Personality of Winston Churchill
Coming soon ………… on September……The Best Thesis in the world…
Coming soon ………… on September……The Best Thesis in the world…
In a world where you can be anything, choose to be yourself.
“You must be the change you wish to see in the world”
Mahatma Gandhi, a politician, leader and revolutionary from India, was one of the greatest thinkers and a universal symbol of peace in the 20th century. He was the main personage, initially to claim the rights of the South African Indians, following the struggle for India’s independence from Great Britain and the end of colonialism in the country. He was the proponent of the method of passive resistance, i.e. the nonviolent revolution against authorities and injustice. What made him so special was the use of exclusively peaceful methods to achieve his aims at a time when humanity was overwhelmed by violence and wars worldwide.
Gandhi’s appearance surely did not reveal his dynamic character. He was delicate, with a tight but thin body, because of the modest diet and frequent fasts. His guise was very simple: loincloth, shawl and a pair of sandals. He had thin, tight legs and long hands. His chocolate-colored skin looked crystal clear, as his whole appearance did. He had wide head with prominent ears and a small, lively face, with big nose, mustache and two good-looking, expressive eyes. His lips gave a sense of strength and self-control and often showed a toothless smile. His eyes were pointed out of a pair of round, metal glasses. He had a quiet musical voice. He grew sweetness and goodness to others. Although his appearance was not impressive at all his words and works made him stand out.
“Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi” was the official name of Gandhi. Later in his life, he acquired the nickname Mahatma, which in Sanskrit means “great soul”. And he was a great soul, indeed, as love was the basis for all his relations as well as for its political action. He faced all people with confidence and affection, even his opponents, expecting to have a corresponding response. He was characterized by an unwavering belief in the goodness of human. He influenced others not through theories, but through his passion, his action and the establishment of direct relations, based on sincerity.He was gifted enough to make the people who surrounded him happy and to broaden the spiritual horizons to those who talked with him.
Gandhi was the definition of spiritual control over matter. He was also passionate about his beliefs, values and social ideals. Having managed to fully control human passions, such as gluttony, lust and ambition, he had a great deal of energy in his social action. Also, with his ascetic life and with his ventures, he tried to coordinate his thoughts with his words and behavior and himself to be the beginning of the change he wanted to see in the world.
Was he a political or saint?Gandhi has been involved with politics for a long time, but people loved him and respected him as a saint. They came from all regions of India to ask for his blessing and guidance. Many people considered him to be a personage analogous to Christ or Muhammad. Gandhi was a simple man, with a fiery personality and a huge social and humanitarian work.
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
Looking at Gandhi’s life and attitude, it could be said that he belonged to the personality type of “Giver”, the person who considers “giving” as the core of his existence, according to Briggs Myers’ classification of the different types of personality.
Gandhi seems to have been more focused on other people than on himself, since in his actions he sought to help, look after and defend others, relatives, friends and an entire nation.They described him as a warm person who expressed love and friendliness.
He was generous, since his material goods and money were used for the Indian community and the poor peasants. He was characterized by extroversion, as he liked to be surrounded by people. He communicated with immediacy and honesty and he had high levels of activity. It seems, however, that his constant contact with others and his spiritual and material offerings to them was draining him, resulting in introversion, tranquility in silence and endoscopy. He was distinguished for his ability to connect with other people, to speak in their hearts, regardless of their social class or character.He could move in comfort and gain appreciation from both civilians and peasants.
Gandhi seems to have trusted his instinct, as he used to act more intuitively than logically. He followed the way of love and not the usual practices of most politicians.He was good at analyzing and settling complicated issues. This was one of the reasons why not only the politicians in the country but also the ordinary people were asking for his advice.He had talent in diplomacy, since he could negotiate, while claiming the achievement of his aims. He avoided conflicts and solved problems peacefully. He made decisions based on his personal values and he was faithful to his moral principles. His life was characterized by discipline and self-control.All these made him a “Giver”.
“I have also seen children successfully surmounting the effects of an evil inheritance. That is due to purity being an inherent attribute of the soul.”
Gandhi’s family came from the Vaisya caste, the third of the four castes of the Indian social pyramid, traditionally engaged in trade, agriculture and crafts. In the Hindi language, “Gandhi” means “greengrocer” as previously his family members were working as greengrocers. However, Gandhi’s grandfather, Uttamchand, had been the prime minister of the principality of Porbandar, a small state in western India, and then followed his son, Karamchand, who was Gandhi’s father.
Gandhi’s father may not have been highly educated, but he was reputed to abstain from all sorts of corruption and bias as well as his sincerity, bravery and generosity. He could be described not only as an irritable person but also as a prone one to fleshly pleasures, which is shown by his four marriages, with the latter being held after his forties. Gandhi was born in Porbandar on October 2nd, 1869 and he was the fourth and final child of his family.
It is possible that this fact influenced his evolution and made him realize very early that he must struggle very hard to draw others attention and to succeed his aims. It is well known that younger children feel weak towards their older siblings, who are stronger and fully-grown, so they try to distinguish in other ways, such as developing special social skills and fluent speech.
Mohanya, as he was called by his relatives, grew up in a wealthy family and he had mainly Religion and Mythology books as well as an accordion. He liked playing with balloons and spinners and he participated in sports, such as tennis and cricket. His nanny, Rambha, significantly involved in his upbringing, but the love for his mother, Putlibai, was unrivaled. He admired her for her “holiness” and her “deep religiousness”, as she always prayed before the meal, she visited the temple regularly, she practiced great fasts and she was devoted.
Gandhi was a moderate student, but consistent enough with school timetable and he was never prone to copy from the others. He did not have many friends as he avoided the other children for fear of making fun of him. As he grew up, he made some friends by playing on the street or on the beach. He was an obedient student, but out of school he was a rebel, as he started smoking at his twelve by stealing money from his family. Once, being fed up with his obligation to obey his parents, he tried committing a suicide by smoking poisonous cannabis seeds with a friend of him. What prevented them was the fear that they will delay and suffer for long until they die.
Since his early age, therefore, Gandhi needed to go against the bans imposed on him. The only bans he accepted were his own.
In fact, even though his family was strictly vegetarian, he had often been served in meat, with the encouragement of a friend, as he believed that eating meat makes people tall, muscular and courageous. Gandhi, who was weak and afraid of darkness and ghosts, was terribly envious of his strapping and brave peers and his older brother.
At the age of thirteen, while he was still a student, Mahatma married the daughter of a merchant, Kasturbai. The Indian custom of child marriage, however, put children sharply into the adult world, and this was a situation that they were not mature enough to manage. Gandhi was jealous of his wife and he often became authoritarian and restrictive with her, as he did not allow her to go out to play with her friends, causing them to fight and sometimes not to talk to each other for many days. He loved her passionately and he was often thinking of her, even at the lesson time.
He lusted after his wife, but he felt guilty, especially when he was against his duties. There was an incident,when he was sixteen that marked him for life: Every evening he was massaging and treating his father, who suffered from fistulas. One evening, his uncle offered to take care of the father and Mahatma decided to visit his wife’s bedroom. That night, the father died in his uncle’s hands and Mahatma could never overcome the fact that he could not be next to him because ofy his fleshly desire. Besides, at the same time, Kasturbai was pregnant. The baby died three days after its birth, and Gandhi considered as a cause their sexual encounter that evening, a fact that aggravated his self-belief.
How could he enjoy love for the rest of his life when he was so early associated with death and consequent guilt?
As for his aspect about religion, he did not often visit temples and felt that Hinduism imposed bans that did not fit into his revolutionary nature. He did not particularly believe in God, since his inquiries about the creation of the world were unanswered. But he was interested in religion, as a cognitive field, and he liked listening to his father’s conversations with people of other religions, such as Muslims and Jainists.
In addition, a Jainism monk urged Mohandas’s mother to allow him to go to England in order to study Law. Although Gandhi’s deepest desire was to become a doctor, he was willing to attend the three-year law school in England in order to become a prime minister. His mother and uncle were worried that if he studied in England, he would forget the principles of Hinduism. To change his mother’s mind, on the advice of the monk, he gave a triple pledge before leaving: not to touch wine, women and meat. Thus, Gandhi left India to study, with the financial support of his brother.
“To believe in something, and not to live it, is dishonest.”
Before he was eighteen, Gandhi began his law studies in London, at Inner Temple, which was considered the most aristocratic among the four institutes of law in England. His studies lasted for two years and eight months. His self-reports at that time include information about his lifestyle: his diet, his outfit, his shyness and his religious practices. He tried to get used to the English way of life, but he did not renounce his Hindu origin. He was well-groomed, sophisticated and fashionable. His English friends often urged him to eat meat, but he insisted strictly on the principles of vegetarianism because of the pledge. Luckily he found some vegetarian restaurants in London where he used to take his lunch. Gradually he abolished eggs, spices and sweets and grew in a modest diet. As for his studies, he learned French, Latin, Physics, Common and Roman Law and he was successful in his exams without any special difficulties. He left England immediately after graduating, since he never felt intimate in this country, nor liked the way of life, nor was close to the people there. He probably realized how much Indian soul and behavior he had. The observance of his triple pledge was a small rehearsal for the devotion and the courage he would show later in his life.
During the second year of his studies, Gandhi read for the first time the Bhagavad Gita or simply Gita, which means “God’s song” and is a holy book of Hinduism. Its value is analogous to that of the New Testament for Christianity. This book dates between the 5th and the 2nd century BC and it is a dialogue between Krishna, the central hero of Gita, and Arjuna. Krishna is the incarnation of God into man and a symbol of the world’s self. In this book, he appears to live as a common mortal person while using his superhuman powers to save his fellowmen from dangers and disasters. When he grew up, he killed his uncle, who ruled as a tyrant, and became famous. During the last years of his life he lived alone in a forest, where a hunter accidentally killed him with his arrows. While dying, Krishna smiled and forgave the hunter, who had understood his mistake and mourned.
At one point in the book, Arjuna describes the suffering he experiences on a battlefield with his cousins. It is so unbearable for him to murder his family, that he prefers to himself to be killed by their weapons without even fighting. Krishna interferes and stops it by saying that it is futile to mourn, since the soul is eternal and immortal and not offended by human weapons. The death of the living and the rebirth of the dead is certain. He recalls Arjuna’s duty to fight. According to Gandhi’s explanation, this point does not refer to actual violence nor applauds the violence but allegates the internal conflicts taking place in the human soul, which is symbolized as a battlefield. Arjuna is the man who is fighting against evil.
Gita was for Mahatma his gospel, his spiritual guide. He was seeking at it every time he was in trouble to find guidance and consolation. He was one of the people who are trying to accomplish their aims.Gita also supports action to achieve aims and includes teachings on how to avoid sins.It implies that someone has to pay the same attention to pleasure and pain in order not to commit sins and to act selflessly.The man who can control his own mind and overcome fleshly desires, such as sexual pleasure and wealth, and only spiritual pleasures suffice for him, can conquer the bliss. In this way, he can be unaffected by the sufferings of the body, such as poverty and hunger. The curbing of physical desires and the complete disconnection from them was Gandhi’s primary aim and that caused countless problems. The reward provided by Gita for those who follow these principles is to be united with the divine and to cease successive reincarnations. Gandhi was often saying he hoped not to be reborn.
It seems that Gandhi found in Gita the spiritual but practical guidance he was looking for. Through the adventures of the mythical figures of Krishna and Arjuna, he may have probed his own personal myth, the heroes with whom he was identified, at an age when his personality was trying to be formed and his identity to be established. Perhaps this need for guidance is related to the fact that his father was no longer alive to advise and support him.
“Man is supposed to be the maker of his destiny. It is only partly true. He can make his destiny, only in so far as he is allowed by the Great Power.”
When Gandhi returned to India, he learned that his mother had died as long as he was away, but his relatives had chosen not to reveal it because of his special love for her. His son, Harilal, who was born just before he left, was now four years old. He spent time on his wife and child, but he was unable to support them financially because, despite the expectations of his older brother, he was not successful as a lawyer, as he was unable to speak fluently in a court. One more failure with the British Political Representative made him totally disappointed and want to leave again India. So, after two very difficult years, he decided to go to South Africa to represent a company of some Muslims from Porbandar, as a lawyer. Kasturbai stayed in India with their two sons: the second one was then one year old. In South Africa, Gandhi began to turn into a completely different person, as if he had been reborn.
“The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems.”
Mahatma arrived in Durban, South Africa, in May 1893, to defend a Muslim entrepreneur in a court.To attend this trial, he needed to go to Pretoria, Transvaal. During the night, while traveling by train, in the first class, a white man and two police officers told him he had to move to the third class, causing his reaction as his ticket was for the first one. In the end, they pulled him off the train along with his luggage. During the next day,after talking with other Indians, he found that they had experienced similar incidents, but no one complained about racial discrimination against them. For them, it was an established situation, as people of Indian origin in the English colonies of South Africa were considered as “coolies” (blue-collar workers), although some of them could practice prominent professions, such as lawyers and traders. Over the next few days he encountered similar problems in finding a room in a hotel to stay overnight. He understood, however, that not all whites were biased towards him. At the inn he stayed one night, customers were allowed to dine in the same area and on the train an English passenger was positive to sit on the same wagon, despite the objections of the police.
After a few days, Gandhi held his first public speech, inviting all Indians of Pretoria to meet in order to discuss their situation and the changes that could be made to improve it. He even started teaching English to some of them. In the following period, he made sure that he knew all the Indians in the area, and in agreement with the authorities at the railway stations, he ensured that the Indians who had a decent outfit would be able to travel to the first or second class. In addition, through the other lawyers, he came in contact with many Christians, with whom he developed friendships, discussed about religious matters and read books of their religion.
As for the his profession, he was significantly improved, as he had learned important information on the keeping of business accounts and had been informed about important legal issues. In the cases he undertook, he always preferred out-of-court settlements in order to avoid trials and maintain his mental calm.
While preparing to return to India, he was informed about a government proposal to remove the right from the Indians to elect parliament members. Gandhi urged his compatriots to protest against this proposal, but he needed to stay in South Africa, as they would not have made it without him.
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
In August 1894, Gandhi decided to stay for a while in South Africa to help Indians fight for their rights. There were two most serious problems they had to deal with. The Indians who originally came to the country as blue-collar workers, for a pre-determined period of time, and then wished to stay as free workers were obliged to pay very high taxes. In addition, in 1894, voting rights were granted to a few eminent and affluent Indians by Queen Victoria of England, that were then removed by the Parliament of Natal. Other difficulties were found in the fact that the Indians had to have their passport on them if they wanted to move on the road after 9pm, otherwise they were arrested because they were not allowed to own land in some areas, to deal with trade or the cultivation of land even to buy gold or to walk in paths.
To deal with these issues, Gandhi had been organizing conferences, drafting thousands of signatures for three years, publishing articles in newspapers and brochures, and getting links to the English, African and Indian people. His tactic was to appeal to the rationale and the ethics of his opponents.His main aim was the equivalence for Indian citizens of Great Britain and its colonies.
After a six-month period, during which Gandhi had gone to India, where he wrote a booklet on India’s difficulties in South Africa and sent it to the newspapers and prominent personalities in India, he returned to South Africa along with his wife, their two sons, one nephew, and two ships carrying about eight hundred Indians. The ships were initially quarantined, as the locals considered that Gandhi wanted to fill the area with his compatriots, but 23 days later they were allowed to disembark.
While Gandhi had left the ship and was walking to a friendly home, two children recognized him and called his name. Soon, a crowd of furious whites had gathered around him. They isolated him from his fellows,they threw stones and punched him. Eventually, the police chief’s wife, who saw the incident, protected Gandhi by going in front of him and a boy called the police to accompany him to his friend’s home. Mahatma categorically refused to denounce the men who attacked him, as he believed it was a mistake of the government of Natal that filled their hearts with hate and fear for him. On the contrary, he forgave them and devoted himself to his serious work. In 1897, the government of Natal acknowledged equal voting rights for all British citizens, including the Indians.
Gandhi’s stunning ability to maintain his self-control even in adverse situations is obvious at this point. He could have left his anger about those who mocked him and his desire for vengeance to overwhelm him. Instead, he chose to understand these people, the government of their country made them afraid, and eventually to forgive them. With forgiveness, one is released from thoughts and emotions that burden his or her mental and physical health and divert his attention from what is really important in his life. Thus, Gandhi managed to maintain his balance through forgiveness and continue to pay attention and direct his energy towards his noble aims.
During his stay in South Africa, Gandhi had a fairly high income, from his work as a lawyer, and a wealthy life.
He used to involve the housework, which bothered his wife. He was trying to impose his own strict and often dysfunctional rules, not only on himself but also on his children, on their behavior.Their house had no running water, and each room had a night pot that was moved and cleaned every day by Gandhi and Kasturbai, as he was unable to hire a servant. Sometimes there was a sharp quarrel between each other when Kasturbai refused to clean the pot of a guest. Gandhi insisted that his wife had to do this job and when she broke into tears, he was particularly critical of her, telling her that he would not tolerate such silly behaviors in his house. The quarrel ended with Gandhi pushing her out of the house and her shouting that she had no where else to go and no one else to support her there.
There was a second great quarrel between the couple in 1901, when Gandhi’s family would return to India and many Indians in the area offered them jewellery, gold, silver and diamonds as gifts. Mahatma, urged by his longing to get rid of the burden of private property, and because in his sermons he encouraged people not to pay attention to material goods, he decided to offer these precious gifts as a sponsorship to the Indian community. So he removed all these treasures from his home, even a gold necklace he had given to his wife.
Gandhi wanted to pursue a simple life without luxuries. He was strictly committed to vegetarian diet and preferred natural methods of treatment for diseases. He often followed long fastings and restricted his diet to nuts and fruits. When he stayed in Johannesburg, he walked the way from and to his office that was 5 miles.
In the trials he undertook, he insisted that the client should reveal to him the whole truth, and if he realized that some incidents were being hidden, he could leave the case. He believed that a good lawyer is the one who helps the court to discover the truth and to confer justice, not the one lying to the benefit of his client.
In 1903, Gandhi, reading a book by John Ruskin, ‘Unto this last”, decided to radically change his life, based on the ideas of this book. He bought a farm in Phoenix, that was vast and included various kinds of fruitful trees, a well and his poor house. There were the offices of Indian Opinion, a magazine that Gandhi had contributed in its start. However, for few years his family and he moved from Phoenix to Johannesburg, where he often needed to attend as a lawyer. Close relatives, friends, partners and political associates, stayed with him in his two residences, except for his family, whose expenses were borne by himself.
Gandhi was constantly trying to practice self-control. For this reason, he had made a decision to curb his appetite for food, with the ultimate aim of releasing him from the intense human passions, such as anger, vanity and sexual desire. He believed that the body should only be provided with the necessary for its survival, and that fleshly wishes should be subject to mind control so that man can be developed spiritually and engage in superior aims. He argued that, someone, in order to be able to offer unselfish service, had to devote totally himself to his aim and to remove of his interests even his family, so as not to be disoriented. As part of this effort for self-control, he also took the decision to abstain from sexual intercourse, which was also reported to Kasturbai, who did not protest at all.
In September 1906, the Indian Community headed by Gandhi convened a meeting of about 3,000 people at the Imperial Theater, Johannesburg. The attitude that they would hold against a new law that compelled all Indians to give their fingerprints, declare their stay in South Africa and bring with them the certificate of their declaration was discussed. Offenders of this law would be fined, imprisoned and would be deprived of their right to reside in the country. At Gandhi’s instigation, all those who were present pledged not to obey this deceptive law, even if they needed to pay the price.
Gandhi initially disapproved of the term “passive resistance”, because he was not passive. In order to characterize this resistance movement at the Imperial Theater, he preferred the term “Satyagraha”, meaning true – power or love -power, emphasizing the peaceful nature of their movement, the absence of violence and hostility towards the opponent, and an attitude of sincerity, patience and compassion for the latter.
A few days after the meeting, the government of Transvaal exempts women of Asian origin from the law. Then, Gandhi traveled to London to hold meetings with political figures to negotiate the law. Among them was Lord Elgin, Secretary of the Colonial State, whom he interviewed. On his way back, he was informed that Elgin would not approve the application of the law against the Asians, but since Transvaal would cease to be an English colony, since January 1st1907, his government could implement voluntarily the law. So it was implemented in July 1907.
When that law came into force, some Asians rushed to get a residence permit, but most refused, so they were brought to court. Among them was Gandhi, who was given two months’ imprisonment. He even managed to use his time in prison, mainly by reading books. However, his imprisonment was interrupted in less than 20 days as the government made him a proposal: if the Indians declared their stay on a voluntary basis, there would be a revocation of the law.
Gandhi accepted the proposal, thinking that the statement would not be humiliating, since it would be voluntary and not coercive. He tried to persuade the rest of the Indians that accepting this proposal would be the most favorable choice for them. Although he received numerous negative reactions from his compatriots, he was the first to make this statement.
On the day he would make his statement, a group of Indians who had been dissatisfied with his political attitude followed him to the office of statements and attacked him. ΟGandhi endured the assault and, once again, did not prosecute his opponents. When he recovered, he managed to complete his statement. His movement was imitated by other Indians. In the end, however, the government violated its promise and did not withdraw the law. Consequently, the Indians, in the checks carried out, did not have a residence certificate with them in the country, they were considered to be illegal immigrants and were deported.
It was imperative that the Indians claim the right to live and enter freely in Transvaal. To achieve their aim, they decided, under the Gandhi’s guidance, to protest: they entered in Transvaal without certificates in order to be arrested. Among them was the older son of Gandhi, Harilal. These people were arrested and sentenced to three months’ imprisonment.
Gandhi was also arrested and taken to Volksrust Prison, where he had more than 75 Indians held back and was glad to cook for them. He spent time with other manual tasks such as scraping, digging, cleaning the premises. He could simply pay the fine but he considered it a cowardliness. In addition, he observed that he was enjoying some privileges as a prisoner, such as his discharge from worries and responsibilities and the extra time available for pray. He also enjoyed the feeling that he suffered for the sake of his homeland and his religion.
At this point, it could be observed that Gandhi’s self-sacrifice and his self-serving to a superior, noble aim, beyond his own limits, reaches the limits of moral masochism. He does not hesitate to be deprived of his temporary personal satisfaction in order to defend the rights of the South African Indians. Moreover he seems to be pleased with the fact that he is imprisoned to serve a higher social good as well as his values.
During the following period, many of the Gandhi supporters were either punished by consecutive imprisonment or were deported and returned to India, losing their property in South Africa. Some of them may be imprisoned five times, the one after another. In addition, a new federal union opposing to the equality of Indian rights, headed by Botha and Smuts, was created in the country.
Gandhi had a five-month trip to England in order to gain the favor of important political figures as well as the public opinion. He soon succeeded in engaging the people and politicians of England to the Indian problem in South Africa. In this trip, coming in contact with Indians of various political beliefs, he began to reflect on the issue of political independence of India.
When he returned to South Africa, he decided that it was necessary to offer accommodation to the people and their families who resisted. The farm in Phoenix was a long way from the outbreak of the race at Transvaal, so his friend and partner, Herman Kallenbach, bought a huge plot of land in a city near Johannesburg for this aim. Gandhi named it Tolstoy Farm, in honor of the friendship and exchange of ideas he had with Leon Tolstoy.
