

This deviation from the usual fresco technique, called buon fresco (“good fresco”), could give us the answer to our question. The Buon fresco presented many logistical difficulties, not least because the frescoist had only a very limited number of hours to apply his paints to his daily patch of damp plaster before it dried. This technique, therefore, had to be performed quickly and without mistakes, and major corrections required gouging out a piece of the wall and then re-plastering it. Leonardo, however, was a slow and cautious painter. If we are to attribute any consideration of artistic skill to S, it should be the naturalness and confidence with which the painter is able to capture the subject. He didn't pick up a brush until he had given careful consideration to what he wanted to do. For months, he would create the painting in his mind, makes sketches, and play with the placement of figures. Leonardo would have been unsuited to the highly regimented buon fresco technique, and would have been constrained not only in time, but further restricted to using only those pigments that could withstand the alkalinity of the plaster. 

Leonardo's temperament would have greatly influenced his decision to opt against buon fresco. His tendency, both personal and professional, to recycle a subject in various different versions, abandoning many projects once he had “figured it out”, makes it seem likely he lacked the patience for doing a large wall in this technique. The The fifteenth-century novelist Matteo Bandello, who observed Leonardo at work, recounted: "Some days he would paint from dawn to dusk without stopping to eat and then not paint for 3-4 days at a time." He also writes: "Many a time I have seen Leonardo go in the early morning to work on the platform before the Last Supper; and there he would stay from sunrise till darkness, never laying down the brush, but continuing to paint without eating or drinking. Then three or four days would pass without his touching the work, yet each day he would spend several hours examining and criticising the figures to himself. I have also seen him, when the fancy took him, leave the Corte Vecchia when he was at work on the stupendous horse of clay, and go straight to the Grazie. There, climbing on the platform, he would take a brush and give a few touches to one of the figurines: and then suddenly he would leave and go elsewhere." His inattentiveness towards both the maintenance of his surroundings as well as his biological needs, points not only to very Weak S, but also to a haphazard lifestyle consistent with I1.

So, where did he go? He have the word of a friar named Sabba di Castiglione, who watched the construction and finally the destruction of the horse, that "when he ought to have attended to painting in which no doubt he would have proved a new Appelles, he gave himself entirely to geometry, architecture and anatomy." Leonardo also had a reputation for having something of a fallible nature. He was called "daydreamer", "capricious and fickle" by his contemporaries, many also complained  about his unreliability and chronic procrastination. The Duke of Milan, who had also hired Leonardo to cast a bronze equestrian statue, wrote to Lorenzo de' Medici in Florence asking that Lorenzo send him one or two masters to execute the work, because it did not seem to him that Leonardo would ever finish it. Some years later in Rome, Pope Leo X became so exasperated that he said of Leonardo: "Alas, this man will do nothing; he starts by thinking of the end of the work before its beginning." His unreliability got himself into trouble with sponsors who had committed themselves to his projects, only to watch as Leonardo delayed for long periods, or worse, abandoned the entire project. This tendency of his to being distracted from his work by the latest idea that crossed his mind further reinforces I1. This also is in stark contrast to Thomas Edison (LSE) was seen as remarkable by his contemporaries for his work ethic.

When panting The Last Supper, Leonardo would known the risks of the al secco technique, where the color does not become part of the wall and tends to flake off over time. He would have already seen the deterioration of the over-painting done by earlier masters who sometimes used fresco secco over buono frescos to make additions and add colors they could not use when the plaster was wet.  Apparently Leonardo had faith in his ability to create his own adaptations of medium that would overcome the limitations of the secco technique and allow him to paint his “Last Supper” according at his own schedule.

It is time I explored more of the "why", or to put it better, what drove Leonardo's pursuits. In discussion of Leonardo's possible type, many cite Leonardo's inventions as evidence of valued P. Contrary to the general consensus among Socionists, it is inaccurate to describe Leonardo's genius as "practical" Few of his designs were constructed or even feasible during his lifetime and have actually been described by many historians as "fanciful": his ruminations on science and helicopters were a form of personal edification more akin to daydreaming than scientific contribution. His genius as relating to these designs are only celebrated today as they bear a passing resemblance to later mechanical inventions (such as Leondardo's armoured vehicle to the 20th century tank). Leonardo's sketchbooks attest far more to his wide variety of interests and his depth of understanding, which seems to suggest Valued I+L. The type often proposed by Socionists for Leonardo is LSE, but there is little evidence to suggest there being a pragmatic bent towards his inventions, rather that he was motivated by curiosity.

