Art historian, PhD student Stephen Mack, has written an excellent de-construction of the Burning Man 2016 art theme at The Daily Dot. The Medicis had a unicorn horn in their art collection. Who knew! And BMOrg are playing fast and loose with history. Who’d have thunk it!
There actually is something about this period of the Florentine Renaissance thatwould appeal to the Burning Man crowd: The Florentine art patrons believed genuinely in the idea that money could be spent virtuously and they felt that spending on art was virtuous. Several scholars have gone into this idea in some depth. I think that many people in the Renaissance looked to art to engage them in learned discussion—perhaps to contemplate morality, to visualize and understand religious concepts, and even, I think, to contemplate on the ideas of nature and of representation. Spending money on art wasn’t virtuous simply because it provided the masses with beautiful objects, but because, in the Renaissance (as in most periods), to engage with a work of art was, in effect, to seriously contemplate both the world they lived in and the spiritual world beyond this one.
I imagine that the organizers of Burning Man had this type of contemplation in mind when they conceptualized the “Turning Man.” I’m sure many bros will have wonderful acid- and shroom-induced journeys staring up at Turning Man, and may indeed come out of it with a challenged view of the world. This is a great thing. And, ultimately, it is for exactly this reason that we should spend money on art in the first place. (Well, not so much the drug-culture part, but the challenging-our-view-of- the-world part. Not that the drug part is so bad, either.)
But the fanciful utopian history Burning Man has written to underpin this journey is an utter farce. And rewriting history to our own ends is never a good thing.
That said, the Renaissance did their own rewriting of history, too. The learned elites idolized Classical Antiquity in much the same fanciful way that Burning Man now idolizes the Renaissance. In this way—though it was likely unintentional—Burning Man actually has done a decent job emulating the Renaissance.
In the last year the non-profit Burning Man Project – which we’re told was created as the ultimate gift to us, giving Burning Man back to the Burners – has assimilated other charities BRAF, Burners Without Borders, and Black Rock Solar. Control of these networks is now cemented in the grip of the Project and the Ruling Group behind it. The Rulers get to play Medici in the economy of Black Rock City. They bank all the money from the Gerlach festival ($34 million), tax free (even though it’s not a tax deductible deduction for us buying tickets). They take a gallery commission on art sold outside the Playa by Burning Man artists. They get a share of the revenues of more than 100 licensed vendors approved to sell things at Black Rock City. They grant about $800,000 in cash and a couple of hundred thousand “in kind” in their patronage of the arts. Most artists are expected to raise two-thirds to three-quarters of the project costs themselves. And work for free.
My sincere hope is this “creative Maker artist” theme flavor will signify a new era from Burning Man’s ownersfounders controllers. Let’s hope for much more generous patronage of Burner art from the Medicis Ruling Group, both visible and invisible. 10% of revenues would be a great start – and let the artists pay themselves.
We will get a hint of the direction we’re heading soon, when the long overdue IRS public filing for 2014 for the Burning Man Project is made public. Perhaps we will get to hear soon about some of the activities and achievements of the Burning Man Project in taking our contributions to execute its mission.
Given how precious some members of BMOrg are about people sharing on social media, the choice of “Da Vinci’s Workshop” as next year’s theme is somewhat ironic. Why? Because Leonardo Da Vinci was probably the greatest plagiarist of all time.
The popular theory of history is that Da Vinci was an amazing genius. A painter most famous for the “is she smiling or not” Mona Lisa, he also created 3d perspective. He invented the helicopter; locks in canals; the siege tower; tanks; machine guns; and a broad range of other mechanical devices.
How could one man, a bastard sodomite pauper whose only formal education was in painting, single-handedly come up with all of this innovation? Was he the greatest genius who ever lived? Or did he get some help? From his Demons, perhaps?
One theory seems the most plausible, certainly more believable than the official tale.
Gavin Menzies is a former British nuclear submarine commander. He grew up in China, and spent his life sailing the ocean’s currents, on and below the water. His breakthrough book 1421: The Year China Discovered The World, offers a meticulously detailed alternative to mainstream history. Cutting a long story short, maps existed of America, Australia and even Antarctica long before their discovery by the West.