The farm contained over 1,000 fruit trees, springs, wells and a house around which other smaller ones were built. There, Gandhi and Kallenbach settled with their families. They were making their own food and their own wooden furniture. Gandhi learned to make bread, jam and coffee from caramel wheat. There were no chairs and beds. They were all sleeping together on the ground with their blankets.
The situation seemed to be settled when, in October 1912, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, the President of the Servants of Indian Society in India, visited South Africa. After a meeting with Botha and Smuts, head of the country’s government, he informed Gandhi that the ban on immigration and the taxes paid by former blue-collar workers would cease to apply. However, this decision was withdrawn. In addition, according to a new law, only Christian marriages were recognized as legal in the country, excluding all other religions.
A new wave of resistance burst out, and for the first time, many women also participated. Along with mass arrests of Indians entering and leaving Natal, Indian miners declared a strike. As they were housed in the buildings of the companies they were working for, their companies stopped supplying water and electricity to them. Upon Gandhi’s command, the workers gathered around the house of some of their friends who took care of them. But their food needs were great, as there were a huge number of people, and Gandhi suggested moving across the Transvaal-Natal border to be taken to prison where they would have at least food and shelter. Arriving near the border, trains were carrying them back to Natal, where they were tried and imprisoned.
Meanwhile, a wave of Indian revolution had spread throughout the country. The striking workers were brought back to the mines, where their bosses tried to force them to work. The strikes have multiplied and in the attempts of the army to suppress them, some workers injured or killed. The English government intervened to resolve the situation.
Gandhi has decided to make another course with his compatriots, but it coincided with a strike by European rail workers. As a sign of respect for the opponent’s weakness, the course was suspended. Gandhi’s aim was to assert the rights of the Indians, not to harm his opponent or exploit his weakness. This move of humanity seemed to have touched the African government and brought support messages from England and the whole of South Africa.
Smuts called Gandhi into negotiation. Gandhi once again demonstrated his ability to forgive and reconcile. Finally, they came to an agreement. Hindu weddings were declared legitimate. The taxes demanded by the former blue – collar workers who remained in Natal were abolished. The work of Indians under slavery would be stopped few years later. The ban on the free movement of Indians from one side of the country to another remained. Both sides, in order to reach an agreement, made some compromises. Gandhi’s real victory, however, was not only the withdrawal of laws, but also that he managed to speak in the heart of his opponents and activate his noble, peaceful aspects.
“There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”
When World War I began, Gandhi, although he disliked violence, offered to set up a group of stretcher bearer in the British army, believing that as an Indian, a resident of a region that Great Britain protected,owed to that country.
He returned to India in January 1915. There he wrote his first book, “Indian Home Rule”, which contained talks with Indians, anarchists and terrorists in London on the independence of India. He argues that not hostility but a fair attitude towards the English can make India an independent state. The real conqueror, according to Gandhi, was not England, but modern civilization with the advance of industry and machinery, which people worshiped as gods, forgetting their culture and their moral side. Despite his intense patriotism, which was mainly due to his religiosity, he was open to accepting influences from other cultures, such as the English one. What fit in Gandhi was the freedom that Great Britain provided to its citizens to direct their energy and devotion wherever their conscience pointed out.
Gandhi’s house in India was a hermitage in a village beside the Sabarmati River.There was no private space for himself and his family, since all the people of India were now considered as his family. His room looked like a cell: small, with railing in the window and a small courtyard where he slept and worked, despite the weather conditions. Many of his students built their houses around his own.He wore poor clothes, often just a loincloth, to get closer to the Indian peasants.
In addition, according to Gandhi, the independence of the country had to begin by improving the situation of peasants, living in villages in poverty and ignorance. To achieve this, politicians had to come close to the simple people, speaking local dialects and without their expensive clothes.
In February 1916, Gandhi held a public speech at Hindu University Central College before politicians and officers in the country, where he openly accused the English and Indian governments of their riches and palaces coming from exploiting the pain of the peasants.He argued that university education should be carried out not in English, but in their mother tongue, in order to preserve their cultural identity. He emphasized on the responsibility of each Indian for the material and moral decline of the country: its dirty and ruined temples, their abusive attitudes, the anarchist groups that caused the government’s suspicion. The speech, of course, caused negative reactions from the public, but Gandhi’s reputation as a supporter of the poor began to spread.
“Untouchables”, the peasants who worked as blue – collar workers and lived in degraded conditions, were so named because they were not allowed to touch any person who belonged to Indian caste as it was considered that their touch could infect the “pure” Indians. For this reason, they were forbidden to enter Indian houses, temples and shops.
Gandhi disapproved of the social prejudices against them. He believed that the Indians had to show humanity to each other before calling for the humanity of England.
Also he had worked with the untouchables in South Africa in his mobilizations. Once, an untouchable family asked Gandhi to settle in his hermitage. Not only he accepted them, but he also adopted their daughter, a fact that his wealthy supporters disliked, and as a result they withdrew their money. Fortunately, however, there were other wealthy Indians who rushed to offer. Kasturbai also complained that she would let an untouchable woman involve in her household, but Gandhi conveyed her with the irresistible arguments. Gandhi began to live as untouchable and cleaned with her and his students the toilets of the hermitage. Since all of them lived as untouchables, they did not need to fear being infected by their contact.Gandhi called them “Harijans” or “Children of God”. This love for the untouchables cost him the loss of many fanatical Indians and the obstacles they brought to his struggles. However, many Indians of senior social classes were willing to have lunch with him and stay at his house, although he lived as an untouchable.
In 1917, Gandhi undertook to defend Champaran’s employed growers against the British landowners of the region. In particular, the farmers had agreed to cultivate 15% of their land and to pay it to the landowners. When, however, Germany released the synthetic lute, the crops were useless and the landowners demanded compensation from the growers in order to exempt them from the 15%. Some farmers refused to pay and others, who initially paid, asked for their money back. Landowners began to abuse and intimidate the farmers.
Gandhi arrived at Champaran and began investigating the matter. Asking for evidence from the British Landlord Association and the British Commissioner of the region, they tried to expel him by intimidating him. Instead of just leaving the area, he continued his investigations. He received a written mandate from the police to leave the region and signed that he would not obey. The next day he was brought to trial. Soon the area was overwhelmed by villagers who rushed to support him. He was asked to pay a guarantee to be released and he refused. A group of lawyers arrived in support of him and declared willing to be imprisoned. Gandhi showed that the English could not rule him within his own country, thus helping the other Indians to get rid of the fear of British sovereignty. He was released and after a few months the landlords accepted to negotiate with the growers and eventually to pay them a compensation.
Once again, it became evident that Gandhi did not hesitate to deprive himself of his delights, even his own freedom, for the service of a superior aim and for the benefit of an injured group. Shortly after the incidents at Champaran, the impoverished Ahmedabad mill workers demanded higher wages and fewer hours of work, but mill owners refused their requests. At the Gandhi’s instigation, the workers went on strike, with no effect. As the workers were ready to bend and start working again, Gandhi announced that if they stopped the strike, he would go on a hunger strike. For three days Gandhi stayed fasting and on the third day the owners, who enjoyed great sympathy for him, accepted to negotiate with the workers. His act of self-sacrifice may caused shame to the owners for their own selfishness.
“If co-operation is a duty, I hold that non-co-operation also under certain conditions is equally a duty.”
During the World War I, many Indians were recruited by the side of England. However, in India, important Indian and Muslim leaders were imprisoned. There was a hope that after the end of the war these actions would be revoked. However, in February 1909, the Government proposed a bill for the continuation of these enforcement measures.
Gandhi was weak at that time because of a dysentery that he had suffered. Despite his difficulties, he began visiting several cities in India to organize a massive Satyagraha national movement as resistance to the bill aimed at the violent imposition of English domination in India. A month later, the law passed and Gandhi suggested the Indians react with a move known as “hartal”, which meant cessation of any economic activity, with workers of all levels and businesses abstaining from their work, and that day to dedicate to fasting and pray. This act was the first move by Gandhi against the British in India, since, until a while ago, he believed in the smooth settlement.
Hartal was applied in many regions of India, resulting in the country’s economy freezing and the Indians believing in their forces again. In Mumbai, the success of the move was great, but in Delhi there were violent incidents and shootings. A few days later, Gandhi publicly denied this kind of behavior, stating that they are totally opposed to the idea of peaceful Satyagraha.For atonement, he submitted himself to 72 hours of fasting and asked his followers to fast for 24 hours.
In April, the government of Punjab, one of the states of India, condemned two party leaders, a Muslim and an Indian, to exile, resulting in the infuriation of the people who raided the streets violently and killing prominent members of English society. A few days later, in Amritsar, the city of Punjab, courses and meetings were banned by proclamation. However, this proclamation appears to have not been communicated to all regions of the city. So the next day, a great meeting was held in a closed area, a kind of unused land surrounded by buildings. When the authorities were informed about the meeting, shooters arrived in the area and opened fire against unarmed attendants who, due to the enclosed space, could not escape. Approximately 379 people were killed and 1137 injured.
An even more humiliating command followed. The English director of a school had been brutally assaulted by the mob, and the order to crawl was given to those who passed through the area of the incident. Of course, all these inhuman measures did not leave Gandhi indifferent.
Gandhi did not have the ambition to engage in politics in his life. The mobilizations in South Africa and India were motivated by moral and humanitarian reasons. He wanted a warm contact with the simple people, not the coldness of a political party. However, in 1920, in order to claim the autonomous governance of India, he led a political party representing that idea. The Indians trusted him as a leader but also as a human being because he was absolutely frank towards them, he did not hesitate to admit and publicly criticize his mistakes.
During that period, the general Muslim of India dissatisfaction against England came to be added to the humiliating sanctions imposed on Turkey, the leading country of Muslims, from England and its allies after the World War I, creating the Khilafat Movement. The common feeling of disappointment with English policy brought together the Muslim and the Indian party, helping to create a relationship of mutual support.
Gandhi, in support of the Khilafat Movement, proposed a move that he described as “Non-co-operation”, i.e. the Indians were asked to exclude from their trade the English exports, especially textiles, and more generally whatever was English, such as schools, courts, jobs and offices, demonstrating an attitude of self-control.
In February 1921, England proposed the system of government by the United Kingdom to go to the “Diarchy”, that is, the co-existence of England and India. The Indians would have supervised sub-sectors such as agriculture and health, and England would retain the administration of finance and the police, and the right to bypass the decisions of Indian politicians. Although this plan was not particularly conducive to the Indians, Gandhi, trusting the British and believing that they have good intentions and aspirations to further improve the situation, had asked Congress to accept the proposal.
It seems that Gandhi blindly trusted other people, even his opponents. Perhaps, since he was characterized by sincerity and kindness, he believed that these characteristics were inherent in others too.
However, the changes to India’s expected autonomy did not occur.In September 1920, a congressional meeting was held with Gandhi head, where the “Non-co-operation” movement was brought to the fore and discussed the issues of upgrading the state of the untouchables and restoring textiles matter to the country.
Gandhi, coming from the middle class, gained many middle-class Indians who were hoping for their country’s independence. Even the most skeptical were drawn by the courage and selflessness that characterized him.People identified with him and valued him as he was speaking in their hearts and was giving them strength.
Thus, they willingly implemented the “Non-Co-operation”. Gandhi denied some medals he had received from England for his action in South Africa, a number of Indians withdrew titles and offices, and students dropped out of their studies in British foundations. Educated Indians moved to the provinces to engage in peer education. Peasants stopped paying their taxes and buying products that made a profit to the government.
On the Muslim allies’ side, there was a wave of uprisings when, in September 1921, Muslim party leader Mohamed Ali was arrested and imprisoned. At the same time, the new King of England was crowned, who, when he visited India, was confronted with the hostility of the people. The government has arrested politicians and their supporters. Within a few months, 20,000 Indians were in prison for acts against the government.
In March 1922, Gandhi was arrested and taken to prison. In the court he made a speech that stirred the attendees, even the judge, who with heavy heart gave him the minimum sentence of six years imprisonment. He accepted the sentence once again without protest, as he had predicted that “Non-co-operation” would imprison him and considered it as another incident that would stir up the Indians to claim their freedom.
“I claim to be a simple individual liable to error like any other fellow mortal. I own, however, that I have humility enough in me to confess my errors and to retrace my steps.”
Gandhi was always sweet and lenient with all who surrounded him except his wife and sons. And himself, of course.He was strict with them and demanded discipline. His relations with Kasturbai were initially strained, but over time they calmed down. Kasturbai had her own personality and did not hesitate to follow some habits that Gandhi considered unacceptable, such as drinking tea or coffee. The fact that she was his wife did not make her claim privileges and she should be willing to perform her jobs in the hesychast.
It seems that he showed care and understanding to his followers that he did not have for his children. Despite his bad relationship with them, he enjoyed playing and spending time with the others’ children. He even claimed that the son of a friend, who followed the “Satyagraha”, was more affectionate than his biological sons.
He did not care of his older son, Harilal, to get married and at the age of 18 he had discouraged him. His son Manilal had a relationship with a married woman in South Africa, and when Gandhi learned it, he talked about the situation publicly and forbade the son to marry until he was 35. Also, his sons were hurt that did not give them the opportunity to acquire university education, and he had sent two cousins to England in order to study. For one of them, Maganlal, Gandhi had stated that he was his spiritual heir, since he was faithful to his spiritual suggestions and embraced the virtue of temperance that Gandhi preached.
As for Manilal, at one point, he lent his brother money without informing his father, and when the latter learned it by accident, he felt that his son had deceived him and sent him out of the hesychast. He then sent him to South Africa to manage the Indian Opinion. He writes that in his life he spent little time with his father and did not express tenderness to him, as he did later with his followers. After the death of his son’s wife, Gandhi had denied the possibility of remarrying. Manilal then swam in alcohol and women and became a Muslim, trying, perhaps, to disturb him.
Gandhi imposed on the inhabitants of the hesychast some unobtrusive rules of conduct that had to do with personal hygiene, timidity with time and manual work. As much as he stood with the behavior of his followers, so much was his tolerance with their way of thinking. He did not demand to follow his own ideology. Having accepted his own imperfections, he could embrace the defects of the others.
It seems that Gandhi was another person with his family, tougher and indifferent, and another one with his followers and associates, more affectionate and interpersonal. Especially he seems not to treat his sons as individuals with the right to evolve autonomously. Perhaps he was considering them as extensions of himself, who were obliged to live according to his suggestions and to assimilate his values. He had a cruel approach to their human, fleshly aspects, such as the lust of Manilal, perhaps because he had renounced his own physical needs. He showed preference to his nephew simply because he was simulating the pattern of temperance and virtue he had so idealized, in other words he looked like Gandhi. Why, however, could he have this attitude towards his own children, while with the others’ children he was a loving and cheerful person?One possible explanation is that because he was married at an early age (13 years), marriage and childbirth were not his own choices. Perhaps felt the family as a burden on his shoulders or an obstacle to his duty to serve the common good with dedication.
“Just as a man would not cherish living in a body other than his own, so do nations not like to live under other nations, however noble and great the latter may be.”
In January 1924, after 22 months of imprisonment, Gandhi suffered from acute appendicitis and was transferred to hospital for surgery, which was successful. Because of this fact and the delay that led to the recovery of an abscess in the intervention area, the Government made the decision to release him in February of the same year.
He was informed from his partners about the situation the country that had suffered during his absence. The cooperation between Indians and Muslims has been weakened and the “Non-co-operation” movement has been dismantled.At a congressional meeting he understood that most of his followers no longer supported his peaceful methods and he publicly cried. Considering the unity of Indians and Muslims indispensable to India’s independence, in September 1924, he announced that he would fast for 21 days in order to raise their awareness towards their twinning. During his fasting, he stayed at Mohamed Ali’s home, giving the example to the Indians by confiding himself with a Muslim in his great undertaking. However, his attempt failed, since the conflict between the people remained.
Having been disappointed by his inability to bridge the gap between Indians and Muslims and bring close to him the educated Indians, who in the meantime had been divided into individual parties, he decided to leave Congress. He stated that he was not pleased at all for the fact that his members relied on him to settle all the issues presented.However, after the pressure he accepted, he remained as a head for one more year.
During this time, he traveled throughout India. In all the regions he was visiting, he was waiting for a crowd of people, who were eager to see him and bowed in front of him, trying to touch his feet. Many of them were coming from remote areas, exclusively for him. The people had deified him so much that a whole doctrine devoted to his worship had been set up. Many people considered him to be reincarnation of the God.
In the trips he was making, he raised money to invest in the looms, handmade textiles and textiles industries in the country, which would make it self-sufficient in fabric production without the need for machines used by modern industries. Women, even young girls, often donated their jewels, which was particularly gratifying to him. He persuaded the female audience, saying that heavy and too expensive jewels not only did not give them beauty, but they may have been uncomfortable and harmful to health because of the dirt they often brought. He encouraged the inhabitants of the provinces and the villages to deal with woven fabric every day and to raise awareness among them to buy them in order to help improve their economy and hence the autonomy of the country. Even Gandhi sold these fabrics. He was efficient in collecting money, but used it to empower the poor, not himself.
Exhausted he was by his intense activism, at the end of the year, he pledged to observe a year of “political silence”, during which he would not depart from his hesychast and would not go out of Ahmedabad. During this time, on Mondays he remained in absolute silence in order to be able to rest his body and spirit. On the other days of the week he avoided the crowds, but he spoke, wrote, had home visits and contacted many people inside and outside India.
His correspondence often contained conversations with men who wanted his advice on matters of their sexual life. He argued that frequent sexual intercourse exhausted the Indians and resulted in overcrowding of the country. He was in favor of controlling births, but through self-control and not by other means of contraception. He believed that by abstaining from sexual intercourse, man keeps valuable energy, which he can invest in other activities. He totally despised the institution of child marriage, because it also contributed to overcrowding.
When the time of political silence ended, Gandhi began rejoining meetings and participating in the annual congressional meeting. During the following months, he traveled through many cities and villages to get in touch with the world, resulting in his physical and intellectual collapse. His doctor recommended him two months of rest. Years later, another doctor told him that he had suffered a mild stroke. Although his heart seemed healthy, his blood pressure rose when he had to make some important decision.
In October 1927, England’s new Regent, Lord Irwin, invited Gandhi to a meeting. Other Indian politicians took part in it and informed them of the establishment of a British commission to investigate the situation in India and to propose political reforms. Gandhi was disappointed at the meeting. The committee was concerned with the problems of the Indians, but none of them was one of them. The “Non-Co-operation” movement has spread again throughout India. The Indians would refuse to assist the committee in conducting its investigations. So when the committee arrived in India, it confronted black flags, slogans and complete isolation from the world.
In February 1928, a new Satyagraha movement was organized in the Bardoli area, where villagers refused to pay their taxes as a protest for a 22% increment in those imposed by the British government. Gandhi guided the movement remotely, but a confidant was placed in the lead. The villagers were deprived of their possessions for months and were imprisoned, but they did not bend. In the end, the move proved to be successful, since it was decided to lift the government’s tax increment.
However, the question of the country’s independence remained. Congress called for an immediate war. After negotiations with Gandhi, it was agreed to give the English government one year period to bring the country in independence from the British Empire. A few months later, following a terrorist attack on the New Delhi Legislative Council, the committee left India. But the year that was given as a period was reaching its end, and Irwin still could not assure whether Great Britain would allow India to secede from its empire. A new peaceful protest movement began which, among other things, included the abstention of members of Congress from their responsibilities and the refusal to pay taxes from the people.
At this stage, Gandhi’s protest began by trying to break the monopoly of salt. Great Britain retained the monopoly of salt in India, while prohibiting law-abiding citizens from free exporting salt from the sea. But as the sale prices of salt were too high, the poor people found it hard to buy it, even though it was needed much more than the upper class, due to its hard manual labor in the tropical heat of India.
In March 1930, Gandhi, at the age of 61, started with an accompaniment of 78 people from his hesychast, a pedestrian route heading south of Ahmedabad. The course lasted 24 days and took a total of 200 miles, passing through many villages where people left their jobs to accompany Gandhi to the next village. When Gandhi arrived at sea at the end of the journey, his followers were thousands.
Gandhi came in the sea and gathered salt that the water brought, breaking the law banning the gathering of salt by the Indians. Soon, the residents from the surrounding areas came at the shore, holding utensils to gather salt. The police arrived at the shore and started beating the attendees and capturing them. They did not resist their arrest, but refused to give the salt they had gathered, and as a result that the police officers hit them with fury.
The wave of protest has spread to areas throughout India. In many seaside locations, people were heading to the shore to gather salt and many of them were violently punished or arrested by the state. In Calcutta, revolutionary texts were read publicly and the mayor was imprisoned. In various regions, there was a boycott of imported fabrics and clothes and a hindrance to the purchase of alcoholic products. Women and girls in the upper classes publicly removed their headscarves in protest. In other places, the peasants abstained from paying their rent and taxes, rebels were attacking the British Guard and stealing weapons from arsenals. Except, however, for these incidents, there was no other violence on the part of the rebels. A month later, on May 5th, Gandhi was arrested once again and taken to prison.
Gandhi’s imprisonment was a serious problem for the English government, as it was a movement that had revolutionized the people and caused a massive popular uprising that was difficult to control. Under these circumstances, Regent Irwin released on January 26th Gandhi and other members of the Congress.
As a sign of gratitude for this move, Gandhi asked Irwin for a meeting. There followed a series of meetings, ending with the Delhi Agreement, which provided the end of the peaceful protest, the imprisonment by the English government and the law banning the extraction of salt from the seas. However, the issue of India’s independence, which was also a Gandhi’s question, had not yet been settled and was expected to be discussed at a next conference with the Congress, to be held in London.
Gandhi stayed in London from mid September to early December. During this time, he was staying at the house of a friend who had previously host, 5 miles from the city center, to save money.
When he was in Buckingham Palace to spend the night with the King and Queen of England, he impressed the others by his guise: loincloth, sandals, scarf and a pendant watch. He also visited the former Prime Minister of England on his farm, where the servants gathered together to meet him, a fact that they made for the first time in a guest. He also received invitations from other celebrities who wished to meet him, such as Charlie Chaplin, George Bernard Shaw and Maria Montessori, which he accepted. Professor Lindsay, in the house of whom Gandhi stayed when he visited Oxford, likened him to a saint who treated everyone with respect, regardless of their social class.Professor Thomson, who also met Gandhi in Oxford, expressed the aspect that he possessed a “demon” similar to that of Socrates, which remains unshaken by the arguments of others, as well as by the dangers.
In addition to his other activities in London, Gandhi also participated in the conference meetings for which he had gone there, but they seemed boring to him and far from his own way of thinking. The members of the conference were an extremely heterogeneous group, where everyone supported the interests of the group he represented and did not seem to be moving towards a common aim. Great Britain’s representatives had clearly stated their intention to maintain their country’s leadership in India. Also, the division among the Indians, the Muslims and the “Untouchables” remained unbridgeable. Gandhi left London disappointed, as there had been no substantial improvement in the situation.
When Gandhi returned to India, he was welcomed by an enthusiastic human sea. It did not matter if he had not achieved anything great. It was enough for them that he had returned safe and sound and that he had preserved his honor and his faith in the freedom of India. Gandhi was now the symbol of India’s freedom.
However, there were some unpleasant surprises for him. The Government of Irwin and the Labor Party, with whom Gandhi had achieved a certain degree of freedom, was succeeded by the Conservative Party. This party was much more indolent in imposing English domination in the country. Some members of the Indian Congress had been arrested and a denial of tax charge had been penalized by seizures of buildings and bank accounts.
