Leonardo’s Robot

While I was doing some background research into Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, I was surprised — very surprised — to discover “Leonardo’s robot”, perhaps the first automaton or artificial human constructed on the plan of Vitruvian Man.

Most of you are, I assume, familiar with Virtuvian Man — the fully idealised, geometricised, rationalised (and perfectly symmetrical) human form that has become iconic of the European Renaissance.

Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man

Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man

Apparently, Leonardo also used this idealised and rationalised human form as the blueprint for a mechanical man.

I was doing more research into Vitruvian Man as the possible prototype for Blake’s “Urizen”, and because of my suspicion that “Average Joe” and “Average Jospehine” might also be considered the direct descendents of Vitruvian Man also, thus,

Joe and JosephineI was also interested in Vitruvian Man because Blake’s “Albion Reborn” (or his “Glad Day”) is derived also from Vitruvian Man, but is quite transformed, no longer static, nor bounded by his geometries, and is also symmetry breaking. Blake depicts him reborn as a dancer with an aura resembling butterfly wings

Glad Day -- Albion's "dance of eternal death"

Glad Day — Albion’s “dance of eternal death”

And in the course of comparing Blake’s Albion with Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man, I came across this very interesting interpretation of Albion from The Independent from 6. May, 2010.  Blake’s “Albion Reborn” even apparently afrighted the reviewer, Tom Lubbock, who ends his description with the words: “Who could ever imagine this glad day on any morning, or dare to frame this image on any public poster? It could only be propaganda for a party of apocalypse.”

He’s right, actually.

After having provided an excellent contrast of Albion Reborn with Vitruvian Man, it was a rather odd note to end upon — this seeming flight back into the assuring and comforting symmetries, geometries, and rationalities of Vitruvian Man as if fleeing the “apocalypse” suggested by Albion Reborn. And perhaps Mr. Lubbock is right in that, given the subtitle Blake gave to his painting: “”Albion rose from where he labour’d at the Mill with Slaves / Giving himself for the Nations he danc’d the dance of Eternal Death”. It is, in other words, Shiva’s Dance, and it is also the Christ’s dance as “Lord of the Dance”, for who otherwise “gave himself for the nations”?

To my mind, then, Blake’s “Albion Rose” (or “Albion Reborn” or “Glad Day”) is a nearly perfect riposte to Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man who is, I’m quite certain, the prototype for Urizen. Blake certainly does pay homage here to Vitruvian Man, but then depicts him now as fully realised, expansive, and illuminated human, as Mr. Lubbock recognises, but then finally (apparently) dismisses as “propaganda for a party of apocalypse”.

Blake’s genius is of a very different character than Leonardo’s genius. And that shows very clearly in the contrasting character of Albion and Vitruvian Man. In effect, Albion is Vitruvian Man transfigured and transformed, who has escaped from “Single Vision” and transcended “the dark Satanic Mill”. Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man is Albion as “Urizenic Man”. Albion is Vitruvian Man now redeemed through “fourfold vision”.

And that is, I hold, what Blake is attempting to say with his painting “Albion Rose”.


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