Chinese Map of the World, 1418. Image: The Economist
The 1542 Jean Rotz map depicts the coastlines of Africa, Asia, India and China with great accuracy, and shows the east, west and northernmost parts of Australia, some two centuries before Captain Cook. Image via gavinmenzies.net
At the time of Da Vinci, the Chinese were at least 3000 years into their civilization. The Ming Dynasty had produced a kind of Encylopedia called the YongLe Dadian. Its books were essentially the sum total of all of their knowledge and inventions.
Emperor Yongle (born with the name of Zhu Di 朱棣) was the third Emperor of the Ming dynasty and he reigned from 1402 to 1424. He was a key figure of the development of the Chinese empire: he transferred the capital of the empire from Nanjing to Beijing and ordered the building of the Forbidden City. Under his reign Admiral Zheng He travelled to the Middle East and East Africa strengthening the trade and diplomatic links with foreign countries…
Emperor Yongle commissioned the Yongle Dadian in July 1403 and the project involved 2169 scholars and compilers from the Hanlin Academy and the National University. Completed in 1408, it was the world’s largest literary compilation, comprising 22,877 chapters bound in 11,095 volumes…The content of the encyclopaedia covers all aspects of traditional “Confucian” knowledge and contains the most representative literature available at that time, ranging from history and drama to farming techniques
It added substantially to the body of knowledge that the Chinese had recorded in 1313 in the Nung Shu, created using movable type a couple of centuries before Gutenberg.
Zheng He was a 7-foot tall eunuch, and perhaps China’s greatest ever admiral and explorer.
The Xuande Emperor would have briefed Zheng He on the background and customs of all the countries the fleet would visit. They had the ideal tool with which to do so – the Yong Le Dadian. This massive encyclopaedia was completed in 1421 and housed in the newly built Forbidden City. 3000 scholars had worked for years compiling all knowledge known to China for the previous 2000 years. The discoveries made on the voyages of Zheng He’s fleet were also incorporated into the Yong Le Dadian. One can go further and say one of Zhu Di’s leading objectives was to acquire knowledge gained from the Barbarians. The best way to acquire knowledge is to share it – to show the Barbarians how immensely deep, wide and old was Chinese knowledge and Chinese civilisation. For this of course they needed to have copies of the Yong Le Dadian aboard their junks and they needed also to brief interpreters about the contents so the message could be propagated.
This vast encyclopaedia was a massive collective endeavour to bring together Chinese knowledge gained in every field over thousands of years under one roof. Zheng He had the immense good fortune to set sail with priceless intellectual knowledge in every sphere of human activity. He commanded a magnificent fleet – magnificent not only in military and naval capabilities but containing intellectual goods of great value and sophistication, a fleet which was the repository of half the world’s knowledge.
Of equal importance were the calendars carried by the fleets. Having been ordered to inform distant lands of the commencement of the new reign of Xuan De, an era when “everything should begin anew,” a calendar was essential to Zheng He’s mission.
Issuing calendars was the prerogative of the emperor alone. Accuracy was necessary to enable astronomers to predict eclipses and comets — a sign that the emperor enjoyed heaven’s mandate. The Shou Shi calendar produced by Guo Shou Jing was officially adopted by the Ming Bureau of Astronomy in 1384. This is the calendar that both Zhu Di and the Xuan De emperor would have ordered Zheng He to present to foreign heads of state. The calendar contained a mass of astronomical data running to thousands of observations. It enabled comets and eclipses to be predicted for years ahead as well as times of sunrise and sunset, moonrise and moonset. The positions of the sun and moon relative to the stars and to each other were included, as were the positions of the planets relative to the stars, sun and moon. Adjustments enabled sunrise and sunset, and moonrise and moonset, to be calculated for different places on earth for every day of the year.
Could Leonardo da Vinci have drawn inspiration for his inventions from the drawings in the Chinese encyclopedia? Or is it just hundreds of coincidences that his inventions already existed in China, and he was living in a place bustling with Chinese trade?