As he was informed of the situation, Gandhi stated that it was probably his Christmas gift from the Regent. At this point, it seems that Gandhi is turning to humor in difficult situations. Humor is a way to deal with situations that cause stress and incidents that are difficult for someone to manage psychologically. Through this, the individual can express what causes him anxiety or say a bitter truth in a pleasant, comforting and socially acceptable way.
Gandhi requested a meeting from the Regent to discuss these incidents, but the latter denied any negotiation. Instead, a few days later, he led him to jail. There the governor tried to equip him with furniture and other utensils as he considered him to be an honored person. But Gandhi asked to remove all of these items from his cell because, in his opinion, they were an expense that the people of India were carrying and he did not want to burden them.
During his imprisonment, he found once again an opportunity for creation: he completed a book that had begun in the previous sentence he had executed in Yeravda Prison, with the title “From Yeravda Mandir”. In this book, he expresses his aspects about God. For Gandhi, God is identified with truth, life and love. He states, in fact, that his actions are not based on both logic and instinct, as God guides. According to Gandhi, God dwells in the hearts of men and the union with Him is accomplished by the abandonment of selfishness and devotion to mankind.
It seems, therefore, that the prison bars are not enough to limit Gandhi’s inexhaustible energy. On the one hand, he uses writing as a way of expressing his creativity and, on the other hand, in order to externalize his troubles, in this case the matter and the service of God. It could also be distinguished that he is a person with excellent mental resilience, since even in the most difficult and restrictive conditions, such as his imprisonment, he manages to adapt, draw something positive from them and deal with things that please him.
In September 1932, while Gandhi was in prison, he read in a newspaper that Britain proposed the election of representatives separately for the Indians and for the untouchables. Gandhi was totally opposed to this suggestion, as he claimed to favor the widening of the gap that had already existed between the Indians and the untouchables while his aim was to bridle it.For this reason, Gandhi announced he would fast to death.
At this point, one could observe the way in which Gandhi expresses his aggression. He does not extort his anger in the form of protest or violent insurrection, as other rebels of his time would do. He also does not address it to those who caused it, in this case the Government of England, perhaps because he knows that such an act would be futile. Instead, he turns his aggression and anger against himself. It hurts his body, tortures it with the exhausting fasting that he follows. In this way, he tries to express his anger and opposition and to achieve his ultimate aim, here being the twinning between the Indians and the untouchables. He does not even hesitate to flirt with death in order to achieve this aim.
The English government was not prepared to negotiate the matter, since it aimed to strengthen the untouchables that Gandhi so actively supported. He therefore considered that his opposition was clearly due to a misunderstanding on his part. However, when the fast began, the negotiations soon began too, as the death of such an adorable person would cause tremendous shame to the government.
The final plan proposed was that the Indians and the untouchables participating in the Parliament would be elected jointly by the Indians and the untouchables, but a certain number of seats would be reserved for the untouchables. For these aspects, the untouchables would indicate for candidates those who considered them more valuable and then the Indians and the untouchables together would vote among them. Gandhi accepted the proposal and followed the negotiations on the number of positions that would be allocated to the untouchables. As soon as the project was completed, it was sent to the English government to be checked and approved. Both the Indian and the English governments had been alerted, so that Gandhi’s fast not to become fatal. Within a few hours, the British government was prevented from examining the plan and announcing its approval. Gandhi broke his fast in front of friends, politicians, journalists and his wife.
Gandhi’s most important achievement through this move was not the modification of the plan, but the fact that, being willing to sacrifice himself, he managed to bridge the gap between the Indians and the untouchables. During the days of fasting, the untouchables were allowed to enter many Indian temples, while on the streets the Indians and the untouchables were eating together and communicating with each other; streets and public services that were banned for the untouchables suddenly became accessible. An entire social reform was achieved, which would have been impossible with a simple political agreement.
Gandhi’s main aim has always been the social reconstruction. Dealing with politics did not please him. Thus, until 1939, he dealt exclusively with actions related to the welfare and education of the lower social class. He was visiting Indian provinces to help peasants improve their quality of life. He advised them on simple and healthy eating, such as eating green leafy vegetables, cow’s milk and paddy rice. He argued that the villages should be self-sufficient and cover their basic food and textile needs and what surplus land should be used for the cultivation of exportable products, such as tobacco and opium. They should also have their own places for entertainment and education as well as their own water supply system. Still, the peasants should learn to react by non-co-operation, such as strikes and non-payment of their rent, to measures of the state that offend them.
As for his religious beliefs, he accepted and incorporated into his lifestyle characteristics from different religions. He considered all religions as equal, but they all had some vulnerabilities. Typical is the fact that on the wall of his house there was a painting of Jesus Christ.
Although he was receptive to influences out of Hinduism, he did not easily abandon the Hindu customs. For example, when his son, Devadas, fell in love with a girl from another caste, Gandhi initially did not allow them to marry, as Hinduism denounced marriages among people from different castes. Only when, after five years of separation, the young couple insisted on getting married, Gandhi approved their marriage with joy.
Gandhi also had the courage to revise his views when he thought it would bring him closer to the truth. Returning to the example among different castes, he initially disapproved them, and later warmly welcomed them. The same happened with marriages among people of different religions. Over the years, his attitude that men should be single in order to be able to perform their social work unhindered has also moderated.
He did not hesitate to publicly admit his moments of weakness. For example, at the age of 67 he wrote in a magazine,which he edited, that a few months ago he had felt in his sleep the need of a woman, despite the abduction pledge of sexual intercourse that he had taken years ago. This feeling scared him, but he managed to rein in it. He wanted the world to know every side and learn through his experiences.
“I believe that a man is the strongest soldier for daring to die unarmed.”
In the mid-1930s, as Gandhi observed the unfavorable conditions prevailing in countries such as Germany, China and Czechoslovakia, he realized that World War II was not far. Even then, he did not lose his faith in the power of peaceful attitude. This Gandhi’s pacifism arose, on the one hand, from his disappointment with his country’s relationship with Britain, which was to be an opponent of Axis forces, and, on the other hand,from his mental development and peaceful relationship with himself.
He was particularly aware of the suffering of the Jews of Germany and the people of Czechoslovakia, whose country had been betrayed to Hitler. He suggested that the Czechoslovak refuse to fight, since their defeat by the German army was certain, and to adopt a non-violent attitude. He argued that the sovereign tendencies of the Germans and the Italians had nothing to offer to the moral evolution of humanity. He expressed his sympathy for the Jews, who felt them as the untouchables of the Christian world. And for them, he suggested that a Satyagraha attitude should be maintained, as it could even evolve into heroic self-sacrifice, against Hitler’s mood. He believed that defending the rights of a people should be done with his own blood and not with the blood of his opponents.
In December 1938, a representative of the Japanese Parliament visited India in search of the alliance between the two countries. He argued that Asia should only be governed by Asians. Gandhi said he would not give his consent to the alliance if it meant war against the Europeans.
Since the beginning of the war, Gandhi had declared his moral support to Great Britain for its defense against the Axis forces, but he was not prepared to join them or to defend India with an army. On the other hand, Congress was willing to join forces with the army if the United Kingdom in return met India’s independence claim. Although he was opposed to this aspect, Gandhi supported it in negotiations with Britain, but he said that it could not promise their independence. As a result, Congress denied assistance to England.
Britain’s Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, could not even think of his country separating from its colonies.However, having been pressured by both the Government of the United Kingdom and the United States, he decided to send his representative to New Delhi to hold meetings with representatives of the Indian Congress, in March 1942. Finally, Churchill’s proposal in the negotiations was rejected by the Indians, as he gave India political and administrative independence, but stipulated that much of the Indian Parliament would come from the princes of India, to whom England was influential, thus maintaining a degree of control over the country’s political affairs. The same proclamation stipulated that any province that did not wish to co-operate with the Indian state that was to be established could be separated from it, a move that would lead to the fragmentation of the country, which Gandhi wanted to avoid.
During the World War II and while the Japanese army approached India, England was unable to protect its colony against a possible invasion. In the mainland of India there was turmoil as the Indians were immobilized and unable to protect themselves and their country.
Under these circumstances, the Indian Congress had decided that the end of British sovereignty in the country was imperative. If full independence was given to India, Allied forces would be able to use areas of the country as the bases of their troops. If they did not accept their request, they would hold a peaceful protest with Gandhi guiding them.
A few days later, Gandhi and other members of Congress were taken to prison. This triggered a violent popular revolt throughout India, with disasters of buildings and railroads, as well as attacks on the police, which had lost control of the situation.
While in prison, Gandhi started a correspondence with Regent Linlithgow. Gandhi made it clear that Congress’s decisions until then were friendly to the Allied forces, so the English Government led the people to the Revolution with the imprisonments. The Regent, though, accused Gandhi of the violence. As a sign of protest and apparently affected by the unfair accusations, Gandhi decided to start a 21-day fast. He managed to complete this test even though he suffered from nausea with problems with his heartbeats and with the liver and although he got close to death.
The fact that Gandhi was imprisoned at a time when India needed him so much, and his inability to suppress the violence of the people, was a huge psychological burden. This burden was exacerbated by the death of his beloved friend and counselor, Mahadev Desai, in prison. Moreover, Gandhi’s wife died while he was in prison, who had been infected with chronic bronchitis. Gandhi said he could not imagine his life without her, but he was excited as she died on his feet. A few weeks after her death, Gandhi suffered malaria with alarmingly high fever. After a few days, he and his partners were released.
Gandhi has always believed that friendship among Indians and Muslims was a basic prerequisite for India’s independence. Thus, in September 1944, negotiations began between him and the leader of the Muslim party, Mohamed Ali Jinnah. Jinnah claimed the formation of two nations, one Indian and one Muslim. Gandhi proposed, after India’s independence was proclaimed, that elections would be held in the areas inhabited by many Muslims and the residents would decide whether they preferred to remain united with the rest of India or to form a separate Muslim state. Jinnah insisted on this decision to be taken prior to India’s declaration of independence, and only Muslim residents of these provinces to vote in those elections.
This was impossible, according to Gandhi, since it was impossible for the Muslims to decide for the fate of all the inhabitants of their regions. In this way, Jinnah, who was not in a hurry to get the autonomy he wanted, hied to put pressure on Gandhi, who saw a unique opportunity in that time for India to become independent.
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
In March 1945, Lord Wavell took over the duties of the Reign of England. After a few months, he released the remaining members of the Indian Congress. Negotiations have then begun to form a new India governance plan.
Wavell proposed the establishment of an Executive Council, which would make decisions on important issues, such as the country’s economy and security. All members of the Council would be Indians, Hindus and Muslims, while only the Regent and the Chief of Staff would be English. Jinnah hindered the Council’s recommendation because it was a condition that all Muslims who participated in it should be chosen by him. What he was asking was impossible, as many prominent Muslims who could become members did not belong to his party.
Meanwhile, World War II ended and Churchill as a Prime Minister of England succeeded Clement R. Attlee. The new Labor government officialized the establishment of an autonomous government in India in September 1945.
Jinnah made it clear that he would work together to set up the new government if Gandhi accepted some provinces to seperate from India and to join the state of Pakistan. Of course, Gandhi, whose dream was the twinning between Indians and Muslims, would avoid at all costs this partition.
In February 1946, a Mission composed of British politicians arrived in New Delhi to discuss with India’s party leaders the terms of independence of India. Gandhi participated throughout the meetings.
After a period of ineffective efforts, the Mission called the Congress and the Muslim party to send their representatives for negotiations. As the situation had reached a dead end, Gandhi asked the British Mission to propose a solution. This proposal was ready in May 1946 and, according to Gandhi, there were very favorable terms. However, the Muslims held a suspicious attitude, not to undermine their rights and their position from this proposal. Eventually, after a few days, they agreed to Wavell’s proposal to set up a provisional government. What was left was the consent from Congress, which a week later was not given. Thus, considering that the two sides could not agree, Wavell decided to choose the members of the Temporary Government.
In July of the same year, a vote of the Congress Committee was held to decide whether they would be reconciled with the creation of a temporary government. Before the proceedings began, Gandhi made a speech, admitting that the particular proposal of England should be accepted, according to his mind, but his instincts brought some doubts, and so he infected with these doubts the other associates too. However, he would never follow his instincts, if this was not supported by logical arguments. He therefore urged the members of the Commission to trust the English, despite the negative experiences of the past, since the Indians were responsible for allowing England to exploit them while conflicts were taking place. The majority of members voted in favor of the agreement with the English proposal, but there was also a considerable number of those who voted against, bringing to light the doubts they still had about their former conquerors.
Wavell once again asked Congress and Jinnah to nominate people to form a government. Jawaharlal Nehru, a Gandhi’s student and friend, who succeeded him as the head of the congress, gathered the people they needed, but Jinnah refused to cooperate. Instead, a few days later, his party announced an “Instant Action Day”, where battles and violent blows took place between Muslims and Hindus in Calcutta, which lasted 4 days and resulted in thousands of deaths and even more injuries. On September 2nd, Nehru was declared a Prime Minister of India, and Jinnah declared a public mourning on that day. After pressure from the Regent, Jinnah eventually nominated five people for the Government. However, the division between Muslims and Hindus within the Government was evident and created further hate and violence among the citizens.
Gandhi constantly preached against the violence between the two religions. Congressional members and local leaders visited him to have his guidance. In October, he was informed about Muslim attacks on Hindus in the Noakhali area: Hindus deaths, female kidnappings, fire in houses and temples. Gandhi has decided to go to the area and undertake the situation, despite the dangers he had suffered and his weakness. He felt that his life would not make sense if he did not succeed in restoring peace.
When the news from Noakhali arrived in Bihar’s neighboring area, where there were a majority of Hindus, they launched attacks on Muslims of the region in a frantic situation, ending in massacres. There were officially about 5,000 deaths, mostly Muslims, unofficially twice as many.
Under these conditions and at the age of 77, Gandhi went to Noakhali to undertake an attempt, which, according to him, was the most difficult of his life. He was even ready to die on his attempt to eradicate violence. So a journey started, where he walked barefoot from village to village, staying in each for a few days, talking to the residents and praying with them. Many times, sharp objects, glasses and mudslides were on his way, but he insisted on walking barefoot, as it was a journey of repentance for the sins not only of the inhabitants but also of him, who had not yet been able to reconcile them. He tried to show the peasants, especially those who were suspicious, spending time with them, that he had good intentions.
Considering the situation, the best solution would be to find two people, a Muslim and a Hindus, from each village and appoint them peacekeepers and they should be willing to even sacrifice their lives in order to fulfill their duty.
During the four-month period spent in Noakhali, he visited a total of 49 villages. The Muslims were entering his group prayers and many hosted him in their houses. However, he received negative criticism from Calcutta’s politicians and Muslim priests. Sometimes, on the footsteps that he walked, he encountered banners with threatening messages for himself, prompting him to give up his efforts. However, the crowd gathered in his meetings grew more and more, reaching as many as 5,000 people.
The situation has gradually begun to be smooth out. Muslims voluntarily returned spoils stolen from Hindu houses. The incidents of violence had fallen dramatically, and now the Hindus who had left the region could return without risking attacks. Gandhi, having restored peace, felt it was time to leave Noakhali.
Jinnah exerted pressure to divide India and build Pakistan. The proposal of the Mission was to divide India into three federal units. This proposal was approved by a majority of Congress members. Nehru was aware of the fact that this move would mean the future establishment of the independent state of Pakistan, but he gave his assent to a desperate attempt to escape the civil war. Gandhi never approved this partition.
Congress was not willing to allow large geographical areas, where most of the people were Hindus, to be annexed wholeheartedly to the state of Pakistan. Therefore, the proposal of the new Referee Mountbatten to Jinnah included the following: some provinces to separate from India and to be annexed to Pakistan. Two of these provinces, however, Punjab and Bengal should be divided, too. A section of them will be annexed to Pakistan and the rest will remain in the territory of India. Jinnah, after a long argument, agreed.
After a few days, Gandhi and Jinnah in a public statement condemned aggression between the two peoples. During that time, Gandhi called everyday prayer meetings open to the public asking for quorums to be read from the Koran, attempting in this way to cultivate tolerance for the Muslim religion in Hindus.
Eventually, Pakistan was seceded from India. On August 17th, 1947, India was proclaimed an independent state. However, Gandhi could not participate in the celebrations, since he considered its partition as a tragedy. He felt that all the attempts of the previous decades had been lost. The people now considered Gandhi as a divine being, something like Christ or Muhammad. They worshiped his name and sought his blessing, but rejected his sermons.
“It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.”
Gandhi, when he was a teenager, used to treat his sick father with love and commitment. When he grew up, his desire was to become a doctor, but his family’s tradition of engaging in politics made him turn to legal studies. It is not, therefore, surprising that during the last two years of his life he decided to deal with natural methods of healing. He founded a center in a village where he and other partners offered peasants advice on health problems, such as pray, sunbathing, fruit juice and large amounts of water, as well as mud and massage treatments.
Gandhi was characterized by great compassion for those who suffered, and was pleased to relieve others from their pain and heal them as if it was his natural tendency. This was a role he had taken from an early age in his family and he was happy to keep it in his whole life, both in the family, by taking care of his own family members every time they were sick, and in the context of social offering, providing knowledge and health services to the peasants.
“Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is.”
After Pakistan was separated from the rest of India, disputes between Hindus and Muslims started again, which often resulted in bloody incidents. The followers of the religion that was a minority in each region were attacked by the followers of the other religion.
Gandhi decided to visit Calcutta in August 1947, one of the areas where upheavals were frequent. The violence disappeared from the places he visited, the people glorified and the two peoples reconciled each other to his prayer meetings.
One night, a multitude of Muslims gathered around the house that was hosting him.They were furious, because an Indian had stabbed a Muslim. They entered the house violently and struck Gandhi and his friends. The police arrived and suppressed the situation, but Gandhi started fasting.
After a few days, Gandhi was informed that no incident had taken place in the city over the last 24 hours, while the leaders of the assailants and intimidation groups promised they were reluctant to put an end to this brutality. People from all religions and social classes pledged ominous. Gandhi demanded a written promise, which was given to him, resulting in the end of his fasting, which lasted 73 hours.
He then visited Delhi, where millions of Hindus refugees from Pakistan were arriving, often displaced the Muslims from their houses and occupied them. Gandhi denied these actions and urged Muslims to stay in their houses. He had a meeting with Hindus militias who had been accused of violence and urged them to use their power to pacify the situation and not to worsen it. Finally, he went to refugee camps, where he advised them to keep their discipline as well as their cleanliness and tried to gather blankets and clothing for them.
With these actions, Gandhi was able to restore peace to a significant extent. He awakened people’s consciousness, spoke in their hearts and was able to cultivate respect for any difference, raising their hopes for a better world.
During his childhood, Gandhi often listened to his father’s conversations with friends about different religions and disagreements. Since then he desired to see the faithful people of all different religions coexist harmoniously. This desire seems to inspire his perpetual attempt to reconcile the Hindus with the Muslims, which remained until the end of his life.
After the situation in India had been normalized to a certain extent, Gandhi wanted to go to Pakistan to deal with the fate of the Hindu minorities. But the fact that the outbursts and discrimination against Muslims in India had not been completely eradicated, prevented him from doing so. He felt helpless and decided to fast until death, until absolute peace come in Delhi.
From the very first day of his fast, in the house of Congressional President Dr Rajendra Prasad, meetings of representatives from all religious communities and the army started taking place in order to find a solution for the establishment of real peace.
On the sixth day of his fasting, a conference was held, attended by the majority of Congressmen, Prasad, Nehru, representatives of the Indian Army, the police chief, the ambassador of Pakistan, as well as individuals of all religions. They pledged to protect the Muslims’ life, property and religion and to eradicate outbreaks of violence. Gandhi, having learned of new incidents in the Allahabad region, stressed that the government should also be interested in the situation out of the region of Delhi. He expressed his sorrow to crying publicly, a fact that made his audience to cry too. After assurances and requests from all attendees, he decided to end his fasting.
“The good man is the friend of all living things.”
On January 30th, 1948, Gandhi, at the age of 78, was shot three times with a small pistol by his fellow countryman, while walking toward the afternoon prayer meeting by supporting his two grandchildren, Abha and Manu. As the bullets penetrated his body, he fell to the earth murmuring “Hey Rama” (Oh, God). It was fatal!
The offender was a 35-year-old Hindus named Nathuram Godse. He was dissatisfied with the decision taken after Gandhi’s fasting to remove the Muslim mosques from the Indian refugees, who had found shelter there by displacing the Muslims from their places of worship. He belonged to a group of Indians who planned to kill Gandhi. A few days ago, another member of his team had made an unsuccessful attempt of murder with a grenade at the time of a prayer meeting.
Gandhi’s death rocked all over India. The death procession followed 1.5 million people and even more were attending. Thousands of soldiers, sailors and policemen parade before the ceremony. His body was deposited on the raised ceiling of a bulky vehicle of the army, so that it was visible to the public, carried by 200 Indian soldiers pulling ropes in a two-mile course. Gandhi’s son, Ramdas, lit his dead fire, while the attendants were torn apart.
The murder of Gandhi, a simple, peaceful man who loved and respected even his enemies, caused unprecedented pain and shock to the Indian nation.A moment after the fatal shots, Nehru choked his cry announcing on the radio the death of the father of the Indian nation, the man who led India to freedom. He described his death as a light that died out of their lives.Others described his death to a second crucifixion.Millions of people worldwide mourned for him. They may not have been aware of his work but appreciated him as a good person.
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Get inspired from Mahatma Gandhi most important quotes and mottos:
• Where there is love there is life.
• The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.
• First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.
• Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.
• Prayer is the key of the morning and the bolt of the evening.
• You must be the change you wish to see in the world.
• The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.
• An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.
• Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.
• When I admire the wonders of a sunset or the beauty of the moon, my soul expands in the worship of the creator.
• It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.
• Nobody can hurt me without my permission.
• A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.
• Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.
• You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.
• In a gentle way, you can shake the world.
• Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment, full effort is full victory.
• Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding.
• Action expresses priorities.
• The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.
• A man is but the product of his thoughts what he thinks, he becomes.
• There is a sufficiency in the world for man’s need but not for man’s greed.
• Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.
• Poverty is the worst form of violence.
• I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.
• A coward is incapable of exhibiting love; it is the prerogative of the brave.
• Anger is the enemy of non-violence and pride is a monster that swallows it up.
• It may be possible to gild pure gold, but who can make his mother more beautiful?
• The real ornament of woman is her character, her purity.
• No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive.
• The essence of all religions is one. Only their approaches are different.
• Morality is the basis of things and truth is the substance of all morality.
• Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.
• Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth.
• Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by the fear of punishment and the other by acts of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent then the one derived from fear of punishment.
• If patience is worth anything, it must endure to the end of time. And a living faith will last in the midst of the blackest storm.
• There is more to life than increasing its speed.
• My life is my message.
• Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress.
• All compromise is based on give and take, but there can be no give and take on fundamentals. Any compromise on mere fundamentals is a surrender. For it is all give and no take.
• The moment there is suspicion about a person’s motives, everything he does becomes tainted.
• An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.
• If I had no sense of humor, I would long ago have committed suicide.
• You can chain me, you can torture me, you can even destroy this body, but you will never imprison my mind.
• A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.
• Non-violence requires a double faith, faith in God and also faith in man.
• To believe in something, and not to live it, is dishonest.
• Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is.
• We may stumble and fall but shall rise again; it should be enough if we did not run away from the battle.
