CWRU musicologist is first to identify Leonardo da Vinci in 1505 engraving, solves mystery in Shakespeare comedy

Ross DuffinRoss Duffin, the Fynette H. Kulas Professor of Music at Case Western Reserve University, recently solved not one, but two mysteries in the arts world.

First, he figured out a puzzle about Shakespeare’s comedy Love’s Labour’s Lost.

Weeks later, he discovered what appears to be a depiction of Leonardo da Vinci as Orpheus in Marcantonio Raimondi’s engraving of Orpheus Charming the Animals at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

A museum curator had tapped Duffin’s expertise in early musical instruments for descriptions to accompany the museum’s exhibit “Themes and Variations: Musical Drawings and Prints.”

While identifying the musical instruments in the works, Duffin stood before Raimondi’s 1505 engraving of Orpheus, the legendary mythological Greek poet and musician, sitting on a rock under the trees, playing music for a bear and dog.

Something about Orpheus with the animals made him pause.

It occurred to Duffin that the musician was normally depicted as young and clean-shaven in popular art works of that time. But this Orpheus appeared to be older than 50, Duffin said, with a beard and long curly hair.

Duffin then realized that Raimondi’s engraving brought to mind Francesco Melzi’s portrait of da Vinci in the royal collection at Windsor Castle. Melzi was da Vinci’s longtime assistant and became his heir.

The music professor noticed the men depicted in both works looked eerily similar at first, Duffin said.

“And what I realized is that Leonardo may have played Orfeo in a production of Orfeo, staged at the home of Leonardo’s Milanese patron in 1506-07,” Duffin said.

He thought Raimondi might have attended that performance. “Alternatively, the two artists may have crossed paths in Florence in 1509, when Leonardo was there to straighten out a family dispute and Marcantonio was there on commission to engrave Michelangelo’s fresco for the Palazzo Vecchio,” Duffin surmised.

But Duffin was positive it was da Vinci.

Duffin knew from his research that da Vinci was a true Renaissance man in that he had multiple talents, from inventing and understanding the sciences to painting such masterpieces as the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. He also excelled as a poet and musician who built and played a silver-embossed lira da braccio for such audiences as the Duke of Milan.

“All I wanted to do was find someone and tell them, ‘Look! It’s Leonardo,’” Duffin said.

That chance discovery followed another Duffin had made weeks earlier.

Duffin, author of Shakespeare’s Songbook (Norton, 2004), had been given a paper to read about the Shakespeare play Love’s Labour’s Lost. He believed that the paper inaccurately characterized Concolinel, a song alluded to in the third act.

The song has perplexed Shakespearean scholars for centuries—wondering what it is and where it came from, Duffin said.

But with his knowledge of early music, Duffin realized that Concolinel was what he calls “an English mangling” of a bawdy French song, Qvand Colinet, popular in the 1500s. Shakespeare had incorporated the song into his comedy about a king and three men swearing off women. In the play, the servant Moth is making fun of the amorous ambitions of his incompetent master, Don Adriano de Armado.