In my youth, Leonardo da Vinci seemed the greatest genius of all time: an extraordinary inventor of every sort of machine, a magnificent sculptor, one of the world’s greatest painters and the finest illustrator and draughtsman who ever lived. Then, as my knowledge of Chinese inventions slowly expanded, more and more of Leonardo’s inventions appear to have been invented previously by the Chinese. I began to question whether there might be a connection – did Leonardo learn from the Chinese?
Leonardo drew all the essential components of machines with extraordinary clarity – showing how toothed wheels, gear wheels and pinions were used in mills, lifting machines and machine tools. All these devices had been used in China for a very long time. In the Tso Chuan are illustrations of bronze ratchets and gear wheels from as early as 200 BC which have been discovered in China.
Leonardo is renowned for his drawings of different forms of manned flight, notably his helicopter and parachutes and his attempts at wings. The earliest Chinese description of the possibility of manned flight occurred in the accounts of the short-lived and obscure Northern Ch’I dynasty (ninth century BC). The Chinese had made use of the essential principle of the helicopter rotor from the fourth century AD and by then, helicopter toys were popular in China, a common name being “bamboo dragonfly”. Parachutes were in use in China fifteen hundred years before Leonardo, hot air balloons were known in the second century AD in China and by Leonardo’s day, the kite had been in use for hundreds of years.
Leonardo drew an array of gunpowder weapons, including three variations of the machine gun, which can be seen in the fire lances used in China since 950 AD. Leonardo also drew different types of cannon, mortar and bombard. The Chinese use of bombard is well catalogued throughout the ages.
Comparisons of the machines of Leonard with earlier machines from China reveal close similarities in toothed wheels and gear wheels, ratchets, pins and axles, cams and cam-shaped rocking levers, flywheels, crankshaft systems, balls and chains, spoke wheels, well pulleys, chain devices, suspension bridges, segmented arch bridges, contour maps, parachutes, hot air balloons, “helicopters,” multi-barrelled machine guns, demountable cannons, armoured cars, catapults, barrage cannon and bombards, paddle wheel boats, swing bridges, printing presses, odometers, compasses and dividers, canals and locks.
Even the most devoted supporter of Leonardo (like my family and I!) must surely wonder whether his work’s amazing similarity to Chinese engineering could be the product of coincidence.
The parallels between Da Vinci’s creations and the drawings in the Chinese encyclopedia are striking.
Menzies draws a multi-generational link between Leonardo and the Chinese:
My research revealed that Leonardo had owned a copy of di Giorgio’s treatise on civil and military machines. In the treatise, di Giorgio had illustrated and described a range of astonishing machines, many of which Leonardo subsequently reproduced in three-dimensional drawings. The illustrations were not limited to canals, locks and pumps; they included parachutes, submersibles tanks and machine guns as well as hundreds of other machines with civil and military applications.
This was quite a shock. It seemed Leonardo was more illustrator than inventor and that the greater genius may have resided in di Giorgio. Was di Giorgio the original inventor of these fantastic machines? Or did he, in turn, copy them from another?
I learned that di Giorgio had inherited notebooks and treatises from another Italian, Mario di Jacopo ditto Taccola (called Taccola “the jackdaw”). Taccola was a clerk of public works living in Siena. Having never seen the sea or fought a battle, he nevertheless managed to draw a wide variety of nautical machines – paddle wheeled boats, frogmen and machines for lifting wrecks together with a range of gunpowder weapons, even an advanced method of making gunpowder. It seems Taccola was responsible for nearly every technical illustration that di Giorgio and Leonardo had later improved upon…
How did a clerk in a remote Italian hill town, a man who had never travelled abroad nor obtained a university education, come to produce technical illustrations of such amazing machines?
The answer, explained with a great deal more depth and evidence in the book, lies to the East:
Well it’s certainly plagiarism…Everything which Leonardo drew were improvements on an earlier Italian, called Francesco Di Giorgio, whose notebooks Leonardo possessed and copied and improved on. And Di Giorgio was not original either. He copied everything from an earlier Italian called [Mariano] Taccola…The source of Taccola and di Giorgio’s inventions was, of course, the Nung Shu passed on by Zheng He’s fleets in 1434.