• Service which is rendered without joy helps neither the servant nor the served. But all other pleasures and possessions pale into nothingness before service which is rendered in a spirit of joy.
• Truth stands, even if there be no public support. It is self-sustained.
• Jesus is ideal and wonderful, but you Christians – you are not like him.
• Self-respect knows no considerations.
• It is the quality of our work which will please God and not the quantity.
• There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supercedes all other courts.
• Glory lies in the attempt to reach one’s goal and not in reaching it.
• Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as is cooperation with good.
• The good man is the friend of all living things.
• Gentleness, self-sacrifice and generosity are the exclusive possession of no one race or religion.
• Peace is its own reward.
• Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit.
• A man who was completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act.
• Confession of errors is like a broom which sweeps away the dirt and leaves the surface brighter and clearer. I feel stronger for confession.
• A ‘No’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘Yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.
• I think it is the height of ignorance to believe that the sexual act is an independent function necessary like sleeping or eating. Seeing, therefore, that I did not desire more children, I began to strive after self-control. There was endless difficulty in the task.
• When restraint and courtesy are added to strength, the latter becomes irresistible.
• Intolerance betrays want of faith in one’s cause.
• It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence.
• I am prepared to die, but there is no cause for which I am prepared to kill.
• God, as Truth, has been for me a treasure beyond price. May He be so to every one of us.
• I believe in equality for everyone, except reporters and photographers.
• I claim that human mind or human society is not divided into watertight compartments called social, political and religious. All act and react upon one another.
• I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and Non-violence are as old as the hills. All I have done is to try experiments in both on as vast a scale as I could.
• Nearly everything you do is of no importance, but it is important that you do it.
• The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems.
• The human voice can never reach the distance that is covered by the still small voice of conscience.
• Non-violence and truth are inseparable and presuppose one another.
• In matters of conscience, the law of the majority has no place.
• I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.
• Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French.
• Non-violence is the article of faith.
• It has always been a mystery to me how men can feel themselves honoured by the humiliation of their fellow beings.
• Everyone who wills can hear the inner voice. It is within everyone.
• The main purpose of life is to live rightly, think rightly, act rightly. The soul must languish when we give all our thought to the body.
• Partition is bad. But whatever is past is past. We have only to look to the future.
• Ours is one continued struggle against degradation sought to be inflicted upon us by the European, who desire to degrade us to the level of the raw Kaffir, whose occupation is hunting and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with, and then pass his life in indolence and nakedness.
• Prayer is a confession of one’s own unworthiness and weakness.
• There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.
• God sometimes does try to the uttermost those whom he wishes to bless.
• A policy is a temporary creed liable to be changed, but while it holds good it has got to be pursued with apostolic zeal.
• Each one has to find his peace from within. And peace to be real must be unaffected by outside circumstances.
• I did once seriously think of embracing the Christian faith. The gentle figure of Christ, so full of forgiveness that he taught his followers not to retaliate when abused or struck, but to turn the other cheek – I thought it was a beautiful example of the perfect man.
• Faith is not something to grasp, it is a state to grow into.
• Before the throne of the Almighty, man will be judged not by his acts but by his intentions. For God alone reads our hearts.
• Let us all be brave enough to die the death of a martyr, but let no one lust for martyrdom.
• Whatever you do may seem insignificant to you, but it is most important that you do it.
• My religion is based on truth and non-violence. Truth is my God. Non-violence is the means of realising Him.
• The only tyrant I accept in this world is the still voice within.
• I am in the world feeling my way to light ‘amid the encircling gloom.’
• Where love is, there God is also.
• Morality which depends upon the helplessness of a man or woman has not much to recommend it. Morality is rooted in the purity of our hearts.
• Non-violence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our being.
• Truth is by nature self-evident. As soon as you remove the cobwebs of ignorance that surround it, it shines clear.
• Healthy discontent is the prelude to progress.
• We do not need to proselytise either by our speech or by our writing. We can only do so really with our lives. Let our lives be open books for all to study.
• We win justice quickest by rendering justice to the other party.
• It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.
• Prayer is not an old woman’s idle amusement. Properly understood and applied, it is the most potent instrument of action.
• Violent means will give violent freedom. That would be a menace to the world and to India herself.
• I believe that a man is the strongest soldier for daring to die unarmed.
• Religion is more than life. Remember that his own religion is the truest to every man even if it stands low in the scales of philosophical comparison.
• Are creeds such simple things like the clothes which a man can change at will and put on at will? Creeds are such for which people live for ages and ages.
• An unjust law is itself a species of violence. Arrest for its breach is more so.
• I will far rather see the race of man extinct than that we should become less than beasts by making the noblest of God’s creation, woman, the object of our lust.
• But for my faith in God, I should have been a raving maniac.
• Capital as such is not evil; it is its wrong use that is evil. Capital in some form or other will always be needed.
• I look only to the good qualities of men. Not being faultless myself, I won’t presume to probe into the faults of others.
• Violent men have not been known in history to die to a man. They die up to a point.
• As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world – that is the myth of the atomic age – as in being able to remake ourselves.
• What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?
• Fear has its use but cowardice has none.
• Man’s nature is not essentially evil. Brute nature has been known to yield to the influence of love. You must never despair of human nature.
• The law of sacrifice is uniform throughout the world. To be effective it demands the sacrifice of the bravest and the most spotless.
• To deprive a man of his natural liberty and to deny to him the ordinary amenities of life is worse then starving the body; it is starvation of the soul, the dweller in the body.
• An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it.
• Let not the 12 million Negroes be ashamed of the fact that they are the grandchildren of slaves. There is dishonor in being slave-owners.
• Each one prays to God according to his own light.
• It is any day better to stand erect with a broken and bandaged head then to crawl on one’s belly, in order to be able to save one’s head.
• I claim to be a simple individual liable to err like any other fellow mortal. I own, however, that I have humility enough to confess my errors and to retrace my steps.
• Nonviolence is the first article of my faith. It is also the last article of my creed.
• Infinite striving to be the best is man’s duty; it is its own reward. Everything else is in God’s hands.
• There is nothing that wastes the body like worry, and one who has any faith in God should be ashamed to worry about anything whatsoever.
• I took the vow of celibacy in 1906. I had not shared my thoughts with my wife until then, but only consulted her at the time of making the vow. She had no objection.
• Man falls from the pursuit of the ideal of plan living and high thinking the moment he wants to multiply his daily wants. Man’s happiness really lies in contentment.
• Sense perceptions can be and often are false and deceptive, however real they may appear to us. Where there is realization outside the senses, it is infallible. It is proved not by extraneous evidence but in the transformed conduct and character of those who have felt the real presence of God within.
• I believe in the fundamental truth of all great religions of the world.
• Non-violence, which is the quality of the heart, cannot come by an appeal to the brain.
• It is my own firm belief that the strength of the soul grows in proportion as you subdue the flesh.
• Freedom is never dear at any price. It is the breath of life. What would a man not pay for living?
• Man can never be a woman’s equal in the spirit of selfless service with which nature has endowed her.
• Interdependence is and ought to be as much the ideal of man as self-sufficiency. Man is a social being.
• The spirit of democracy is not a mechanical thing to be adjusted by abolition of forms. It requires change of heart.
• I am a humble but very earnest seeker after truth.
• A principle is the expression of perfection, and as imperfect beings like us cannot practise perfection, we devise every moment limits of its compromise in practice.
• A vow is a purely religious act which cannot be taken in a fit of passion. It can be taken only with a mind purified and composed and with God as witness.
• I wear the national dress because it is the most natural and the most becoming for an Indian.
• For me every ruler is alien that defies public opinion.
• Spiritual relationship is far more precious than physical. Physical relationship divorced from spiritual is body without soul.
• I do all the evil I can before I learn to shun it? Is it not enough to know the evil to shun it? If not, we should be sincere enough to admit that we love evil too well to give it up.
• Freedom is not worth having if it does not connote freedom to err.
• To give pleasure to a single heart by a single act is better than a thousand heads bowing in prayer.
• Morality is contraband in war.
• Commonsense is the realised sense of proportion.
• God cannot be realized through the intellect. Intellect can lead one to a certain extent and no further. It is a matter of faith and experience derived from that faith.
• Let everyone try and find that as a result of daily prayer he adds something new to his life, something with which nothing can be compared.
• Only he can take great resolves who has indomitable faith in God and has fear of God.
• Moral authority is never retained by any attempt to hold on to it. It comes without seeking and is retained without effort.
• That service is the noblest which is rendered for its own sake.
• Constant development is the law of life, and a man who always tries to maintain his dogmas in order to appear consistent drives himself into a false position.
• God is, even though the whole world deny him. Truth stands, even if there be no public support. It is self-sustained.
• We should meet abuse by forbearance. Human nature is so constituted that if we take absolutely no notice of anger or abuse, the person indulging in it will soon weary of it and stop.
• There is an orderliness in the universe, there is an unalterable law governing everything and every being that exists or lives. It is no blind law; for no blind law can govern the conduct of living beings.
• The pursuit of truth does not permit violence on one’s opponent.
• Religion is a matter of the heart. No physical inconvenience can warrant abandonment of one’s own religion.
• Measures must always in a progressive society be held superior to men, who are after all imperfect instruments, working for their fulfilment.
• Purity of personal life is the one indispensable condition for building up a sound education.
• I know, to banish anger altogether from one’s breast is a difficult task. It cannot be achieved through pure personal effort. It can be done only by God’s grace.
• What is true of the individual will be tomorrow true of the whole nation if individuals will but refuse to lose heart and hope.
• Action is no less necessary than thought to the instinctive tendencies of the human frame.
• Increase of material comforts, it may be generally laid down, does not in any way whatsoever conduce to moral growth.
• I have also seen children successfully surmounting the effects of an evil inheritance. That is due to purity being an inherent attribute of the soul.
• All the religions of the world, while they may differ in other respects, unitedly proclaim that nothing lives in this world but Truth.
• Faith… must be enforced by reason… when faith becomes blind it dies.
• Just as a man would not cherish living in a body other than his own, so do nations not like to live under other nations, however noble and great the latter may be.
• We may have our private opinions but why should they be a bar to the meeting of hearts?
• A religion that takes no account of practical affairs and does not help to solve them is no religion.
• A weak man is just by accident. A strong but non-violent man is unjust by accident.
• Fear of death makes us devoid both of valour and religion. For want of valour is want of religious faith.
• One’s own religion is after all a matter between oneself and one’s Maker and no one else’s.
• I would heartily welcome the union of East and West provided it is not based on brute force.
• If a man reaches the heart of his own religion, he has reached the heart of the others, too. There is only one God, and there are many paths to him.
• Though we may know Him by a thousand names, He is one and the same to us all.
• If co-operation is a duty, I hold that non-co-operation also under certain conditions is equally a duty.
• Unwearied ceaseless effort is the price that must be paid for turning faith into a rich infallible experience.
• Rights that do not flow from duty well performed are not worth having.
• Man is supposed to be the maker of his destiny. It is only partly true. He can make his destiny, only in so far as he is allowed by the Great Power.
• I claim to be a simple individual liable to err like any other fellow mortal. I own, however, that I have humility enough in me to confess my errors and to retrace my steps.
• Man lives freely only by his readiness to die, if need be, at the hands of his brother, never by killing him.
• Every formula of every religion has in this age of reason, to submit to the acid test of reason and universal assent.
• I reject any religious doctrine that does not appeal to reason and is in conflict with morality.
“All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions.”
As in the life of this inventor prevail some facts and events that schematize this personality, we realize that here we are with the character of a real genius. Early on his life, he had revealed and portrayed his diversity and eagerness in sketching and designing, striving for observation and experimentation that accompanied him throughout his entire life. He never stopped questioning and posing questions of matters we take for granted. “Why is the sky blue?”, for instance… His diving into the world of knowledge was a quest that was his way of living and being. Even though he did not get a classical education, he would always retrieve the answer to his queries through experimentation. What could have once been a point of discomfort now became his way of seeing things that through action and experiments and observation do we derive the desired results. He often showed off his knowledge gained from experience that was superior to the knowledge gained from reading. In general, he was a very lively person with many talents, very pleasant and appealing. Besides his handsome looks, his outgoing and generous personality brought him many friends and followers. He was a cheerful performer with his lyre and musical instruments but also with his singing and spontaneous verse constructing talent, which made him a pleasant company. He engaged in discussions and raised peculiar issues and topics in order to find answers to his queries and absorb new information from his encounters. He managed to concentrate and keep all his power in line with his knowledge quest and in every form of being, either drawing or having a conversation. He was a source of information, especially while he was growing older with experience on his background. He was a good companion and teacher to his last patron, the king of France. What would result in peaceful elderly years… He was homosexual and diverse, and did not attempt to hide it. Although he was accused of sodomy and the political and social situation did not put up with homosexuality, he still preserved the freedom of being himself. He wore pink outfits shorter than what it was accustomed and he cared for his appearance. He spent money on clothes for both himself and Salai, his companion. As he was clever, he cared for animals, he was vegetarian and he wore clothes that were not made out of animal skin. This was a personal sensitivity that embarked in his being exclusively, since it was not a trend of the time like it is nowadays. He evolved in an era where the arts were not a claustrophobic process of an isolated creator, but rather a get-together of many researchers of many fields working side by side and collaborating into creating projects, and even living together. From the time he was a student till the times he moved from city to city and from royal court to royal court, till when he was accompanied by his crew, he was always surrounded by creative people. This encouraged the exchange of ideas and the brainstorming on issues to further emphasize the yearning for perfection. Perfectionist! He was a real perfectionist, indeed… He was skilled in so many disciplines; however, his output has been surprisingly small as he failed to complete his paintings and he was easily bored. He was the archetypal Renaissance polymath, a creative genius whose inventiveness flourished across a bewildering range of disciplines… His work offered brilliant insights into many fields such as human and animal anatomy, natural history or engineering… Many analysts have striven to give an insight to this great mind, even Freud, and have all spoiled us with intriguing theories. He was restless, before completing one thought he would forcefully enter the next one and his sketches are crafted about different and diverse issues one next to the other. He enjoyed composing rather than executing his ideas, preferred the conception phase. This is probably why he never published any of his investigations which where all in depth and a valuable donation to humanity. Anyway, for whatever reason, Leonardo was notoriously tardy about finishing things. Once a work was almost ready or finished, he lost interest in it… Thus, although he left a voluminous fragmentary archive of sketches, drawings and writings, his artistic reputation rests on a very small number of paintings and artwork.
“Tears come from the heart and not from the brain.”
Leonardo was fortunate enough to be born out of wedlock. This occurrence enabled him to deal with his diverse interests and not with his family’s notarial tradition, which reaches five generations back. It all finds its roots from Sir Michele da Vinci, a prominent title due to the importance and honesty of his profession.The same course was followed by his son and grandson, with the exception of the next generation in Antonio, Leonardo’s grandfather, who simply pleased to enjoy his title and the profits earned by his family, without putting much effort in developing his career. Research into Leonardo’s genealogy traces his family’s roots to Spain and Morocco as Antonio da Vinci, Leonardo’s grandfather, regularly did business in Spain and Morocco and his contacts with the Arab culture and Islam, his tales about documents written in exotic-looking writing, pigments, spices and fantastic landscapes, all likely influenced Leonardo. Piero, his son and father of Leonardo, an authentic Da Vinci, restored the family’s reputation and excelled in the courtyards of the Medici as a notary. On a trip to Vinci, Piero met with Caterina di Meo Lippi, an orphan girl from the region, who, nine months later, gave birth to a boy, Leonardo. At the time of his birth, Antonio, who was playing backgammon at the time, was summoned to draw up the notarial act of the birth of Leonardo on April 15th, a Saturday of 1452. His baptism was attended by honorary members of society, he was baptized by ten godfathers and his father attended. The baptistry still exists in that same church nowadays. It is worth mentioning that Piero did not play an active role in raising Leonardo. However, although Leonardo was illegitimate, he was accepted into his father’s household and reared there.
“It’s easier to resist at the beginning than at the end.”
Leonardo was raised happily in two houses. He lived with his mother, Caterina di Meo Lippi, along with her husband, whom Piero himself made arrangements for the marriage. He lived also in the Da Vinci yard, with his father where the two families maintained relationships, and shared the growing up of the young Leonardo.He had a very good relationship with his grandfather Antonio and his grandmother. Likewise, Francesco, his uncle, fifteen years older than Leonardo, cared for him as if he was a child of his own.
Leonardo was born at a time when children out of wedlock were not a dishonor. Many great artists of the time were born out of marriage, such as Philipo Lippi, Vocakio, Leon Batista Alberti and others. This made Leonardo feel like being part of his family but also at the same time alienated like a stranger to the society as a whole. This creates isolation as well as a freedom; this fact, in the case of Leonardo, was a trigger for his curiosity that leads to his journey of research and success.
“It is probably my fate to write about the hawk, since among the first memories of my early years is the impression that while I sat in my crib, a hawk approached, opened my mouth with its tail and struck me with it several times at the inside of my lips. ” This testimony of Leonardo has been approached by many scholars, and among them Freud, where he identifies this experience as the precursor of his homosexuality. Also the famous psychoanalyst notes that for the artist, his asphyxiated desires found expression in the intense creativity but he ended up leaving many projects incomplete. Leonardo himself had pointed out that “mental passion evades sensuality.” Others simply argue that this remembrance reflects his life-long interest in flying and birds.
“The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.”
Leonardo da Vinci left a legacy bigger than life and Florence was the place where it all started, in within its very walls! After the death of his step mother Albeira, the first partner of Piero, to be followed by another three marriages, his father brought him to Florence. Since the expected child died at birth along with his wife, Piero felt alone and brought him to Florence, to live with him in his big house.Thus, in his early years, the great creator lived with his father, who attentively cared for his son and his education, however, never arriving at legally recognizing him as his son. Thus, the artistically busy Florence had been Leonardo’s place of inspiration for all the years of his teenage and young age.A scenic city that lived a cultural and economic development in a vibrant environment for artistic apprenticeship and exploration.It was the time of Brunelleschi, the inventor of perspective, and Alberti, who in his writings “On Painting” recognizes painters as creators equal to any other humanist quests.
“Learning never exhausts the mind.”
Da Vinci received no formal education beyond basic reading, writing and math, but his father appreciated his artistic talent and apprenticed him, at around age 14, to the noted sculptor and painter Andrea del Verrocchio of Florence. Piero noticed that his son would not stop painting, experimenting in sculpture and revealing his vivid imagination at every step of the way. The notary was clearly not one of his interests. So he took care of his education accordingly, first by finding him a teacher, then, by enrolling him in a technical high school, and, later on, by apprenticing him in the studio of the then-known Verrocchio. He did not get a classical education, nor did he learn any Latin that undermined the status of his education as a researcher throughout his life. Nevertheless, he was given enough skill to cope with his own curiosity and observation to offer the world his multifaceted discoveries. He always felt that experience and revelation is the true way towards the conquest of knowledge. From his technical high school years, he learned some basic mathematics and geometry, which later helped him in his explorations in mechanics, and his series of inventions. As left-handed Leonardo, he wrote from right to left and formed the letters horizontally mirrored. His writings are read through a mirror. This is why his notes are coded-like and rumors do apply that he wrote them this way to keep his pioneering creations as a secret. However, it is only rumors…
“Where there is shouting, there is no true knowledge.”
Verrocchio’s studio was at the center of the intellectual currents of Florence, assuring the young Leonardo of an education in the humanities. Verrocchio was a famous and multi-talented artist and engineer and his studio was one of the most audacious in Florence.His teacher was left speechless with Leonardo’s talent in painting and drawing and he immediately welcomed him at his studio. There, besides assimilating many tools for his art, Leonardo felt welcomed by his classmates. He had a demanding teaching program that included a study of various painting surfaces, principles of engineering, design techniques and three-dimensional fabric imaging.He showed great ability to manage three-dimensional patterns on a two-dimensional surface, and he managed to develop his knowledge of engineering by witnessing the production of great sculptures that the studio undertook over that time. His ability and inventiveness have also devised his own techniques, the well-known “sfumato” technique, which as a style will enchant the whole world with the most mysterious smile of the art history. The roots of the word come from the Italian ‘fumo’ which means smoke, and signifies the concept of color diffusion and the vagueness of the outline. Da Vinci himself described the “sfumato” technique as “without lines or borders, in the manner of smoke or beyond the picture plane.”
“Knowledge of the past and of the places of the earth is the ornament and food of the mind of man.”
At the age of 20, Leonardo qualified as a master in the Guild of Saint Luke, the guild of artists and doctors of medicine, but even after his father set him up in his own studio, his attachment to Verrocchio was such that he continued to collaborate with him. He participated in the completion of paintings as well as in other works. One of them, the Baptism of Christ, marked the story of both of them, student and teacher. The Baptism of Christ was mainly done by Verrochio using tempera on wood. The painting depicts St. John the Baptist during the baptism of the Lord Jesus Christ as according to the Gospels of Luke, Mark and Matthew. Two angels on the left side of the painting complete the four figures in the artwork. The scene illustrated by the painting includes God’s extended arms painted with golden rays and dove with its wings widely spread, a halo with cruciform is painted on top of Jesus’ head and another halo on top of St. John the Baptist. The two angels are holding Jesus’ clothes. The angel on the left side is the part done by Leonardo da Vinci. He used oil, which was at that time a new medium in painting. Leonardo painted the left angel on the painting and he executed it in such a manner that his angel was far better that the figures painted by Verrocchio. This was the reason why Verrocchio would never touch colours again, being so ashamed that a boy understood their use better than he did.
“If the poet says that he can inflame men with love.. the painter has the power to do the same…in that he can place in front of the lover the true likeness of one who is beloved, often making him kiss and speak to it”
We are witnesses of some works made by the student Leonardo and some of his first drawings, such as the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary and his two Madonnas, the Virgin Mary with the carnation and the Virgin Mary with the divine infant with flowers. Also, the portrait of Jenevra de Benci, that serves as a prologue to the Mona Lisa, a painting where he introduces the three-quarter posture, an innovation in the Italian painting to that day. The painting shows an incipient genius and was revolutionary in the history of painting.
“If the painter wishes to see beauties that charm him it lies in his power to create them, and if he wishes to see monstrosities that are frightful, buffoonish, or ridiculous, or pitiable he can be lord and god thereof; if he wants to produce inhabited regions or deserts or dark and shady retreats from the heat, or warm places in cold weather, he can do so.”
As already mentioned above, Leonardo da Vinci invented a technique that helped softened the colors by using a dark glaze around the edge of objects. This technique is known as sfumato, this is taken from the Italian word for smoke, ‘fumo’. This produces an effect that makes the outer edges of the objects of people in the painting appear to be slightly obscured by a haze or smoke. Moreover, Leonardo invented Chiarusco Technique; he shaped his objects in two dimensions by capturing the light and shadow of three dimensions. This use of light and shadow was called chiaroscuro. That was an innovation in a day when most paintings were flattened views of the subject.
“Marriage is like putting your hand into a bag of snakes in the hope of pulling out an eel.”