When typing historical figures, there aren't always good primary sources to use in our analyses, especially not those written by personally by the subject in question. In Leonardo, we are fortunate in that we have access to his notes. The best source to gain insight into Leonardo's worldview and motivations is "Thoughts on Art and Life", which is a collection of his musings spanning a wide range of topics including religion, morality, science, mechanics, politics, speculation, spirits and nature. There are 333 notes in total, containing a number of philosophical statements and maxims, in which he sets out the "eternal" laws which govern all aspects of nature. 

When reading his writings, what becomes quickly apparent from a Socionics standpoint is the degree to which he seeks to unite all his various ideas in a consistent framework. We have seen that Leonardo's approach to art was far removed from convention. His work is notable for being more akin to geometric analysis than to naturalistic expression. When writing on the Mona Lisa's enigmatic smile in a contemporary note, he identified the lips of the mouth with the actual muscles, describing how they form a smile. "These," he writes, "I intend to describe and illustrate in full, proving these movements by means of my mathematical principles." With this process, he sought to unite geometric principle with physical form, secrets he shared with Luca Pacioli in the book De divina proportione (The Divine Proportion). For Leonardo, art was built on the scaffolding of science. He believed divine art emerged from understanding of its underlying mechanisms. Mathematics was the ultimate key to the understanding of the nature he scrutinized so carefully -- the key not only to mechanics and movement, but to all of science, including the biology of man. His goal of integrating experience through a mathematical medium, he attempted to achieve by an analysis of phenomena into what he called "pyramidal" forms of the "four powers" of movement, weight, force and percussion acting on the four elements of earth, water, air and fire (CA 151 ra).

Mathematics, for Leonardo, being more than a tool to serve practical pursuits, rather a goal in and of itself, certainly indicates rather than as a quadra value. His dogmatic assertions of principle and his practice of science provide more unequivocal evidence of strong and valued L. In Manuscript G, he writes: "There is no certainty in science where one of the mathematical sciences cannot be applied or which cannot be brought into union with mathematical principles." (Ms G 95 v) This is one of a number of such statements in his late writings. His belief in "the supreme certainty of mathematics" (W 19084 r) had been implicit in his early work, but it later provided the explicit foundation of his work in the natural and mechanical sciences. 

The diversity of Leonardo's interests, remarked on by Vasari as apparent from an early age, was to find expression across multiple arenas. His experiments in hydrology, aeronautics and even war, his studies of geometry and his architectural plans, his attendance at dissections in Pavia to understand anatomy, and his later hobby of collecting butterflies, as well as personal memos and creative writing including fables, demonstrate Leonardo's hesitation to stick to a single field, but a drive to constantly broaden his palette (no pun intended). To each new venture he brought with him and applied his general principles. All of this gives us a clear picture of I1 and L2 in the ego block.

But what of E? While at work on his various projects, Leonardo often relieved his boredom by amusing himself with pranks, for instance, attaching bird wings to a lizard, and inflating a pig's intestine so that it filled a room to "frighten the life out of his friends." According to Vasari, "He perpetuated hundreds of follies of this kind." On the election of Leo X as pope, da Vinci traveled to Rome as a guest in the Vatican. While there, he started playing a series of pranks and practical jokes within the holy confines. This inclination to liven up the emotional atmosphere points to valued E and perhaps Alpha values, and the inappropriateness of these emotions (especially breaking the solemnity of the Vatican) suggests Weak E, perhaps E6

When Leonardo wasn't working on The Last Supper, he walked the streets staring at people, looking for ideas for the faces of the apostles. He sat in cafes and watched people, observing the movements and facial expressions and sketching them in his notebook. He looked for expressions of surprise, pain, fear, and anger and noted which facial muscles worked to express these feelings. This fascination with expressed emotion is also very consistent with E6.

There is still one gap in this analysis. We have already seen how S was most likely Weak function, however, we haven't as yet established that this was a Valued element. Leonardo's love of nature is often remarked upon. Later in life, he recalled his formative experiences around his childhood home near Vinci, Tuscany, where he spent time appreciating the rivers and wooded valleys of the Apennine Mountains. This suggests Leonardo's S being Valued and part of the Super-Id.


In conclusion, the evidence explored in this analysis points to the Alpha values of I, L, E and S, with I1 and E6 accounting for much of his motivations, with L2 being consistently present in the general principles that linked his various pursuits together, and S5 in his negligence in maintaining his lifestyle whilst caught up in his projects yet appreciating tranquil surroundings when he was among them. All this points to Leonardo da Vinci being a clear example of ILE.

To learn more about ILE, click here.

If you are confused by our use of Socionics shorthand, click here.