In the book, the first drawing was of two horses pulling a mill to grind corn, just as Taccola and Di Giorgio had done. Every variation of shafts, wheels and cranks ‘invented’ and drawn by Taccola and di Giorgio are illustrated in the drawings of the Nung Shu. This is epitomised in the horizontal water powered turbine used in the blast furnace. Every type of powered transmission described by Taccola and di Giorgio is shown in the Nung Shu. By comparing Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings with the Nung Shu, each element of a machine superbly illustrated by Leonardo had previously been illustrated by the Chinese in a much simpler manual.
In summary, Leonardo’s body of work rested on a vast foundation of work previously done by others. His mechanical drawings of flour and roller mills, water and saw mills, pile drivers, weight transporting machines, all kinds of winders and cranes, mechanised cars, all manner of pumps, water lifting devices and dredgers were developments and improvements upon di Giorgio’s Trattato di Architettura Civil e militare and his rules for perspective for painting and sculpture were derived from Alberti’s De Pictura and De Statua. His parachute was based on di Giorgio’s and his helicopter modelled on a Chinese toy imported to Italy circa 1440. Leonardo’s work on canals, locks, aqueducts and fountains originated from his meeting in Pavia with di Giorgio in 1490. His military machines were copies of Taccola and di Giorgio’s – but brilliantly drawn.
Leonardo’s three-dimensional illustrations of the components of man and machines are a unique and brilliant contribution to civilization — as are his sublime sculpture and paintings…it is time to recognise the Chinese contributions to his work. Without these contributions, the history of the Renaissance would have been very different.
Like most Shadow History that tells a more nuanced story than the mainstream interpretation, Menzies has his detractors – both for his 1421 and 1434 theories. Most do not directly address the massive amount of evidence he presents, choosing instead to pick apart minor details such as “a canal could not have been dug for boats that wide and heavy”. Aside from the fact that if you can dig a ditch, you can dig a bigger ditch, we are talking about books and scrolls. By ship, camel, horse, or even on foot, in the 15th century it was possible to get books from China to the richest part of the world – which at the time was Venice, and had been for almost 1000 years. Cosimo de Medici was hiding out there in exile from Florence at the time Menzies says the Chinese arrived.
Florence was about the size of Burning Man, before the Black Death plague hit in 1348. The Medici banksters used patronage of the arts as a way to control the city from behind the scenes. Like the Borgias, they were famous for poison, torture, and incest. They funded Machiavelli to re-write history for them, then tortured and exiled him when he started to hint at the truth of what they were really up to.
Florence, 1493. Image: Wikipedia
Of a population estimated at 80,000 before the Black Death of 1348, about 25,000 are estimated to have been engaged in the city’s wool industry: in 1345 Florence was the scene of an attempted strike by wool carders (ciompi), who in 1378 rose up in a brief revolt against oligarchic rule in the Revolt of the Ciompi. After their suppression, the city came under the sway (1382–1434) of the Albizzi family, bitter rivals of the Medici. Cosimo de’ Medici was the first Medici family member to essentially control the city from behind the scenes. Although the city was technically a democracy of sorts, his power came from a vastpatronagenetwork along with his alliance to the new immigrants, the gente nuova. The fact that the Medici were bankers to the pope also contributed to their rise. Cosimo was succeeded by his son Piero di Cosimo de’ Medici, who was shortly thereafter succeeded by Cosimo’s grandson, Lorenzo in 1469. Lorenzo was a great patron of the arts, commissioning works by Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli.
A second individual of highly unusual insight was Niccolò Machiavelli, whose prescriptions for Florence’s regeneration under strong leadership have often been seen as a legitimization of political expediency and even malpractice. Commissioned by the Medici, Machiavelli wrote the Florentine Histories, the history of the city. However, Machiavelli was actually tortured and exiled from Florence by the Medici family and the Pope under the pretense of sedition due to his ties to the previous democratic government of Florence and the fact that his work threatened to expose the true nature of their power base and they wished to discredit him. The Florentines drove out the Medici for a second time and re-established a republic on May 16, 1527.
Menzies now has several books as well as globally crowd-sourced research adding to his proof pile on a daily basis.