It’s generally believed amongst majority of academics that Leonardo was probably gay or at least bi-sexual. Anyway, when he was twenty-four years old, Leonardo was arrested, along with several young companions, on the charge of sodomy. No witnesses appeared against them and eventually the charges were dropped. It must be said that often anonymous charges like this were brought against people just for a nuisance. Even though the complaints did not pass through, they were enough to discriminate him socially and isolate him, as he wrote in his notebooks. Leonardo, in general, was dressed in colorful tunics and vests, and did not hide his homosexuality. However, the era was not favorable, as far as diversity was concerned, neither by the church nor by political leadership and laws.The poetry announcing homosexuality in the era of Leonardo has led the accused even to death. Even the Divine Comedy, known since then, sent the Sodomites to the seventh circle of Hell. However, in Florence, homosexual relations were very well-received. Verrocchio never married, neither did Botticelli, who was also accused for sodomy, Donatello and Michael Angelo were also homosexuals.The poems of the time and the folklore songs praised homosexual love, and in the German slang Florentine meant homosexual. Several things indicate that Leonardo was also probably gay. He never married or showed any interest in women; indeed, he wrote in his notebooks that male-female intercourse disgusted him. His anatomical drawings naturally include the sexual organs of both genders, but those of the male exhibit much more extensive attention.
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
In 1477, at the age of 24, Leonardo opened his own studio leaving the nest of the studio of Verrocchio. This decision was a clear commercial failure, since, in his studio’s five years of operation, he took three orders that left all incomplete. One of them, The Adoration of the Magi, was an early painting made by Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo was given the commission by the Augustinian monks of San Donato a Scopeto, in Florence, but he departed for Milan the following year, leaving the painting unfinished and he was in debt to the monastery. However, these were the times where these works were created leaving their mark in art and in history. Moreover, it was a time when he initiated the elaborate and realistic depiction of bodies in difficult poses which he was constantly studying in his notebooks. At this point, we should also point out that da Vinci experimented with perspective to create unforgettable impressions of people and places.
“The most praiseworthy form of painting is the one that most resembles what it imitates”
Leonardo abandoned his painting works and left them incomplete for several reasons. First of all, his perfectionism found deficiencies and, sometimes, he was too bored to try to improve his designs. By studying his work and his thoughts, we also realize that he enters many difficult painterly puzzles, the shadow and the light source, bearing in mind his reflections as well as the theory that the figures had an influence on each other in their lights and colors. Imagine a composition that contained thirty figures such as the Adoration of the Magi. The execution of the project evoked a dull repetition and monotony which made the overpowering Leonardo get bored. Finally, this tireless genius preferred conceiving his works rather than executing them. Even if he completed his orders, he never delivered them. This was the case in ‘Mona Lisa’ art project. He drove his work in all his subsequent moves and, then, it was difficult to feel separated from his art piece or art pieces. He believed that there were always new things to discover on a painting, and he did not hesitate to intervene on them even after years since the last stroke.
Until his thirties, Leonardo had managed to build his reputation as a genius, no matter if he had no works to display to prove it. Facing a financial failure as regards his studio and having a permanent inner mood that he was alone and detached from friends and family, he felt it was time to make a move. So, he set off for Milan, a city that was the perfect environment for Leonardo, as Duke Ludovico invited men of letters and artists in his yard and wasted a lot of money for cultural events and fiestas. With lavish but enlightened patronage of artists and scholars, Ludovico made the court of Milan the most splendid not only in Italy but in Europe. Let us not forget that, unlike Florence, this new place was not so populated by artists, thus extinguishing the competition.So his choice was a fruitful opportunity, as it turned out in practice.
In a long and brilliant letter to the Duke, Leonardo invited him to accept him in his court for work. Being fully aware that Duke Ludovico was looking to employ artists and military engineers, Leonardo drafted an application letter that put his seemingly endless engineering talents front and center, by way of a 10-point list of his abilities; interestingly, his artistic genius is merely hinted at towards the very end. So, in this letter, Leonardo set out his knowledge of engineering and his ability of military designing, although all he had designed up to that day in his drawings touched the boundaries of imagination and were not applicable. He hoped to spur the Duke’s attention as he had gained his power over Milan by force and political instability would best describe the situation. “Most Illustrious Lord, Having now sufficiently considered the specimens of all those who proclaim themselves skilled contrivers of instruments of war, and that the invention and operation of the said instruments are nothing different from those in common use: I shall endeavor, without prejudice to any one else, to explain myself to your Excellency, showing your Lordship my secret, and then offering them to your best pleasure and approbation to work with effect at opportune moments on all those things..” Indeed, in the many notebooks of Leonardo, we find many-armed constructions of war and non-war machines, even machines that the enemy may not detect ships. He was really a decent candidate for an artistic and research opportunity. The effort paid off, and he was eventually employed. A decade later, it was Sforza who commissioned him to paint The Last Supper.
“There are three classes of people: those who see, those who see when they are shown, those who do not see.”
He finally managed to be admitted at the court of Ludovico Sforza in Milan, but not as a mechanic or an architect, but as a creator of massive theatrical scenes for various artistic festivities. He had shown a keen interest in this activity when still a young student at the studio in Verrocchio. Indeed, it was an occupation that explored many of Leonardo’s skills, his construction genius, his prodigious mind to bring forth clever scenes and strange sets, and of course keep his keen interest alive in the joyful multi skilled alternations that the occupation required. He managed to channel his imagination and his inventiveness in many ways. First of all, he created sets and scenery as well as designs and mechanisms for flying machines made in many variations. He preferred to invent prominent constructions that would fly over the scene in front of the eyes of the audience. These studies were to become the forerunner for deeper scientific searches later on. Da Vinci seemed truly excited by the possibility of people soaring through the skies like birds. One of da Vinci’s most famous inventions, the flying machine (also known as the “ornithopter”) ideally displays his powers of observation and imagination, as well as his enthusiasm for the potential of flight and the design for this invention is clearly inspired by the flight of winged animals, which da Vinci hoped to replicate. Academics believe that he had set the bases for the development of aviation as the notion of a human-powered mechanical flight device, an idea that he was the first to conceive, a device patterned after birds or bats, recurred again and again over the next four centuries. His work has also highlighted his skill in music which we also encounter in his research notebooks. There is quite a bit of truth in the stories that Leonardo was a skilled poet, singer and practiced musician. He introduced his own musical instruments, by which he flattered the court of Milan and, in combination with his talent in speech and singing, he managed to captivate the people’s attention with his improvisations that he was often invited to share with the people at the court. There is no sound basis for the belief that Leonardo invented the violin though he certainly drew up plans for many new musical instruments including various flutes and the viola organist, a complicated keyboard instrument with strings which were sounded by the means of a wheel, horsehair strap and a bow which was never built. Leonardo tried to improve musical instruments by creating mechanisms that could enhance the tonal quality of the instruments. We should point out that his talents made him a good comedian as interpretations and hasty narratives were a widespread form of entertainment. So, he was highly valued due to his position and occupation, like all the producers, and in the meantime he would conquer all with his gracious and pleasant character. He soon made new friends, from the company of enthusiasts in the court who shared common goals and quests and made research a participatory and entertaining work.
“A beautiful body perishes, but a work of art dies not.”
Leonard was a person of “exceptional beauty and indescribable grace,” wrote Vazari, a historian of the time and the first Leonardo biographer.He was friendly and generous, and everyone liked his company. Contrary to the foggy landscape of Florence, he found a fertile environment for encounters and meetings.He was dressed in colored clothes shorter than usual and he was not afraid to emphasize his distinctiveness.He was interested in spiritual gain rather than in material wealth, and he did not hesitate to disapprove of those who focused on material goods. “Truly man is the king of beasts, for his brutality exceeds them. We live by the death of others. We are burial places! I have since an early age abjured the use of meat, and the time will come when men will look upon the murder of animals as they look upon the murder of man.” Sensitive to the animals, he was a vegetarian and he preferred to wear linens rather than clothes made by animals. One of his colleagues wrote after a trip to India that people there were not used to consume animals as several people in Florence, referring to Leonardo.In his labels, he mentions the difference of the animals from the plants, where, in contrast with the second, the animals could feel the pain of being killed for their skin or flesh. It is noted that his sensitivity reached such an extent that, at the bazaar, he freed the birds from their cages by paying the price to the person owning them.
One of Leonardo’s favored, who, despite all his defects, had been co-operating with him throughout his life was Salai or the little Devil, as he was called by Leonardo. He was his assistant, companion, student, and, at some point, his lover. He won the lifelong affection of his then nearly 40-year-old teacher as Leonardo found him irresistible. Vasari described the boy as “a graceful and beautiful youth, with fine curly hair in which Leonardo greatly delighted.” His name was Giacomo Caprotti but Leonardo changed Giacomo’s name to Salai, meaning little devil. It was a name that would stick with him for life. He came close to his teacher at the age of 10 and studied with Leonardo, who was then 38 years old. Even though Leonardo seldom writes personal notes in his notebooks, he wrote that, at a dinner where he had asked him to accompany him, he “ate for two and made damage for four.” He was accused of stealing and a series of small deceits, but Leonardo was having fun with his passions and continued to keep him in his company. Salai has often posed for Leonardo’s studies. He also often sketched drawings with an older man and a younger man.Sketch page 135.Throughout his life, Leonardo was dazzled with Salai with his rich curls which he liked to portray.Even in the last years of his life we find a vain portrait that he portrayed outof his memory. Leonardo and Salai stayed together for nearly 30 years and Da Vinci even remembered him in his will for his “good and kind services.”
During his stay in Milan, Leonardo made great studies; one of the great achievements for which today he is world-renowned was the study of the Vitruvian Man. Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, born around 80 BC, served with the military duties of Julius Caesar.One of his precious teachings in history was the treatise on body proportions, a thorough description of the fact that the architecture of buildings must follow the proportions of the human body. Many have tried to paint and design this work, such as Jacomo Andrea, and Francesco di Tzortzo, but none touched Leonardo’s excellence and perfectionism. The Vitruvian Man of Leonardo, not only did he expose the writer’s promptings, but also proceeded to further observations of his own. He specified that “If you open your legs so much as to decrease your height 1/14 and spread and raise your arms till your middle fingers touch the level of the top of your head you must know that the center of the outspread limbs will be in the navel and the space between the legs will be an equilateral triangle. The length of a man’s outspread arms is equal to his height.” Leonardo drew the Vitruvian Man in 1492. Rendered in pen, ink, and metal point on paper, the piece depicts an idealized nude male standing within a square and a circle. Ingeniously, Leonardo chose to depict the man with four legs and four arms, allowing him to strike 16 poses simultaneously. Leonardo also made some corrections to the proposed descriptive design, such as that the tread does not fit six times at the height of the man’s height but seven. The sketch is said to be a self-portrait of the same, who was then 38 years old, and as he depicted in his writings:
“Every painter draws himself.”
Designed to reach seven meters in height and weighing seventy-five tons, The Equestrian Statue is a work like many of Leonardo that would never be finished. It was a towering equestrian monument that he planned to cast in bronze and it was one of the projects he proposed to take on when he first asked Ludovico for work in the early 1480s. So, at the court, in order to show the glory of Ludovico, he conceived the design of a brass rider and his horse. In order to find the posture of the rider and the animal and perfecting the monument’s glorious posture, he had to study the anatomy of the horse, an animal that he admired. He also studied other similar statues and was enchanted by the sense of movement that they would display. By that date, these monuments had not exceeded three and a half meters in height. He also managed to complete the horse’s mold, which would be made in a single piece that was a pioneer experiment for the time. Until then, the molds were crafted into pieces and were dissembled afterwards. He spent a lot of time studying over the anatomy of the sculpture, and the right compositions and mixtures of materials to achieve the best result. However the fate of the statue was not so promising after all. Finally, the unmade Horse was the work, more than any other, that epitomized Leonardo’s reputation as an artist who never finished anything.
Leonardo did manage to complete a clay version of his statue but, due to the tensions of the time and the attacks by French troops in 1494, the metal that was going to be used in order to mold the statue was used in order to construct three cannons. In addition, the French archers used the great monument for target practice, destroying it completely. Legend has it that Leonardo mourned the loss of his horse up until his death. Anyway, we are unable to put the blame on the sculptor this time; however, he was not able to finish his work. Luckily for the modern world though, da Vinci left behind many detailed notes and images of his horse in his famous notebooks.
“He who wishes to be rich in a day will be hanged in a year.”
The Equestrian Statue would realize his dream of creating the world’s largest equine monument as he was commissioned to do so by the Duke of Milan, Ludovico, who provided him with a salary and accommodation. In time, he would give him a vineyard just outside Milan, where it would be the place where he would test his flying machines in the future. That place was a property that he would keep until the end of his life. “Leonardo da Vinci, a mechanic and a painter,” was the title he managed to accomplish as this accomplishment was what he had been seeking for a long time. His salary could cover the cost of two assistants and four students who followed him and helped him accomplish his work. As such, with his reputation, his esteem and his strong connection to the court, he would enter the world of creation and he would enchant his encounters with his brilliant thinking.
Leonardo da Vinci was a renowned scientist, often ahead of his time with the scientific discoveries he made and the theories he formulated. As it is well known, this genius drew sketches and plans with perseverance and dedication on diverse issues. Based on research and experimentation, which he endorsed with theory and strengthened his results, he applied what he would note in his sketch book: “Those who are in love with practice without knowledge are like the sailor who gets into a ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast. Practice must always be founded on sound theory.” Although he never learned Latin, the spread of book printing written in the Italian language helped the theorization of his studies. He had in his possession over forty books of a variety of subjects and it is known that he borrowed a lot. We do not underestimate, in his evolution and his outgoing personality, the fact that the creator did not stop bombing his acquaintances with questions and outlining patterns of thought that must worry us, sharpening the imagination of the people around him… Thus, with this mixture of thesis and eagerness, Leonardo shaped his way into discoveries and revelations.
“The artist infuses his work with scientific data…”
With his studies of biology and civil engineering, astronomy and human anatomy, the Italian painter Leonardo da Vinci is the polymath we think of when describing a Renaissance man. The unmet curiosity of Leonardo improved his knowledge of the two dimensional representation of figures and machines, anatomy and geometry. He engaged in research by building of muscles and bones comparing the body of humans and that of the animals. He conceived and drew flying machines that were not intended for flight but were used to replicate machines that would be used in his theatrical performances were a puzzle that mattered to him. The possibility of a human flying drove him into the questioning of such machines, which was based on the observation of birds on flight and their anatomy. He notes. “Study the anatomy of a bird’s wings along with the muscles of the chest moving them. Do the same for man, so that you can see that it is possible to keep himself in the air with the movement of wings.” And he tried post-testing their construction by wearing a life jacket over water. He has worked in physics and mathematics and engineering to construct machines of various types such as needle making machines, hair milling machines, paper mills, watermills, water-powered engines to exploit perpetual water movement and much more. Leonardo, in a fruitful discussion with mathematics and geometry, he produced a series of studies on the area of shapes and the squaring of the circle. He had a skull that had been sliced so that it would be possible to observe it from the inside and had often sketched, trying to understand the functioning of the human body. He also studied the human analogy starting from the Vitruvius Man. As we study his efforts in science, we ask ourselves: How could a painter excel in such fields of knowledge? Perhaps because such learning improved both his art and the artist’s standing more generally. All this research in various fields was to him first and foremost a means to gaining knowledge of the visible world, such as he would need for his art.
“All knowledge which ends in words will die as quickly as it came to life, with the exception of the written word: which is its mechanical part.”
Da Vinci is often described as being a true Renaissance polymath, a person who wishes to understand all branches of knowledge. As such, Da Vinci he considered viewed scientific research as a complement to his researches in art and languages as well as to the study of theology. Thus, Da Vinci’s scientific method consisted of a mix of observation of the world around him and the physical experimentation. Da Vinci’s scientific endeavors were so ahead of his time that he has anticipated many devices that we consider to be ‘modern’.
Leonardo would cover some of his weaknesses in mathematics by his friend and colleague Luca Pacioli, a pedagogue and monk later on despite the fact that he never lived in a monastery. He wrote a manual in mathematics but written in the Italian language rather than in Latin as it was accustomed, in such a way he communicated widely his knowledge. Pacioli was invited by Ludovico to go to Milan to teach mathematics at Ludovico Sforza’s court. This invitation may have been made at the prompting of Leonardo da Vinci. Their genuine interest joined them in their puzzles and games such as making a coin drifting up and down in a glass but also mental games such as math games. At Milan, Pacioli and Leonardo quickly became close friends. Mathematics and art were topics which they discussed at length, both gaining greatly from the other. At this time Pacioli began work on the second of his two famous works, Divina proportione and the figures for the text were drawn by Leonardo. Leonardo learned about the theorems of Euclid, the Euclidean geometry, beside him and to manipulate the square roots. Probably from this encounter he also learned the golden ratio that we often find in Leonardo’s applications.
“Common Sense is that which judges the things given to it by other senses.”
Leonardo, in his never-ending study of the human body, claimed that, in order to study human gestures and expressions, he must bear in mind the communication of deaf people who try to imply and express their thoughts. All these intense movements were an inspirational input to his research on human expression of feelings and intentions.
With this study of the two versions of the Virgin of the Rocks, one in the Louvre and the other in the National Gallery in London, the artist managed to express his insight in geology and botany besides demonstrating the deep study of expression – posture, shade and light. The original picture was undertaken by Leonardo not long after entering the service of Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan. The first version is painted by him and the second only with his contribution. After all, co-operation in art was something usual. The only difference in the two compositions is the angel’s hand, which is something the painter added afterwards, interposed between the hand of the Virgin Mary which is protectively extended over the head of the Divine Infant. The London version seems more correct as The Virgin of the Rocks in the National Gallery contains some details generally overlooked by the artist in the Louvre version, including the haloes of the figures, the child Saint John’s cross of reeds. This order, due to a price discrepancy, due to the costs being disproportionate to the agreed price, was never delivered. The piece of art was probably sold to another customer ending up in the Louvre. The second work of painting was never delivered as well. We are enchanted up to now by the angel figure in one of his drafts on the painting, showing his hermaphrodite stance.
This work is unclear in many parts of its history. We do not know for sure who is portrayed, whether it was an order or if it was delivered. And as it will not surprise us if it was unfinished and we do not know why this was the case. It is not even sure ιf Leonardo himself did it. First of all, if indeed Leonardo was the painter, Portrait Of A Musician would be the only portrait he did of a man. Moreover, another issue that puzzled the academics was the fact that the shadows were very intense, and Leonardo preferred the soft shadows in his portraits. At the same time, the gaze is turned to the same direction as the body which he preferred not to use. Academics assume that the person posing for the portrait was the musician Atalante Miglioroti, who accompanied him a few years ago on his journey to Milan and taught him how to play the lyre. Since he did not work or keep lists of his works, it is difficult to know with certainty which works belong to him with confidence. Anyway, what makes this piece of artwork a possible Leonardo da Vinci? The answer probably lies in the common characteristics which exist in each of his portraiture works, such as:
All these elements were very common to Leonardo’s work. This work was left unfinished, though at quite an advanced stage, something typical of Leonardo… However, the face and hair appear well worked and the remaining elements were left in the state of an advanced draft.
“Nature never breaks her own laws.”
Sparkles us even today for the magical photographing of the moment, a pre-decided and pre-directed portrait, which portrays the concept of surprise by the unexpectedly appearing Ludovico. The subject of the portrait is identified as the mistress of Lodovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, and mother of his illegitimate child and Leonardo was in the service of the Duke. Although he was in love with her, he was married to Beatrice d’Este. Nevertheless, he arranged her marriage to a count and she was absorbed by her reading and literary arts. After seven years Leonardo’s stay in Milan, this was his first order, and he executed it in a masterful way. In this work it is obvious how the secondary light that comes from the ermine illuminates the face of the portrayed person. Lady with an Ermine has been heavily over painted. The entire background was darkened, her dress below the ermine was retouched and a transparent veil being worn by the woman was repainted to match the color of her hair. The result of this last retouching has been to give the appearance that her hair reaches down and underneath her chin. Yet another change was the addition of dark shadows between the fingers of her right hand. There is no doubt that the Lady with an Ermine is a captivating image of exquisite elegance and reveals the artistic genius of Leonardo da Vinci’s incomparable creative mind.
The second order that Leonard received from Ludovico is the portrait of Lucrezia Crivelli, who, like Cecilia Gallerani, was his illustrious mistress and also gave birth to his son. Its excessively bright jaw and the dull way the hair is painted, makes some researchers doubt whether Leonardo contributed in the painting or whether it was due to the interference of others, like an apprentice. Another possible answer is that this was a joint project carried out by several artists at the School of Leonardo, and based on a design by him. So, academics are not sure whether this may, or may not be, Leonardo’s work. The fact is that the pose is stiff, which would be unusual for Leonardo, and the woman’s features are thicker and heavier than those normally found in his portraits.
This painting was discovered by Peter Silverman at an art auction of nineteenth century art, assumed to be drawn by a German artist who imitated the Italian Renaissance. And it was rescued by the great art-history adventurer. Is this a Leonardo da Vinci? Another work we are not sure whether this may, or may not be, Leonardo’s work. It is a portrait in coloured chalks and ink, on vellum, of a young lady in fashionable costume and hairstyle of a Milanese of the 1490s. The attribution to Leonardo da Vinci has been disputed. There are elements that strengthen the contradicting views. On the one hand, the origin of the style of hairdressing and clothing, presumes the influences from Florence for the first and Milan for the second, the areas where the artist lived. It is also known that the sketch was part of a set that contributed to a book piece. The story goes a long way with the assumption that Leonardo’s fingerprint was found who was using his fingers to practice the technique that dictated the sfumato. Infrared rays also showed the artist’s left-handed touch. However, the shadows depicting this princess are too strict to be crafted by Leonardo.
Pacolli reports that Leonardo edited the portfolio of “About Painting and Human Movement”, which he practiced until the last years of his life, and, as he did with his paintings, this is another work he never published or completed. These manuscripts reveal that the science of art turned into an art of science and a delightful insight into his research. He explored the light and his reflections on the molding of the models. The gradation of tones, in order to create shadows, was genius and he studied the perspective in order to create real masterpieces.
“Beyond a doubt truth bears the same relation to falsehood as light to darkness”.
In 1495, Leonardo da Vinci began what would become one of history’s most influential works of art – The Last Supper. The Last Supper was completed in 1498, when, upon the order of the Duke, Leonardo delivered the work finished on the north wall of Monastery in the heart of Milan, the Santa Maria de la Gracie. Testimonies of the time say that Leonardo “came here in the early hours and climbed to the scaffolding and then stayed there with the brush in hand from sunrise to sunset forgetting to eat or drink, drawing non-stop.” Other times, he appeared in the middle of the day, and “he climbed on the scaffolding, he grabbed a brush, put a brush stroke on one or two of the figures and then left suddenly.” He explained in his letter to the Duke who was worried about a potential delay of the painting’s delivery, that one should proceed slowly, to stop and postpone things so that thoughts ripen. And he notes that “the clever people achieve more while they work less.” The Last Supper is Leonardo’s visual interpretation of an event chronicled in all four of the Gospels (books in the Christian New Testament). It depicts the next few seconds in this story after Christ dropped the bomb shell that one disciple would betray him before sunrise, showing how all twelve disciples have reacted to the news with different degrees of horror, anger and shock. Leonardo masterfully depicts a drama where all the actors converge in their theatricality with their own movements and expressions. He manages to capture the movement of the soul – moti dell ‘ anima, by reflecting on the intentions they have in mind. The Twelve Disciples, the Apostles of Christ, are divided into groups of three, orchestrating an interesting rhythm in his subject. Judas is shaded more sharply, testifying his guilt, and feminine-like Saint John is said to symbolize Mary Magdalene. In spite of the intensity of the scene, Christ stands patient and serene in the middle of the composition and conveys the viewer’s gaze. The project is a genius composition that excels in the laws of perspective and the rules of physics. The painting was made using experimental pigments directly on the dry plaster wall and unlike frescoes, where the pigments are mixed with the wet plaster, it has not stood the test of time well. Even before it was finished there were problems with the paint flaking from the wall and Leonardo had to repair it. However, just twenty years after the project’s delivery, the paint began to shake, and Leonardo’s experimental design and testing of materials failed. Today we can only see fragments of the wall painting by the addition of restoration of the missing pieces with a lighter color than that of the original.
In 1497, three years after her husband’s death and the death of her son by the arrow of a crossbow, Katerina moved to Milan to live with Leonardo. Three months later she died of malaria, before attempting to shake the waters of the artist’s life. Leonardo, in his notes, had a detailed list of the expenses for her funeral and interment, a decent ceremony with many candles and four priests; however he spent less compared to the amount he spent for a sari for Salai, as we will see later on his balance sheets.
Due to the professional difficulties that Leonardo was facing in the courtyard of the Duke who refused to compensate him for his work and due to the fact that his horse statue was transformed into a firing target for the French troops, Leonardo was deeply dissatisfied. The political upheaval wanted Louis XIII of France to be the conqueror of Milan and the Duke to leave the city. Leonardo had smooth relationships with the French conquerors and he had opened some discussions about cooperation. Indeed, Louis XII, in the glance of the Last Supper, expressed the desire to move the work to France, but the engineer responded that it was technically impossible. So Leonardo decided to return home, in Florence, where it would be around 1500 and would become one of his most productive seasons.
So, after the fall of Ludovico Sforza, his patron in Milan, Leonardo returned to Florence, the city of his youth. Florence had undergone some political and social changes as Leonardo was pursuing his art career in Milan. The brief acquisition of power by Girolamo Savonarola, head of a religious struggle, downplayed a Puritan rule in the city where homosexuals and sodomy was punished with stoning or death in the fire. Eventually, the public condemned him to hanging by liberating the spirits of the city, which due to all this was covered by a veil of reduced self-confidence and vitality. In this spirit of change, Leonardo returned to his birth town to embody the message of diversity and artistic estrus. Within a year Leonardo was back in Florence, where he was commissioned to paint a huge mural, the Battle of Anghiari, in the Palazzo della Signoria. He worked on that painting for the next three years, while he was also making maps for the Florentine government and was beginning the Mona Lisa as well as a painting of Leda and the Swan. He tried to reestablish himself as a painter, but was reported to be preoccupied with geometry and ‘very impatient with the brush’. It is worth mentioning that in 1506 the French occupiers of Milan requested that Leonardo return to Milan, and for the next two years he traveled repeatedly between Milan and Florence.
On his trip he stopped at Mantua where Isabella d’Este asked him to paint her portrait. This famous drawing is a sketch for the portrait that was never painted. However, later on, she asked Leonardo to make another portrait of the chalk drawing. After a total rejection of all other artists, Leonardo was believed that he was the most appropriate person to make her portrait. It would have the side stance that was widespread for the depiction of rulers, a posture that uninterested Leonardo. He used to set his models in place of three quarters a position that allowed them to express their feelings and their minds, their psychologies. So despite the years of perseverance of the Duchess, the prosperous artist had conquered a position in society which allowed him to politely reject the noble orders if the subject did not interest him, like the Isabella portrait that would never even begin to initiate. Anyway, it is one of Leonardo’s finest head-and-shoulders portraits, here with the head in profile. It is also the only known drawing that is highlighted with several colored pigments. Though unfinished, this sketch is remarkable for its proportions, and for the foreshortening of the bust; it is also striking for the ambiguous choice of pose. The perfectly linear profile, eyes gazing beyond our field of vision, contrasts with the turn of the body.
In Florence, Leonardo has his own status and fame and so did his family. He was wealthy and he could support the followers and his students. He could choose his work, and deal with things that interest him like the flight of birds, resulting in lurking in the fields and studying. He did not hide his diversity, and he was used to take care of his clothes with lacy and velvet mantles in pink colors for himself and for Salai. As much as he spent on his appearance, he was looking forward to spending for his spiritual growth, hence his books reached 116 volumes, focusing on perspective, Euclidean geometry, medicine and architecture.
This version of the Virgin with Jesus was for Leonardo to shape his masterpiece like an inspiration to Rafael and all the painters all over Europe. In this picture, the Infant Jesus holds a spinning wheel in the form of a cross, which symbolizes his acceptance of his destiny. Madonna, according to the plot of the picture, cannot yet accept the destiny of her divine son for the heart, and therefore the hand of the Virgin Mary is raised in a protective gesture. Both figures are painted with wit, and their hands to impart the emotion and historiography of the story. A close look shows this work was based around the geometric figures of triangles and ellipses. However, we are not sure if this piece of work was made by Leonardo; researchers believe that Leonardo da Vinci only started the painter and that it was finished the pupils of his studio since the production in his studio was loud and the copies made in the studio he opened in Florence numbered forty. However, a beam study showed that the work was painted on the wood directly without a blueprint that only Leonardo could decide on, and some corrections were made to the drawing testifying that it was not a copy but an original painting drawn by the artist himself.
“The spirit desires to remain with its body, because, without the organic instruments of that body, it can neither act, nor feel anything.”
From this study, we have an incomplete homonymous work that is now in the Louvre, and a magical sketch drawing in London, that is kept and presented in low light to limit the wear and tear of time. Both works are examples of Leonardo’s ability to dramatically and mechanically direct his figures, the use of the sfumato technique and the perspective of the distance of the objects, his delicate shadowing and his knowledge of geology. The famous painting “The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne” offers a glimpse into the subconscious of Leonardo da Vinci. The painting depicts the Virgin Mary guarding baby Jesus and peacefully sitting on the lap of her mother, St. Anne. Christ is petting a small lamb, which is the symbol of his suffering and sacrifice for the benefit of mankind and the Holly Infant embraces and will not let anyone part him from it. The positions of biblical figures in historical paintings are never random; they are always allusions to the lives of the figures and of various Christian metaphors. The painting, as expected, was never delivered, and it was left in Leonardo’s possession who kept on adding things and improving it for years. Freud in his study of Leonardo will examine the fact that Christ has two mothers, as Leonardo had two mothers Katerina and his step mother. He also hypothesized that there was a reminiscence of da Vinci’s own “two mothers.” Moreover, in his psychoanalytic examination of “The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne,” titled “Leonardo da Vinci and A Memory of His Childhood,” Freud revealed hypothetical details of da Vinci’s childhood and repressed sexual desire. He discovered that if the painting is turned sideways, the shaped made by one of the Virgin Mary’s garments depicts a bird, most likely a vulture. Freud claimed that the symbol of the vulture is da Vinci’s representation of his repressed homosexual desire from his childhood, which was triggered by his faint memory of him sucking his mother’s nipple as an infant. Freud supported his theory with the fact that the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs depicted the term “mother” with the symbol of a vulture.
Leonardo was very absorbed with the theme of Leda. Leonardo da Vinci’s painting, Leda and the Swan, is a depiction of the Greek myth concerning Leda, a daughter of the King of Aetolia, and Zeus, the king of the gods. It shows the moment when Zeus, saw Leda and he was so smitten by her beauty that he changed into a swan and coupled with her. Leda gave birth to two eggs, and each egg hatched twin babies. In the image, Leda looks down tenderly upon her babies, while the curves of her body stand in counterpoint to the sinuous lines of the swan, its head resting upon her shoulder. The flowers that Leda holds in her hand are a symbol of purity. It’s a lost work by Leonardo, the only one depicting an erotic content; although by examining the painting more carefully, we realize that the issue for the artist was the reproduction and fertility. The representation and the copy of the painting are preserved by Frantsesco Melsi, a student of Leonardo who had defined him as his modern heir. The multiple copies found in his studio and other records of the time are attributed to him being able to create the work himself. The story says that Madame de Maintenon, the mournful and hidden Second Lady of the Ludwig XII, destroyed the painting because it was scandalously erotic. This assertion is not imputed.
On the 15th of November 2017, Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting, ‘Salvator Mundi’, (The Savior of the World) smashed artwork auction records when it was sold for US$ 450.3 million. With careful investigations and cleaning from deep varnish wipers, they revealed elements that attribute the work as a true achievement of Leonardo, along with the testimonies of the time that the artist had made such a work. However, art historians agree that it was painted around 1500, but disagree on whether or not it was painted by Da Vinci. The painting depicts Christ in Renaissance dress, making the sign of the cross with his right hand, while holding a transparent, non-refracting crystal orb in his left, signaling his role as ‘Savior of the World’ and representing the ‘celestial sphere’ of the heavens. The foggy heavens of Jesus, along with the use of the chromatic perspective, give us the impression that Jesus’ hands tend to us. It is a reflection of the scholars that how comes and Leonardo did not, after his profound study in the optics, portray the transformation and diffusion of the image through a crystal or a prism. Rather, he assumed that this would bury the viewer’s eye and preferred to capture it without the reflection.
After twenty years since he had presented himself as a war engineer before Ludovico, it was meant for him to finally take this position for an eight-month period next to the tyrant Cesare Borgia. Between 1502 and 1503, Leonardo served as his chief military architect and engineer. In the service of the unscrupulous conqueror that wiped out villages and ordered the execution of potential rivals publicly, Leonardo would have carried out numerous inquiries that would reveal the avid enthusiasm and inventiveness. Borgia needed an engineer who could ford rivers with bridges, build siege engines to subdue recalcitrant towns, and fortify them once they’d been captured. Leonardo leapt at the opportunity but his work for the rapacious Cesare Borgia did not last long. The incessant massacres of Borgia persuaded Leonardo to resign his commission and return to Florence. Freud, in his analysis on the character of Leonardo, points out that the artist was attracted by strong and leading figures that were a substitute for his dynamic father, who ruled Leonardo with his absence.
During the time he spent in Florence, he was invited to investigate and perform projects on the irrigation and the diversion of Arno River as well as the drying of Piombino swamps. Both projects were not carried out, but they testify Leonardo’s insight and his sketches touched the borders of imagination of the time, all of which have now been tested; there were also experiments in flying machines, diving suits and more. He also envisioned the realization of a floating passage from Florence to the Mediterranean. His studies on plumbing are based on the collaboration of engineer with nature. As he remarks: “The river that one is going to divert and change its course he must embrace it and not to handle it with harshly or with violence.” By studying the modern systems of water supply in Milan, he aimed to improve the system in Florence, but since the public funds had been drained at the time, he did not manage to realize some of his exuberant plans.
In the absence of Leonardo in Milan, Michelangelo, a young painter evolved into an artistic genius and would later on leave his mark in history too. He was more arrogant and peculiar than Leonardo and did not share Leonardo’s beauty, neither was he appreciated by his surroundings. He came in rivalry with many colleagues and artists of his time, even with Leonardo himself. Michelangelo and Leonardo felt “an intense dislike for each other,” says their biographer Vasari. When Leonardo invited him to comment on the findings of a conversation about a passage of Dante, he thought he was mocking him and he was trying to entrap him and he immediately reproached him and offensively accused him for the unsuccessful completion of his giant horse. “…explain it yourself, horse-modeller that you are, who, unable to cast a statue in bronze, were forced to give up the attempt in shame”. Then, he turned his back on them and left. Leonardo remained silent and blushed at these words. Both were homosexuals, but unlike Leonardo, Michelangelo did not show his sexual orientation and love preferences and he was possibly self-inflicted on celibacy. He was an ascetic painter with his only companion melancholy, as he noted later. Leonardo often referred to Michelangelo’s sculptural representations as “sacks of walnuts” because of the elaborate muscly representation of his design. Although Leonardo was not accustomed to criticize other painters, he openly underestimated Michelangelo’s work. “You do not have to make all the muscles of a body distinct … as you will create a sack of walnuts instead of a human form.” The two men, Leonardo, a charming, handsome fifty year-old at the peak of his career, and the youngest Michelangelo, a temperamental artist in his mid-twenties who was desperate to make a name for himself, would stay under the same roof for the completion of two historic giant frescoes that they both would never complete.
The Battle of Anghiari was an assignment that would mark the magnificence of his painting skill and research for the Sala del Gran Consiglio, the recently rebuilt Great Council Hall of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, during the first years of the city’s republican government.. It is known to us only through some drawings he crafted while studying it. It would take one third of a wall that was 53 meters, a gigantic work that would be a reminiscence of Florence’s glorious victory in the fight with Milan. The battle scene that Leonardo planned was a layout of horses with twisted grimaces and fierce riders that stepped on losing fighters. He wrote: “There must be no point that does not reveal torture and that it is not drenched with blood.” The furious sketches he created, depicted the odor and the terror of war, pointing to his deepening in anatomy where the expressions of the mouth effect the positioning of the nose and the eyebrows. The difficulties he faced during the process stood in vain for the termination of his involvement with the work. Since then, the painter would not accept any other public order…
“Our life is made by the death of others.”
His father’s death took place when he was trying to perform the painting of The Battle of Anghiari. Piero never recognized him as his legitimate son, although he helped him achieve at least three orders but with tight contracts and the condition to complete the paintings, which Leonardo often did not. This surely created tensions between them. Piero married four times and, with his two youngest brides, younger than Leonardo, he had nine sons and two daughters. He had many of these legitimate children when he was over seventy years old. Later on, Leonardo would have inheritance issues with his step brothers and sisters about an estate just outside Vinci, which would remain in Leonardo’s possession but after his death it would pass on to their children. Βy not legitimizing him as his son, Piero was like as he was renouncing him. He might have done this because he considered him successful, although he did not have the financial power to support the team that followed him.However it was an occurrence that was surely not pleasing to Leonardo.
In 1506, two years after his father’s death, he returned to Milan where he remained for the next seven years, enjoying the patronage of Charles d’Amboise, the French Governor of Milan, and King Louis XII. He initially sought to do the work of a mechanic and a researcher along with that of a painter as he had been recruited by Ludovico. We should not forget that in Milan he was extremely dear and acceptable to his circles. Ludovico himself would have liked to release him from his contract of The Battle of Anghiari by his Florentine contenders who insisted that the artist should return to the city. Leonardo, for the second time, left a great work in the middle while leaving for Milan, as he did, twenty-four years ago, with The Proclamation of the Magi. However, this was a period in which Leonardo delved heavily into scientific activities, which included anatomical, mathematics, mechanical, and botanical studies and the creation of his famous flying machine. Moreover, notable commissions during this period included work on a bridge building, and a project to create a waterway to link Milan with Lake Como. He also devised efficient military weapons, such as an early example of the machine gun, and his famous large crossbow.
For him, Florence was an image of bohemian life, a life full of artists, a place where he did not seek to become only a painter but also an inventor and to test all of his many talents. At the same time, being away in Milan, he avoided competitors like Michelangelo, his half-brothers who were young enough to be his children as well as the ‘ghost’ of his father. However, his researches, during his stay in Florence, were very creative: he dissected the body of a dead man, tried one of his flying machines and his diving inventions, and his notebooks were full of geology studies, notes referring to the perspective, the anatomy and the architecture.
Around 1507, Leonardo, 55, adopted Francesco Melzi, a fourteen-year-old boy who was thought as he was his son. Drawn to the arts, though, he never became a great painter since he had a more timid nature, certainly less naughty than Salai. Meltsi will become his student, his heir and secretary. Together with Salai, they would stay by his side until the end of his life, and it would be him the person who inherited the artistic and scientific works, manuscripts, and collections of Leonardo. The mature Leonardo now had the need of an heir, a son, to be an apprentice for him and follow him.
“Our body is dependant on Heaven and Heaven on spirit”
Leonardo performed an autopsy in at least 30 bodies throughout his entire life, and he wrote thousands of words on the anatomy of the human body as well as on that of the animals. He made his first experiments on an elderly man who claimed to be over a hundred years old as well as on a two-month-old baby and he compared both results. He pointed out: “The network of veins behaves in man as in oranges, in which the skin hardens and the flesh decreases as time passes.” He filled his sketchbooks with bones and muscles in different positions drawn from different angles and drew a manual that would be very helpful in science if it had been published. He studied various topics such as the spine’s curvature, the heart that looked like a fruit whose roots resemble our venous system, the aortic valve and the fetus. And even though in his time the dissection was considered a heresy act, Leonardo claimed that it was a way of appreciating the miraculous creation of God. He did not hesitate to symbolize the human body with his mechanical studies and admired the way the human body could work. He wrote: “Besides human ingenuity being able to lead to various inventions, it will never devise anything that is more beautiful, more simple and more complete to what Nature has created, where nothing is missing and nothing is in excess.” In his anatomical studies, he was preoccupied by the muscles that are responsible for the human smile and expression, and taught that the numbers of the muscles that move the lips are more to man compared to any other animal. This study, as well as the essence of his knowledge, contributed greatly to the unique smile of Mona Lisa. He is the only artist in history to have dissected the human and horse face to see if the muscles that move the face are the same or not.
During the period that he was in Milan for the second time, we may find in his textbooks a vivid curiosity about a variety of topics. He reviewed opinions, deepened others, defended older thoughts, and the result was a series of vigorous notes on engineering, on waterways and whirlpools, on fossils, on astrology, and on why the sky is blue. He did not hesitate to compare the human body with the earth and its functions and he claimed that emotions as the sound and the light transmitted through waves.
He undertook some anatomic studies with the surgeon Marcantonio della Torre, who had been left in the middle due toa swine fever the doctor received. This was unpleasant for him since his studies had been under way and possibly he would help him to publish the findings of his researches. Waiting for the epidemic to pass through, he settled in the provincial estate of Medici, where he spent his sixtieth birthday together with his son Medici, who had been counting over twenty-one years, and Salai was thirty-two years old. In this quiet resort, he would have attempted some dissections on animals as he continued his studies on geology with the possibility of publishing them, something he never did.
In 1512, the French began to lose control of Milan, and Leonardo decided to avoid this political turmoil finding shelter in Rome, under the protection of his new patron, Giuliano, a lover of art and science, who had set up, in Rome, a circle of scholars and artists where Leonardo would become a member of. He would have a permanent salary that would free Leonardo from order hunting, and he would stay in the rooms that he provided for him. It was a delightful period in the artist’s life where he could share his knowledge with other scholars and he could explore the rare botany findings of the area and study the prismatic surfaces. His interest in them was profound as they could also serve as war machines.
St. John the Baptist was painted by Leonardo da Vinci during 1513 to 1516. This is an oil painting on walnut wood. This piece of work is one of the paintings that he would keep under his possession until the end of his life, fixing it and adding touches until his death. The pointing gesture of St. John toward the heavens suggests the importance of salvation through baptism that John the Baptist represents. This posture marked Leonardo and it is the posture by which Raphael painted him, suggesting Plato pointing his finger to the sky. This work, as elsewhere, indicates Leonardo’s explicit eroticism as he gave a delight of the flesh and a feminine man figure, recognized as hermaphroditism, even on the holy figures. Many people are critical of this work since this was a character living in a desert and surviving on a diet of locusts and honey. In Leonardo’s painting St. John the Baptist seems almost to be a hermaphrodite. He has a womanish arm bent across his breast, his finger raised towards heaven, and that same enigmatic smile so admired on the face of Mona Lisa. The finger pointed towards heaven could denote the coming of Christ or it could be the sign of esoteric significance.
“Painting is concerned with all the 10 attributes of sight; which are: Darkness, Light, Solidity and Colour, Form and Position, Distance and Propinquity, Motion and Rest.”
Leonardo’s most famous portrait is the Turin Portrait. Skeptic and exhausted in spiritual manipulation with a grimace on the lips and rather melancholic as in all of the portraits that depict the artist. They indicate that he is some years older but rather this was the reality. Leonardo seemed elder than what he really was, embracing an image of wisdom with his long beard and long hair.
He started painting Mona Lisa, also known as La Gioconda, in 1503 when he was still in the service of Cesare Borgia, and he would take it with him on all his journeys until his last residence in France where he would add strokes by completing his masterpiece. Mona Lisa is a painting that Leonardo Da Vinci spent many years developing and improving as he could not feel entirely satisfied with his work, but saw enough qualities to motivate him to persevere over a long period. Vasari in a bold description of the work notes that “it really seemed not to be of colors but of flesh. At the bottom of the neck, if you look at it very closely, you could see the beat of her pulse. ” An avid portrait, which Leonardo rendered the complexity of human emotion and the gentle beauty of the most mysterious smile in the history of Art. This painting is painted as oil on wood. It is a remarkable instance of Leonardo’s sfumato technique of soft, heavily shaded modeling. The Mona Lisa‘s enigmatic expression, which seems both alluring and aloof, has given the portrait universal fame.
Probably Piero recommended Leonardo for this order, as he had close relations with the Giocondo family. Francesco del Giocondo, a silk merchant who supplied the Medici court, was wealthy enough but not an aristocrat, so he had no absurd demands for the portrait. Being in love with his wife, he asked Leonardo to make her portrait and Leonardo accepted. He took up the offer despite the fact that he had to take over many orders at the time, like the one of Isabella d’Este. He accepted this job because he would be free to do what he wanted with the painting, and it was also hard to deny depicting her cute smile. This was another order that would never reach its original destination.
“There are four Powers: memory and intellect, desire and covetousness. The two first are mental and the others sensual. The three senses: sight, hearing and smell cannot well be prevented; touch and taste not at all.”
Leonardo imputed all of his mastery and his condensed knowledge in this painting from his studies of light and anatomy and the result justified him. Even the preparation is made out of lead that leaves the color and light more comfortable on the surface. He has applied the rules of optics and perspective, and her hands seem to be really close to the observer and even if the outlines are still blurred with the supreme application of his Sfumato technique, while the background lengthens in the background. He has succeeded in lighting his model, and applies his principle of making a portrait in dull light when the weather is rainy or when the light falls in the evening. His insight to the rules of seeing is spectacular as the pupils of the eyes are uneven, an observation that certainly could not escape from Leonardo. Stylish techniques are also noted in the imitation of the creases of the girl’s dress. We should not forget that the portrait was meant to be delivered to a silk dealer first and that he was a distinguished Verrocchio pupil who has, since then shown, his skills in the folds of fabrics. Moreover, the discrete veil that the girl wears on the head and covers her hair what gentle fluctuations it makes with the background, untainted. The scenery enfolds the figure and looks like it is drawn to it, a union with the nature and landscape that only Leonardo could accomplish after his far-reaching studies. It is a landscape that holds in the depths of science and fantasy. The earth seems to be spinning along with Lisa’s trunk and seems to have a light posture. The Mona Lisa is famed for two things: her enigmatic smile and her steady gaze, widely believed to follow her viewers around the room. Indeed, this world-renowned painting inspired the name of a scientific phenomenon: the Mona Lisa effect, or the impression that the eyes of the person in an image follow the viewer as they move in front of the picture, does not actually work for Leonardo’s portrait. As regards the Mona Lisa smile, no matter how long you look at it, it looks very intense and deeply dim, which when we stop looking at it, it is deeply engraved in our memory. Extremely thin lashes of Mona Lisa’s mouth are lightly pushed downwards, but if we notice this smile with our peripheral vision it is illuminating the whole face, forming this detached smile. A fusion of in-depth knowledge and persistence in study for years contributes to this work that its brush strokes are so thin that they are hardly visible. A project that has at some points more than thirty layers of paint is now admired in the museum of the Louvre.