He has this to say about Florence, where a revolution was going on not just in the arts, but also in math, science and engineering:
Between the acquisition of the port of Pisa in 1406 and that of Livorno in 1421, Florence had enjoyed a continuous economic boom. Florence’s access to Venice enabled her to reap some of the benefits of Venice’s trade with the East. It also exposed the city to an influx of Chinese and other Asians, as we can see from period paintings and sculpture. Ambrogio Lorenzetti, who never left Tuscany, painted The Martyrdom of Francescan Friars in the church of San Francesco Siena, depicting Chinese merchants with conical hats. Previously, oriental eyes had appeared in faces painted by Giotto and Duccio. There was a very substantial Chinese and Mongolian population in Florence in the decades after 1434.
For the next hundred and fifty years, Medici power and money fired the Renaissance. The Renaissance produced an enormous appetite for talent — engineers, astronomers, mathematicians and artists whose individual works were so widely acclaimed that others were inspired to follow with confidence. The Chinese delegation, with their new ideas, fabulous inventions and depth of culture would have made a very forceful impression on Florentine intellectuals, including Paolo del Pozzo Toscanelli. Florence was the ideal loam for Chinese intellectual seeds.
Cosimo de Medici took a dramatic turn after 1434, embarking on an orgy of patronage. He financed exotic palaces and chapels – San Lorenzo, San Marco and the Medici Palace. Cosimo and his brother Lorenzo’s embellishment of the sacristy at San Lorenzo was a notable insertion of science into the very heart of the church: in the little dome above the altar, an astronomical fresco depicted the position of the sun, moon and stars for 6 July 1439, the official day of union between the Eastern and Western Churches signed at the Council of Florence. This scientifically accurate depiction of a particular day’s sky was unfamiliar. The position of the sun, moon and stars for 6 July 1439 were all remarkably accurate. The puzzling question is how did Cosimo’s artist — without the benefit of computer based astronomical tables — know the position of the sun, moon and stars for 6 July 1439?
Someone knew the precise positions of the stars relative to each other, as well as the positions of the sun and moon relative to each other and to the stars. Whoever painted that fresco understood the solar system. This complex painting required years to execute, during which the position of the stars relative to the earth would have changed according to the 1,461-day cycle. It could not have resulted from piecemeal observations over the course of the job – my conclusion is that the artist had access to accurate astronomical tables.
Author James Beck, in Leon Battista Alberti and the Night Sky at San Lorenzo, has shown that the painter was Leon Battista Alberti, perhaps assisted by his friend Paolo Toscanelli. These two were Florence’s leading astronomers and mathematicians in 1439. Alberti in 1434 had accompanied Eugenius IV to Florence, where he met Toscanelli. The most likely explanation of the fresco mystery is that Alberti, who served as the Pope’s notary, met the Chinese delegates and obtained a copy of the astronomical calendar presented by the Chinese to Eugenius IV. The calendar provided the necessary information of right ascensions and declinations of stars to draw the night sky for a particular day and hour.
Suddenly, in the space of decades, the Italians invented all the things the Chinese had over thousands of years! And it was Da Vinci who did it all. Sounds like spin to me.
Naturally, there’s a Snopes on it. It fails to explain why Native Americans look like Chinese Mongolians, ride horses like them and share their DNA. It doesn’t explain multiple maps that have been found pre-dating Columbus’ voyage. Snopes also does nothing yet to address a newly emerging theory that the first Americans were Australians.
Like always, do your own research. The book 1434 is a great place to start. The truth is out there, and thanks to the (still mostly uncensored) Internet it’s not even that hard to find. Think for yourself and question convention.
I’m hoping for lots of Chinese food being handed out at Burning Man 2016.
“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.” – Leonardo
Burning Man’s 2016 art theme is inspired by the Italian Renaissance of the middle fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, when an historic convergence of inspired artistry, technical innovation and enlightened patronage launched Europe out of the dark ages and into modernity. Our story will focus on the republic of Florence, for it was here, in a city-state of about the same size and population as Black Rock City, that humanist ideals, a rediscovery of science, and funding from a newly moneyed class of entrepreneurs fueled a revolutionary cultural movement that redefined Western civilization. Five centuries later, we will attempt to recreate this potent social alchemy by combining Burning Man art, maker culture and creative philanthropy to make Black Rock City the epicenter of a new renaissance.