In autumn of 1516, Leonardo started his final trip to France, invited by the French King, who would be his most consistent patron and would admire him much too. The French King invited Leonardo to the royal summer home, Château du Clos Lucé, near Amboise. More generally, in a review of his life, he constantly escaped to find a patron and he had not always been lucky to do so, nor did the King of the Medici have supported him in Florence, and sent him to Milan with a lyre for a diplomatic gift, nor did he succeed in Milan get some orders until very late.His reputation and his inscriptions helped him to accomplish this goal and managed to spend the last years of his life with comfort and a safety and vigorous insistence on his work to the end. In his 60s, da Vinci travelled across the mountains from northern Italy to central France, carrying with him sketchbooks and unfinished artwork. The young French king had hired the Renaissance master as “The King’s First Painter, Engineer and Architect.” Leonardo lived in the rehabilitated Medieval fortress from 1516 until his death in 1519. From 1515 on a trip to Bologna he had met the then twenty-one-year-old King of France, Francis I, who had invited him to France. Although he returned to Rome for the closing of some cases, he did not take a while into taking that step when he was sixty-four years old. His companions that came to France, was less a follower. Salai stayed in Milan, but Leonardo had another new servant, Batista de Vilanis, much younger than Salai. Together with him, he took all three of his works found in his possession at his death, “The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne”, “Saint John the Baptist” and “Mona Lisa”.
Francis was generous and devoted, charismatic and gentle, educated and a scholar. Leonardo was a good companion, and so was Francis to Leonardo. He loved the arts and science and aspired to bring the Renaissance art to France and somehow he managed to do so. He was extroverted to people and liked the theatrical performances staged for him. Leonardo was the best candidate for his court, as he was a perfect student to Leonardo. Like an ideal patron, he gave him a salary and a whole castle to stay, he did not insist on finishing his paintings, he needed engineering and architecture knowledge, which satisfies Leonardo, as well as organizing theatrical performances. Above all, for Francis, Leonardo was a source of inexhaustible scholarly knowledge and Leonardo could teach him a lot of things. They spent hours together that prevented unfortunately Leonardo from advancing his studies, but they talked about astronomy, mechanics, architecture, poetry and music. Francis put Château du Clos Lucé, a beautiful castle five hundred meters from the royal palace at Leonardo’s disposal as this castle was very spacious to accommodate majestically all of Leonardo’s team.
The visit of Priest de Beattis is beneficial to the next generations because it provides us with information that we draw from his diary for the elder Leonardo. In particular, he underlines that he is “the most prominent painter of the time.” Leonardo, though he had not completed his Florentine orders, had managed to form this image of his personality as an artist and painter. He tells us that he looks older than he is and that he had suffered a stroke and his right hand was paralyzed. Luckily, left-handed Leonardo would not suffer from it and he would still be creative. He also presents the information that Leonardo was proudly displaying the three masterpieces he had in his possession, as well as some of his notes in anatomy.
The French King François I commissioned a great work to Leonardo: to design the city of Romorantin from scratch. He called on Leonardo to design and build an entire new city in Romorantin and make this rather small city into the new capital of a blossoming French kingdom. In 1517, on a visit to the city, they designed the palace and their exceptional architectural ideas and Leonardo began to work. He designed a three-store palace with spacious rooms large enough to welcome the whole court and host large theater performances. His obsession with the water found a passage and enriched his imagination so that he could design watering systems as well as the diversion of the river flowing to Romorantin, lakes, fountains and more. Leonardo’s design of the city is based on a dynamic concept of managing flows of water, air, energy, and human cognition. He designed an ideal city that was centuries ahead of its time. This plan was something nature did not allow Leonardo to fulfill, due to his death, and the king would build his new castle in Château de Cloux. The only thing we could point out for this idea of Leonardo is that Leonardo might have changed the shape of modern cities as he wanted a comfortable and spacious city, with well-ordered streets and architecture and recommended “high, strong walls” and places taking full advantage of the interior and exterior spaces.
The last page that Leonardo left us is filled with geometry and mathematics experiments. He attempts to change the area of an orthogonal triangle by changing its sides. He presents some variations and next to his thought she closes his note by saying that he is stopping to write because “the soup is cold.” This is an indication to Leonardo’s personality, as he would trouble himself with great puzzles and complex topics, however he would note things that happen parallel to his life that give us a notion of how clever witty and humorous he was.
“I have offended God and mankind because my work didn’t reach the quality it should have.”
Leonardo died in Amboise on 2 May 1519, only nine days before he drafted his will. He was quite sick and knew he would die and wanted to protect his followers and his property. Medici was also responsible for the execution of Leonardo’s will, as he was his main heir as his son in law. He left half of the vineyard in Milan to Salai, since they were alienated for some time and the other half to his young servant and companion Batista de Vilanis, as well as some other possessions and his furniture. His step brothers got from him the estate at Vinci, as it had been agreed earlier. “As a well-spent day brings a pleasant sleep, so a well-spent life brings a pleasant death” he had said thirty years earlier, and as he was so full of life and adventures, Leonardo left at the age of seventy-seven. He died in the hands of the King and his patron, a scene that has become the theme of many painters. Francis I received his final breaths. Giorgio Vasari, who was not present, says that Leonardo “smiled” towards Christianity and the Holly virtuous road at the end of his life, and that he confessed a few hours before he died. This is the information that Vasari pointed out, aiming to present a more pious Leonardo. However, the genius considered scientific knowledge superior to religious belief. Leonardo was buried in the royal palace, but the current location of his relic remains a mystery.
See the collection of Leonardo da Vinci’s quotes and mottos by clicking on this link: Leonardo da Vinci Quotes Collection This was an analysis of Leonardo da Vinci’s personality and life. If you want to find out which personality you belong to or what kind of Motto suits you, click on the link below: Motto Personality Test by Motto Cosmos
Get inspired from Leonardo da Vinci most important quotes and mottos:
“I was not born with a hunger to be free. I was born free. Free in every way that I could know. Free to run in the fields near my mother’s hut, free to swim in the clear stream that ran through my village, free to roast mealies [corn] under the stars … It was only when I learnt that my boyhood freedom was an illusion … that I began to hunger for it.”
Nelson Mandela is seen as one of history’s most inspirational figures. He dedicated his life to speaking out for justice and changing inequalities of all kinds. He fought against the apartheid regime of South Africa and endured 27 years in prison. Mandela was South Africa’s first black president and is held up as one of the greatest leaders the world has ever seen.
He was a charismatic leader, a hero to his people, a man who gave up his freedom to fight for the freedom of others. Even after his death he remains a symbol of democracy, equality and peace. He was loved and admired throughout the world, and he never lost faith in his dreams and aspirations for his country despite all his hardships. He changed the course of history and even today inspires and empowers millions of people around the world. So, what was it that made this man stand out? What was it that made him give up on his personal life and stay true to his cause?
“A good leader can engage in a debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that at the end he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge stronger. You don’t have that idea when you are arrogant, superficial, and uninformed. “
At first glance, Nelson Mandela had all the personality traits of an effective leader. He was a visionary who fought for his beliefs. His fight against the racist system gave strength, inspired and motivated his people. Mary Benson, friend, confidante and biographer of Nelson Mandela, described him as “a born mass leader who could not help magnetizing people.” Mandela had excellent communication skills. Although his public speeches were very formal, he always enchanted his audience. He used to speak slowly, carefully selecting his every word. His commitment, charisma and humour were prominent in every speech. He had the ability to empower his audiences, fill them up with confidence and encouraged them to follow in his steps and fight dangerous battles. He articulated his vision for “a better future” and gained millions of followers.
To his followers, Nelson Mandela was a role model who motivated them into exceptional accomplishments. They shared common beliefs, emotions and practices. He was like a father to them. He had the power to unite people towards a common goal: resistance against racial segregation.
According to psychology, followers place more emphasis on the image of the leader than on any other characteristic. Mandela’s official biographer, Anthony Sampson, described Mandela as “master of imagery and performance”. Mandela always took extra care of his appearance in public and in press photographs. His correct manners and his modulated public speech helped him cultivate the image of the “African gentleman”. Because of that, Tom Lodge characterized Mandela as “one of the first media politicians […] embodying a glamour and a style that projected visually a brave new African world of modernity and freedom”. It seems that Mandela did not only cultivate an image, but he created a myth as well, both of which helped him achieve his goals. It leaves us wondering, was this a gift or skill? Well, it seems it was both.
Despite all that, his intelligence and his unique way of thinking were what turned Mandela into a successful leader. He faced reality with courage, no matter how hard it was and had the unique ability to adapt quickly and easily to everything new. In addition, he was an honest, dutiful, respectful and righteous man. He was known for his ability to find common ground with people of different mindsets.
Nelson Mandela strongly expressed his intellectual and revolutionary ideas. He pursued his beliefs to the very end of his life, and he shared his vision with the world. He was undoubtedly a man of genius, devotion, and determination. Considering knowledge as the greatest good, he never stopped learning. Even during his time in jail, he kept his mind busy searching for new ideas.
Mandela was an ambitious person with big dreams for his country. That ambition was his driving force and what made him take the lead and achieve success. This is what great leaders do. They do not only envisage a better future but also believe in its possible reality and take part in its creation. Till the end of his life, Mandela worked hard, with determination towards his lifetime goal to win freedom and equal human and democratic rights for his people. But he wasn’t just a great leader. He was a great human being whose mental toughness helped him endure great difficulties. He never gave up and always found a way to overcome even the most tremendous obstacles. Mandela was a living example of hope and bravery and inspires people to believe in what they are really capable of, if only they would truly believe it!
“By ancestry, I was born to rule”
Nelson Mandela, in full Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, was born, into a royal family of the Xhosa-speaking Thembu tribe in the village of Mvezo, in Eastern Cape, South Africa, on 18 July 1918. He had a poor but otherwise happy childhood.
His father Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa was headman of the Mvezo people and part of the Madiba clan – a subdivision of the Thembu tribe. He was in charge of his people and took every decision on his own, but always under the supervision of the British government authority. His every decision was carefully considered and made with the best interests of his people according to what was fair and reasonable. Even the name of his son “Rolihlahla” was thoughtfully considered. It is literally translated as “pulling the branch of a tree” or more colloquially “the troublemaker”. Was this a coincidence or could Mandela’s name have influenced his destiny? One thing is for sure, that no one could have predicted this boy’s future and that his name would match his actions later on.
“My mother was my first friend in the proper sense of the word.”
Mandela’s father served as a counsellor to tribal chiefs for several years. His strict attitude and discipline earned him the respect of the others. Mandela himself highly respected and admired his father as well. As a boy, he would take white ash and rub it into his hair in imitation of him. Not only that, but he also observed his every move, the way he talked in front of an audience, his facial expressions and his body movements. Despite the fact that he was illiterate, he was considered to be a great orator. Mandela looked up to his father and wished to be like him in the future. Who could have guessed that he would eventually surpass him!
Apart from the fatherly figure, the family environment can also shape a child’s personality. Mandela grew up in a big family. His father had four wives (Great Wife, Right Hand Wife and Mandela’s mother – Noqaphi Nosekeni, Left Hand Wife, Wife of the Iqadi) and a total of thirteen children – four boys and nine girls. Mandela was the youngest of his father’s sons and his mother’s first child. He grew up with love, respect and lots of care, elements crucial in a child’s upbringing and in the formation of one’s personality.
“Children are the most vulnerable citizens in any society and the greatest of our treasures.”
A few years later, in 1926, when Mandela was still a little boy, his father was involved in a dispute that deprived him of his chieftainship. At the time Mandela was told that his father lost his job for standing up to the magistrate’s unreasonable demands. Apart from losing his job and his title, Mandela’s father also lost a big part of his fortune, since he was deprived of most of his herd and land, as well as his income.
As a result, they had to move to Qunu, a nearby village, and live there a humble life. There was great poverty in Qunu but despite the straitened circumstances Mandela had some very happy childhood memories there. One of the most serious problems was the lack of food. Mandela recalled only eating corn, sorghum, beans, and pumpkins whilst tea, coffee, and sugar were considered luxury. Education was also considered a privilege.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
Even though both his parents were illiterate, his father was dreaming of a better future for his son, and thus at the age of seven he decided to send Mandela to school. Because of their Christian beliefs, Mandela’s mother thought it would be better for him to attend a Christian school nearby.
Going to school was something very special and unique for a child back then. On the first day of school, Mandela’s father gave him his first pair of pants and some advice on good behaviour and let him go to school alone. There, one of the first things his teacher did, was to give each of the students an English name, in accordance with the custom of giving all schoolchildren “Christian” names. She told him that his new name from then onwards would be Nelson. Primary lesson at school was the English language, whilst British ideas and British culture played a major role in the school’s educational system.
From a young age Mandela’s personality stand out. All of his teachers were very proud of him. He was a diligent student, he always followed his teacher’s instructions, he had an excellent behaviour, and he was always one of the best students in the class. He tried his best to earn a better life for himself and his family.
“Apart from life, a strong constitution, and an abiding connection to the Thembu royal house, the only thing my father bestowed upon me at birth was a name, Rolihlahla.”
Two years after his first day at school, when Mandela was nine years old, his life turned upside down once again. One night, he went home to find his father lying in the hut, feeling weak and having severe pain in his chest. Mandela presumed he had a lung disease, although it was never diagnosed. His father remained in the hut for several days only getting worse. He was neither moving nor talking. Mandela had a bad feeling and thus he never left his father’s side. One day, he hugged his mother and promised her that he would take his father’s place and that he would protect her no matter what. A few days later, after fulfilling his last wish to smoke his pipe, Mandela’s father passed away.
After the death of his father, Mandela’s life drastically changed. Undoubtedly, the sudden death of a parent is certainly among the most difficult situations an adult – as well as a child – may ever face. Children however are sometimes dealing better with death than adults. They understand that death is permanent and final and that it cannot be reversed, but they lack the necessary life experience to realize that death is inevitable for all living things, themselves included. So, when that time comes, the process of grieving after a loss varies from child to child.
Mandela felt deep sorrow from losing his father. He did not only lose a parent, but also a person who he trusted and admired more than anyone on this world, his mentor and his role model in life. Even so, he tried to conceal his sorrow in order to protect his mother and siblings. He showed incredible inner strength and courage for such a young boy. Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean that the death of his father didn’t leave a scar on his soul.
On the contrary. This tragic event of his life changed him and made him realize that he had to follow his father’s advice and finish off the work he started, choosing to take a road against submission and injustice.
“Friendship and support from friends is something which is a source of tremendous inspiration always and to everyone.”
Soon after his father’s death Mandela’s life changed drastically. His mother was unable to provide for him on her own and took the decision to send Mandela away from the Qunu village. Her decision shocked Mandela deeply, but he knew that it was for his own good. She wanted to give him a chance to live a better future. It wasn’t an easy decision. Soon after the loss of her husband she had to let go of her son as well. Mandela on the other side had never lived outside the village and away from his tribe. He felt that he was abandoning everything he loved, his home, his friends and family. But he had no other choice.
His mother took him to the “Great Place” palace at Mqhekezweni, the royal residence of Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo, the regent of the Thembu people, who offered to become Mandela’s guardian. Seeing the wealth and the beauty of his new home, he realised that a new life was starting for him. As the days were passing by, he was missing his mother and his life in Qunu, but he was having a great time in the Great Place.
There, at his new school he studied English, Xhosa, history, and geography and he was a very good and hardworking student. He was also getting along with the regent’s children, Justice and Nomafu, very well. All three of them were treated the same and felt like siblings. Moreover, Mandela looked up to Justice, and the two boys quickly became best friends. Justice had become quite a hero in Mandela’s eyes.
“Democracy and human rights are inseparable.”
What contributed greatly to Mandela’s later notions of leadership were the tribal meetings that were regularly called at the Great Place. They were discussing national matters such as the droughts, new laws and policies. He was observing the language used by the speakers, all their moves, expressions and arguments. Soon he distinguished among many different techniques that people used to persuade their audience with. He also realized that despite the hierarchy everyone was welcomed to attend the meetings, speak and express opinion on the matters freely.
The regent would speak last, and he would sum up the discussion so far. He wouldn’t force his decisions on people who disagreed. On the contrary, in case of disagreement, they held another meeting some other time. Later in his life, Mandela followed the same principles he first saw demonstrated by the regent at the Great Place and this is maybe what distinguished him as a leader.
“Without education, your children can never really meet the challenges they will face. So, it’s very important to give children education and explain that they should play a role for their country.”
Growing up, Mandela’s destiny was to become councillor to the Thembu royal house and not a worker at the gold mines like most at the time. To do so, he had to acquire the necessary education. Thus, in 1933, he set off to Clarkebury Boarding Institute in Engcobo, a Western-style institution and the largest school for black Africans in Thembuland, where he began his secondary education.
In Clarkebury everyone was treated the same: “I had to make my way on the basis of my ability, not my heritage” he said. Apart from studying, Mandela often participated in sports and games and socialized with other students. He also became best friends with a girl for the first time in his life – a girl named Mathona, who he despised at first.
Through lots of hard work and determination he completed his Junior Certificate in only two years instead of the usual three. And that because he never forgot his original goal, to gather various experiences, learn new things and become more mature and wiser like a king’s councillor should be.
“I have always believed that sport is a right, not a privilege.”
Two years later, in 1937, when Mandela was nineteen years old, he was sent to Healdtown, a Wesleyan College in Fort Beaufort, the usual college for Thembu royalty. Justice was already a student there. Ιn Healdtown there were studying more than a thousand students of both sexes from all over the country. There, Mandela made new friends from other tribes for the first time and found new hobbies: long-distance running and boxing. He was also appointed a prefect and had many responsibilities and chores throughout the day.
“Thinking is one of the most important weapons in dealing with problems.”
In 1939, when Mandela was twenty-one years old, he got accepted in the University College of Fort Hare. Fort Hare was an elite Institution with only one hundred fifty students and Mandela felt really lucky and proud to be there, whilst Justice had remained at Healdtown for he wasn’t a very diligent student.
In his first year, he studied English, anthropology, politics, native administration, and Roman Dutch law. He also attended interpreting courses which he loved the most and dreamt of becoming an interpreter in the magistrate’s office or a clerk in the Native Affairs Department. In his free time, he kept active and did lots of sports. He liked playing soccer and cross-country running the most. He also joined the drama club and took ballroom dancing lessons. Moreover, he became a member of the Students Christian Association and taught the Bible on Sundays in neighbouring villages.
Fort Hare University was a dream come true for Mandela. Being able to get a bachelor’s degree at the time was a major opportunity. He thought that he would be able to help his mother and sisters live a better life in Qunu. He wanted to provide them with the life they had lost when his father died.
“There are few misfortunes in this world that you cannot turn into a personal triumph if you have the iron will and the necessary skill.”
In 1940 Mandela got suspended from the university. During his second year he got involved in the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) boycott against the bad quality of food. Unless the authorities accepted their demands, they wouldn’t give up on their goal.
Mandela was called in to see the principal, who asked him to reconsider his actions or else he would be expelled from Fort Hare. Mandela faced a huge dilemma that day. “I found it difficult to swallow the idea that I would sacrifice what I regarded as my obligation to the students for my own selfish interests” he said. As much as he wanted to see his dream come true, at the end of the year Mandela left Fort Hare without taking a degree. Just like his father, he was determined to stand by his principles at any cost and refused to bend to authority. It is obvious that this was a strong – perhaps inherited – and recurring trait of his personality as we will see later on.
“You are responsible for your own future, and with hard work you can accomplish anything and make your dreams come true.”
Mandela had no other choice than to return to Mqhekezweni and live once again in the Great Place with the regent’s family and Justice, who had long returned back home. However, the regent’s decision to arrange marriages for both of them shortly after his return, shocked them both. If he chose to disobey the regent, Mandela knew he could no longer remain under his roof and guidance. Justice was of the same mind, and so they decided that running away together was their only option. Inevitably, the two young men set off to Johannesburg.
The fact that Mandela defied the regent’s wishes had a pinch of irony in it. “It was the regent himself who was indirectly to blame for this, for it was the education he had afforded me that had caused me to reject such traditional customs. […] I was a romantic, and I was not prepared to have anyone, even the regent, select a bride for me” Mandela said. A year later in 1941 and a few months before his death, the regent visited Mandela in Johannesburg and forgave him for his actions.
Johannesburg in those days was rapidly growing and life there wasn’t easy, mostly because of the racism and the poverty. The demand for labour was high as more and more Africans from the countryside were seeking work there. In the meantime, Mandela’s dream had changed, and he envisioned himself as an attorney. At first, he worked as a security guard for Crown Mines but later he got a job as a clerk in a law office. At the same time, he decided to complete his bachelor through the University of South Africa (UNISA), that offered credits and degrees by correspondence. He got his degree at the end of 1942. Later on, he also enrolled at the University of the Witwatersrand, or else “Wits”, for a Bachelor of Laws degree. He was the only African student in the law faculty. He met new people and made new friends who had fresh ideas and revolutionary political beliefs, loved politic and wanted to make a difference even if they had to sacrifice themselves for the cause of the oppressed.
“Mass action is a peaceful form of channeling the anger of the people.”
During his time at Wits, Nelson Mandela became increasingly aware of the racial inequality and injustice faced by non-white people. In 1943, he decided to join the African National Congress ANC and actively take part in the struggle against apartheid. At first, Mandela was simply attending its meetings but later he joined ANC in a bus boycott and protested against the bus ticket’s rising price with great success, what got him more involved. In 1944, along with other party members they formed the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL). Its primary purpose was to give direction to the ANC in its quest for political freedom. Thanks to his commitment to the cause Mandela rose rapidly through the ranks of the ANC.
“To be in love is an experience that every man must go through”
In 1946, Mandela met and quickly fell in love with Evelyn Mase. They got married within a few months of their first date. Soon after their marriage, they got a son Madiba “Thembi” Thembekile and a year later a daughter Makaziwe, who died aged just nine months. This was a huge loss for Mandela and the worst time of his life.
It is often said that there is no greater loss than the loss of a child. It feels completely unnatural for a child to die before his or her parents and there is nothing one can say or do to lessen the pain of the parents at the time. A piece of themselves is lost forever and only time can heal the pain.
After the death of his daughter, Mandela tried to keep his mind constantly busy. He worked long hours. He departed early every morning, only to return home late at night, and he had no time for his family and no personal life at all. His career and his political action seemed to be more important.
“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion.”
The general election of May 1948 in South Africa brought the National Party to power. The government immediately began enforcing strict and more systematic policies of racial segregation and developed a political and social system known as “apartheid”. Mandela and ANC wanted to encourage serious action against apartheid and a non-violent resistance through boycotts, strikes and demonstrations.
A few years later, in 1952 Mandela and his friend Oliver Tambo opened a law office in Johannesburg called “Mandela and Tambo”. It was one of South Africa’s first black-owned and operated law firms aiming to defend Africans’ rights in court. “For Africans, we were the firm of first choice and last resort. To reach our offices each morning, we had to move through a crowd of people in the hallways, on the stairs, and in our small waiting room,” Mandela said. After all, offering help to those in need was the reason Mandela became a lawyer.
In the meantime, Mandela organized and took part in major campaigns against the apartheid, gave significant speeches and got a couple of times arrested. He soon drew the government’s attention. They considered Mandela to be a threat and had to take actions against him. They forbid him to travel outside of Johannesburg as well as attend any meetings or talk to more than one person at a time. He couldn’t even attend his son’s birthday party for that reason! A nine-month prison sentence was suspended because of a fair-minded and reasonable judge who accepted that the ANC was committed to peaceful and non-violent action.