…Florentine artist Leonardo da Vinci sketched what is perhaps the definitive icon of this era. Inspired by his study of the Roman architect Vitruvius, he mapped the ratios of the human body to produce the image of a man, his limbs outstretched to span a universal circle. This year’s Man will emulate the symbol of Vitruvian Man. As nearby bell towers toll the hours, we will invite participants to operate an elaborate system of human-powered gears and pulleys that will slowly rotate Burning Man a full 360 degrees on the vertical plane, as if it formed the axle and spokes of an enormous spinning wheel.
The creation of a giant Turning Man is especially appropriate, since many famous Florentine artists were also civil engineers. Filippo Brunelleschi, originally enrolled in a guild and trained as a goldsmith, went on to design and construct the city’s chief cathedral – an unprecedented structure; it became a wonder of the world. Tasked with raising and assembling four million bricks in order to complete its egg-shaped dome, he invented dozens of diverse machines. Likewise, the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci are replete with engineering sketches – including the prototype of a helicopter. This fusion of art, science and technology also characterizes Black Rock City. In 2016, the Burning Man will be surrounded by a public square, a piazza lined with workshops, each representing a guild. Our guilds, unlike the traditional guilds of Florence, will be self-invented and devoted to the interactive manufacture of whatever participating artists and inventors can imagine. We will again invite our regional communities to join in this effort, and will reach out to members of the maker movement to help create this interactive environment.
I love this theme, well done BMOrg! “Spin”, huh? Hmmm…
[Update 10/27/15 2:41pm]
How will the Burners spin The Man? I’m imagining something a little like this:
[Update 10/30/15 8:07am]
“Over many years, private donors, with a remarkable lack of fanfare, have quietly funded some of the most beloved artworks that have honored our city. We believe that what has long been private should be made more public.
In 2016 we will conduct a social experiment, inviting artists and patrons to settle around and activate a public plaza in the city. We will call on them to join together, pooling their resources to create a welcoming environment at the plaza’s center – a sheltered place where all our citizens may take their ease amid the amenities of high civilization. Thus we will establish common ground where participants can be united by their shared experience.”
A common ground where participants can be united by their shared experience? That used to be called Burning Man.
Many Burners have observed that this theme seems tailor made to encourage wealthy patrons to donate to the Burning Man Project before the annual Artumnal fundraiser on November 21.
I note that for the third year in a row, they are continuing with the “shopping mall at the Man base” idea, rather than the Regionals making effigies to burn. The emphasis is becoming much more on the highly controlled experiences of burning The Man and the Temple, than individual Burners getting to burn stuff themselves. The Temple is now being promoted by Oprah as a new kind of religious experience.
At first I thought “they called it Da Vinci not Leonardo, must be something to do with Da Vinci’s Demons” – knowing how much these Satanists love demons. This morning it occurred to me that there’s another connection to Helco, on its 20th anniversary. Larry’s mate, Burning Man co-founder Flash (aka “Papa Satan”) hosts a show on the Discovery Channel called Doing Da Vinci. A nice little promotional bump for him, who once boasted of early Burning Man “I’m the only one who made money every time” (he sold tacos, beer, hamburgers, and t-shirts).
I am confused. Is this theme snark? If so, it is spot-on! All hail the billionaire parasite class; our tech-bro overlords. Let us bow down in supplication to their magnanimous trickling of wealth and patronage. Praise be to the noblesse oblige of Camp Zuckerberg and their ilk, as we pray at the shrine of Sarandon. Let us hold humility in our hearts as we create a playground for THEIR amusement.
If this is not snark, it’s just sad.
I’ve run a placed camp for five years now, we make art, gift booze, shade, games, and community, and none of it was thanks to the parasite billionaire class. All they do is show up and take what we create.
I have decided to assume this theme is a joke – that we are not being expected to worship the entitled plug and players as they ride their segways past what we have created. I have mostly stayed out of the increasing discussion about the entitled and the creators, but goddamn Burning Man, you’re asking for it this time.