In 1956, Mandela and 155 more people were arrested and accused of high treason and of an alleged conspiracy to overthrow the government. They were kept in prison for two weeks but soon freed on bail. The trial itself lasted for five years till 1961. Due to insufficient evidence they were found not guilty.
“The beauty of a woman lies as much in her face as in her body.”
In 1950, Mandela and Evelyn had their second son, Makgatho. However, Mandela’s hard working schedule and his devotion to politics increasingly took him away from home. In 1954 the birth of Mandela’s second daughter, named Makaziwe, in honour of their first baby girl, failed to save their marriage. In 1956 when Mandela got out of prison, Evelyn had already moved out. They took divorce the next year.
In 1957 Mandela met a woman sixteen years younger than him, Winnie Madikizela, a medical social worker at the Baragwanath Hospital in Johannesburg. They got married in 1958, but four months later the ANC got banned and Mandela got once again imprisoned. In the same year and while pregnant, Winnie took part in several protests and got arrested. Soon after her release she gave birth to their daughter Zenani, on February 4, 1959. A year later they had their second daughter, Zindziswa (Zindzi).
“Men must follow the dictates of their conscience irrespective of the consequences which might overtake them for it.”
On April 6, 1959, PAC (Pan Africans Congress) a new organization was founded. All they wished for was a “Government of the Africans, by the Africans and for the Africans”, and thus they organized many campaigns and protests. However, on 21 March 1960, in Sharpeville, what started as a peaceful march took a sudden turn; 69 of the protestants were killed and many more were injured when the police suddenly opened fire against them. This resulted in many strikes all around the country and subsequently the government declared a State of Emergency. Both the ANC and the PAC were banned and declared illegal organizations. Mandela along with many other party members were arrested under the State of Emergency and taken to prison, where they were all mistreated.
The Emergency was lifted five months later, and Mandela was let go. The event however destroyed his carrier as a lawyer and ANC. Yet, he couldn’t stay idle. He took part in secret meetings of the ANC and went underground organizing strikes. Mandela realised that the non-violent tactics and the peaceful protests of ANC so far had failed them. His actions during those years earned him the nickname “The Black Pimpernel” and another warrant for his arrest, but he chose to fight than surrender; “I have chosen this course which is more difficult, and which entails more risk and hardship than sitting in gaol. I have had to separate myself from my dear wife and children, from my mother and sisters to live as an outlaw in my own land. I have had to close my business, to abandon my profession, and live in poverty, as many of my people are doing […] For my own part I have made my choice. I will not leave South Africa, nor will I surrender. Only through hardship, sacrifice and militant action can freedom be won. The struggle is my life. I will continue fighting for freedom until the end of my days,” he wrote in a letter he released to the press at the time, whilst he also held secret meetings with reporters and gave his first TV interview.
Mandela knew what he wanted from the very start. He would not hesitate, not even for a single moment, to give his own life for the freedom of his country. His determination and resilience were remarkable and inspiring. It was hard for him to imagine how one could go against, shoot and kill innocent, unarmed people that all they wanted was a chance for a better life.
“If the criticism is valid, it must be made.”
The days when Mandela was an innocent child playing in the fields of his village were long gone. In 1961, Mandela wasn’t just a country boy anymore. He was an underground fugitive and one of the most wanted men in South Africa. What made him stand out and separated him from the other leaders was that he wasn’t in the spotlight. Mandela hid from the world and was acting from the shadows mostly during night hours. He refused to play by the government’s rules and played with fire instead. But he couldn’t care less.
Despite his open and friendly personality Mandela loved solitude. Being alone enabled him to move undisturbed, carefully calculate his next moves and think his plans throughout without unnecessary interferences. On the other hand, he was unable to keep a healthy relationship with his family once again. He was away from his wife and children and rarely saw them in fear he would get caught. Yet Winnie was a person with great understanding and patience.
“Let us keep our arms locked together so that we form a solid phalanx against racism.”
Up until this point ANC was against using or advocating violence during their protests, but in the wake of the Sharpeville massacre ANC decided that it could no longer remain an organization of passive resistance and that they should change their tactics. Thus, they formed an armed wing named uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK for short) to fight against apartheid.
Mandela was a man with an enquiring mind and a desire to learn and make a difference. He read many books about war strategy and fights of the past as well as African history and was ready to start a real revolution. At the time he sought shelter at Liliesleaf farm in Rivonia, in northern Johannesburg under the alias of David Motsamayi posing as a caretaker. The farm was also used as hideout for many other anti-apartheid activists.
On 16 December 1961, on the annual national holiday “Day of the Vow” MK launched its armed struggle. They committed several acts of sabotage that continued throughout the year. They carried out numerous bombings mainly against government structures such as military installations, power plants, and transport links in various cities such as in Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth, and Durban and during night hours, when civilians were not present to ensure minimum casualties.
“Mass action is a peaceful form of channeling the anger of the people.”
In 1962, Mandela decided to leave South Africa in secret and seek political and economic support, military training, as well as boost MK’s reputation in other countries. He pursued his cause throughout Africa and travelled among others to Ethiopia, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Mali, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Senegal. Later on, he travelled to London as well. Upon his return to South Africa on 5 August 1962, Mandela was however arrested and accused of inciting workers’ strikes and leaving the country illegally. On November 7, he was sentenced to five years in prison.
“I realized that they could take it all except my mind and heart. And I just made a decision not to give them away.”
A year later in 1963, while Mandela was serving his five-year sentence in Johannesburg’s Fort prison, the police arrested several MK leaders in a raid on Liliesleaf Farm that served as their hideout and discovered many incriminating documents as well some of which mentioned Mandela. All of them including Mandela were prosecuted in the Rivonia Trial –named after the suburb where the farm was located – and charged of sabotage and conspiracy. The alleged offences were punishable by death but those who were convicted, were sentenced to life imprisonment instead.
Mandela was already gaining popularity and had become a symbol of justice. The trial itself gained international attention and is considered to be one of the most important events in the history of South Africa. Mandela gave a historic three-hour speech from the dock, in which he explained and justified their actions. “Your Worship, I hate racial discrimination most intensely and in all its manifestations. I have fought it all my life, I fight it now, and I will do so until the end of my days. I detest most intensely the set up that surrounds me here. It makes me feel that I am a black man in a white man’s court. This should not be” he said.
Mandela later made it clear that he was ready to sacrifice his life for the sake of his country; “I have fought against white domination. I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all people live together in harmony and equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve but if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” Mandela was taken from the courthouse directly to Pretoria Local Prison.
“After one has been in prison, it is the small things that one appreciates: being able to take a walk whenever one wants, going into a shop and buying a newspaper, speaking or choosing to remain silent. The simple act of being able to control one’s person.”
A life behind bars isn’t easy and no one knows what it’s like unless they go through it themselves. Prisoners are confined in a certain environment where they have to adapt quickly if they want to survive. They have no freedom and no identity and as a result prison affects every aspect of one’s life. It not only has an impact on one’s mental well-being but over time also shift’s one’s personality, leading the prisoner toward becoming a different person, especially after long-term imprisonment.
Prisoners are made to wear the same cloths as everybody else, eat the same food every day and follow the exact same schedule. Friendships in prison are a matter of controversy as well. Being very close with someone isn’t advisable. All contacts are strictly monitored and can turn out dangerous as well.
Life after prison isn’t by any means easer. Getting out of jail isn’t the end of it for most people. Starting a new life after prison from absolute scratch seems hard, and the reintegration of prisoners into society is a struggle. The deprivation of liberty and the lack of privacy scar them for life.
Mandela wasn’t like the rest of the prisoners. Even in jail he tried to make a difference. He was scared for sure but knew very well how to hide his emotions and over time he got tougher. He chose to be put in isolation than wear short trousers and eat stiff and cold food, where he could eat and wear whatever he wanted. Mandela spent a couple of weeks there completely alone, but soon he realized that nothing is more important than human companionship, and he gave in.
“The suffering of the people of any single country affects all of us no matter where we find ourselves.”
After a while Mandela and the other convicted leaders were transferred from Pretoria to the Prison on Robben Island. Mandela was 46 years old at the time and would remain in the Robben Island prison for 18 years until his next transfer.
There were no black guards and no white prisoners in Robben Island prison. The guards used threats and intimidation to enforce the regulations but soon Mandela realized that they had to be friendly with them in order to earn their favour. Hostility wasn’t serving anyone.
What saddened Mandela the most was that the rules regarding correspondence were very strict. Mandela, as a D Group prisoner, was allowed only one visitor, and to write and receive only one letter every six months with word restriction. All letters were censored by the guards. But that wasn’t the worse; “In prison, the only thing worse than bad news about one’s family is no news at all. It is always harder to cope with the disasters and tragedies one imagines than with the reality, however grim or disagreeable. A letter with ill tidings was always preferable to no letter at all,” Mandela said.
Racism and repression were the same inside and out of prison. The discrimination in diet was also clear, Coloureds and Indians received better food than Africans. Furthermore, Africans were given to wear short trousers once again. But Mandela didn’t give up the fight so easily. He tried his best every day to keep his dignity intact. He kept a positive attitude, never letting himself fall in despair. Mandela believed in humanity and looked forward to a better future.
On a more positive note, prisoners were allowed to study and thus at nights Mandela worked on his Bachelor of Laws degree which he was obtaining from the University of London through correspondence. Prisoners were allowed books but no newspapers by any means making the latter “more valuable to political prisoners than gold or diamonds”. The possession of a newspaper was punishable.
As the years were passing by, prison conditions improved, and the prisoners were treated better. African prisoners were given to wear trousers, they were allowed to play games at the weekends and attend religious services. From 1967 onwards, when Mandela became an A Class prisoner, he was allowed more visits and letters.
“The advantage of prison life is that you can sit and think and see yourself and your work from a distance”
Prisoners followed a daily schedule and every single day was exactly the same; time was passing by slowly. Just a few days in prison seemed like a decade. The Rivonia Trial prisoners were spending their days hammering rocks into gravel until they were sent to work in a lime quarry in 1965. The schedule was as follows:
05:30 – Wake-up
06:45 – Cleaning and tiding up the cells
07:00 – Breakfast
07:45 – Inspection
08:00 – Work
12:00 – Lunchbreak
12:45 – Resume work
16:00 – Inspection
16:10 – Shower
16:30 – Supper
17:15 – Free time
20:00 – Sleep
“The wounds that cannot be seen are more painful than those that can be treated by a doctor.”
Mandela missed his family the most. Winnie wasn’t able to visit him regularly, for she was being imprisoned a couple of times for political activity herself. Mandela was constantly worried about her and the thought of her being in prison too was agonizing. The few letters they send to each other weren’t enough to fill the emptiness in his heart and words couldn’t express what he felt.
In 1968, Mandela’s mother accompanied by his son Makgatho, his daughter Makaziwe, and his sister Mabel visited him in Robben Island. He hadn’t seen his children in years due to strict prison regulations that didn’t allow children between the ages of two and sixteen to visit a prisoner. He was deeply shocked to see how time had changed them, especially his mother who looked old and worn. His fear that this would be the last time he saw her came true as she died of a heart attack a few weeks later. His request to attend her funeral was turned down. Mandela felt great sorrow along with some guilt; “A mother’s death causes a man to look back on and evaluate his own life. Her difficulties, her poverty, made me question once again whether I had taken the right path,” he said.
A year later in 1969, Mandela experienced another insufferable loss. His first and oldest son, Thembi, had been killed in a motorcar accident at 25. He left a wife and two small children behind. The news struck Mandela hard. He was forbidden from attending his funeral as well and sat powerless grieving for days in his cell.
In 1975, Zindzi turned fifteen. Having her documents modified by her mother, she was able to visit her father a year sooner than allowed. She only knew him through photographs, but it turned out to be a very touching moment for both of them.
“To deny any person their human rights is to challenge their very humanity”
In 1969, the Bureau of State Security, South Africa’s secret intelligence agency was plotting Mandela’s death. The plan was to shoot him dead during an escape attempt. They sent a young guard to persuade Mandela to escape. His plan seemed far-fetched and unreliable and Mandela was wise enough not to trust him. Why would a guard risk his life to free a prisoner after all?
But this wasn’t the only scheme against him. Mandela was many times tempted to escape, but he never went through with the plans at the end, either because he realized it was an ambush or he thought of the consequences. He would have to live with the fear of being traced and caught again, and he knew they would never stop looking for him.
“There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires”
In 1974, on Mandela’s 57th birthday, his comrades suggested he should secretly write and publish a book with his memoirs and thoughts as a reminder to people of what they had fought so far and give them courage and strength to keep fighting. Mandela decided to go through with the idea and started writing the same night. He was sleeping during the day and writing at night making the guards suspicious.
It turned out to be a five-hundred-page manuscript of which they also made a copy for safety. One was kept in the cells and the other was buried in the courtyard’s garden. The buried manuscript was discovered when a wall was built at the site. Mandela was accused of abusing his study privileges in order to write the illegal manuscript and his study privileges were being suspended for four years.
However, his efforts did not go in vain as they managed to smuggle the copy in London in 1976. Mandela resumed the book after his release in 1990. The manuscript constitutes the core of his autobiography under the title “Long Walk to Freedom” published in 1994.
“When we read, we are able to travel to many places, meet many people and understand the world”
At last, in 1977, after many strikes and demands by the prisoners, the authorities put an end to manual labour, and let prisoners spend their days in their sections. Mandela spend his free time gardening and playing tennis in the courtyard. He also began to exercise again and read books. He was reading books mostly about South Africa or by South African writers, all the unbanned novels of Nadine Gordimer, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck and War and Peace by Tolstoy. The authorities also allowed prisoners to watch selected films and documentaries once a week such as “The Mark of Zorro”, “The Ten Commandments”, “The King and I” and “Cleopatra”. Finally, in 1980, A-Group prisoners were allowed to buy one English-language and one Afrikaans newspaper a day.
“To overthrow oppression has been sanctioned by humanity and is the highest aspiration of every free man”
Without any previous notice, on 31 March 1982 Mandela and his comrades were transferred to Pollsmoor Prison, in Tokai, Cape Town. Authorities wanted to isolate them and lessen their influence on younger activists. Change was always hard for Mandela. Having lived for 18 whole years on Robben Island, he got used to it. The unknown and the lack of stability frightened him.
The Pollsmoor prison was according to Mandela “a world of concrete” but not only were the facilities and food much better but also the new prison allowed contact visits between inmates and their family members. After all these years Mandela was finally able to hug and kiss his wife. “It had been twenty-one years since I had even touched my wife’s hand,” he said.
Outside of prison the political climate was tense, and violence was escalating across the country. On January 31, 1985 the state president Pieter Willem Botha offered Mandela his freedom under the condition that he “unconditionally rejected violence as a political instrument,” expecting that Mandela would betray his people and abandon his fight. On 10 February 1985 Mandela’s daughter Zinzi read a statement on his behalf at a rally in Soweto: “I cannot and will not give any undertaking at a time when I and you, the people, are not free. Your freedom and mine cannot be separated.” With those words Mandela rejected yet another offer of conditional release. In the past he was offered his freedom as long as he accepted to confine himself to Transkei.
For the second time in history the South African government declared a nationwide State of Emergency on 12 June 1986. Thousands of people were arrested. A month later USA approved the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act, a law which imposed sanctions against South Africa and requested the end of apartheid.
In the same year Mandela was diagnosed with an enlarged prostate gland and underwent surgery. After his recovery he was taken to a new cell in a completely different wing away from his comrades. It was perhaps an attempt to isolate him and make him give in.
“In my country we go to prison first and then become President.”
In 1987, suffering from a bad cough and a general weakness, Mandela was taken to the hospital in Cape Town, where they found water in his lungs. He was operated and diagnosed with tuberculosis, probably due to the dampness of his cell. Thus, after many complaints, in December 1988, Mandela was moved to his “last home before becoming a free man”, to Victor Verster Prison near Paarl in order to recover. Mandela was 70 years old at the time, and he spent there the last 14 months of his 25 years of captivity. He was not given a cell but a large warder’s house in the grounds of the prison instead, with a big garden, a swimming pool as well as a personal chef. Mandela said that he had the illusion of freedom. He could do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, as if he were a free man. Among other activities, Mandela spent his time to complete his LLB degree.
It’s strange how things sometimes turn out. On 18 January 1989, president Botha suffered a mild stroke. He resigned and was replaced by Frederik Willem de Klerk. De Klerk had a few meetings with Mandela to discuss the situation. He agreed with Mandela to unban the ANC and all other banned political organizations (including the armed wing of the ANC), lift the country’s State of Emergency, release all political prisoners, and allow the exiles to return. His friends were the first to be released but Mandela knew his own freedom wasn’t far away.
Finally, the most awaited day had come! On 11 February 1990, after 27 years of imprisonment, Nelson Mandela was unconditionally released and walked out of the Victor Verster prison as a free man, holding Winnie’s hand in front of a large crowd, photographers and reporters. Mandela wasn’t prepared for such a scene, nonetheless he felt great excitement; “I felt — even at the age of seventy-one — that my life was beginning anew. My ten thousand days of imprisonment were over,” he said.
Right after his release Mandela was driven to Cape Town’s City Hall and gave a speech from the balcony. The crowd was huge and cheering. Mandela expressed his hopes for reconciliation but declared that the ANC’s armed struggle wasn’t over. They were close to their goal but there were still many things to negotiate with the government. Two days later Mandela gave a second speech to a crowd of 120,000 people at Johannesburg’s Soccer City.
“Life is like a big wheel: the one who’s at the top, tomorrow is at the bottom.”
During the following years Mandela travelled to Africa, Europe and America in order to gather political support, meet world leaders – such as François Mitterrand, Brian Mulroney, Margaret Thatcher and George Bush – and draw attention to his cause. In the meantime, on 5 July 1991, at the ANC’s national conference in Durban Mandela was elected ANC President, replacing Oliver Tambo.
On 10 December 1993, Mandela was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with de Klerk at the Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony in Oslo, Norway. “A man does not become a freedom fighter in the hope of winning awards, but when I was notified that I had won the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize jointly with Mr. de Klerk, I was deeply moved. […] To make peace with an enemy one must work with that enemy, and that enemy becomes one’s partner” Mandela said.
After four long years of negotiations, April 27, 1994 was set as the date when South Africa’s first national, non-racial, democratic, one-person-one-vote election would take place. According to the polls, ANC held a clear advantage over its rivals, but Mandela never took victory for granted. He knew very well that his major opponent had more experience in these matters. ANC’s campaign slogan was “A Better Life for All”, but Mandela never lied during his campaign: “Life will not change dramatically, except that you will have increased yourself-esteem and become a citizen in your own land. […] if you want better things, you must work hard. We cannot do it all for you; you must do it yourselves.” And so, April 27th or else “Freedom Day” became an annual celebration that commemorates the day in 1994 when the country’s apartheid system of racial segregation came to an end as a result of years of struggle and sacrifice. The black majority was able to go to the polls and elect their own leader. That day, at Inanda, Durban, Mandela voted for the first time in his life too and he voted for himself for president. The ANC won these first historic elections with a vast majority (62.6%) and was qualified for 252 of 400 seats in the national assembly.
“Poverty is man-made and can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings”
A few days after South Africa’s first national democratic elections, on May 10, 1994, Mandela’s inauguration took place at the Union Buildings in Pretoria replacing F.W. de Klerk. The event was witnessed by over one hundred thousand people on site, and millions of others around the world. At the age of 75 Mandela became South Africa’s first black president. “We pledge ourselves to liberate all our people from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender, and other discrimination. Never, never, and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another,” Mandela declared in his inaugural address.
Mandela tried to stay true to his word. After all, this wasn’t just a promise to his voters but to himself as well. It was time to tread a new path and he had to lead the way. Through the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), ANC tried to deal with the country’s severe social and economic problems and focused on people’s most immediate needs. RDP’s general goal was to boost the collapsing economy and alleviate poverty. They dealt with issues of major importance such as proper housing and land reform, nutrition, access to clean water, electrification, transportation, telecommunication, healthcare and children vaccination, unemployment and public works. Also, one of the primary tasks of Mandela’s presidency was national reconciliation. He wanted to reassure South Africa’s white minority that they were protected and represented.
In February 1996 the new South African government took things a step further establishing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Its purpose was to investigate crimes and uncover the truth about human rights violations that were committed during the period of apartheid (from 1960 to 1994) by both the apartheid state and the ANC. The hearings lasted for about two years dealing with cases of tortures, bombings, abductions and assassinations. Information were gathered from victims, witnesses and offenders, and the Commission issued a final report. No individuals were prosecuted for crimes of the past. According to Mandela the commission did an excellent work and helped the country “move away from the past to concentrate on the present and the future.”
With age being a strong factor, in December 1997 at the party’s conference, Mandela stepped down as ANC President, and in March 1999, after just one term as President, he closed the book on his presidency with a farewell speech to the Parliament. By the 1999 election, ANC had achieved many of its goals; millions of people were connected to the electricity grid and to telephone lines, hundreds of houses were constructed, and even more households got access to clean drinking water, millions of children were brought into the education system, and a significant number of hospitals were constructed.
“I am not nervous of love for love is very inspiring”
In the midst of political turbulence and social change, Mandela had little time for his personal life and thus his marriage with Winnie suffered. Winnie had distanced herself from him and rumour has it she had an affair. Mandela utterly disappointed in her described that time as “the loneliest period of his life.” He announced their separation in 1992, and they divorced four years later.
After so many years without affection, Mandela didn’t want to spend the rest of his life in loneliness. And so, when Mandela met Graça Machel – a woman 27 years younger than him and widow of former president of Mozambique, Samora Machel – he envisioned a future with her. The couple decided to get married in 1998, on Nelson Mandela’s 80th birthday. “Late in life, I am blooming like a flower because of the love and support she has given me,” Mandela told reporters.
“I have retired, but if there’s anything that would kill me it is to wake up in the morning not knowing what to do.”
Despite his retirement, Mandela didn’t give up completely on his people. For several years after his retirement from active politics, he got engaged in several philanthropic activities. He continued his contribution to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund (NMCF) which he set up in 1995, aiming to help hungry, abused and homeless children. In 1999 he established the Nelson Mandela Foundation (NMF), a non-profit organization focused on continuing Mandela’s legacy for equality, justice and peace. Last but not least, the Mandela Rhodes Foundation offers scholarships to African students who dream of using knowledge to change the world.
In July 2001, aged 83, Mandela was diagnosed with prostate cancer and underwent a seven-week radiotherapy course as treatment. The cancer wasn’t of a high grade and didn’t require chemotherapy or surgery. However, as Mandela grew older and his health declined with age, he wished to stay away from public life as well and enjoy a quiet life with his large family (he had 17 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren). Yet the requests for public appearances and interviews were too many. “I do not intend to hide away totally from the public, but hence forth I want to be in the position of calling you to ask whether I would be welcome, rather than being called upon to do things and participate in events. The appeal therefore is: don’t call me, I’ll call you,” he said politely.
But life is full of unexpected turns and his happiness was shadowed by the pain of losing another son. On 6 January 2005, his eldest son Makgatho died of AIDS. AIDS epidemic posed a serious threat to Africa and the infection rate grew rapidly. At a time when taboos still surrounded AIDS, Mandela socked the world by announcing the cause of his son’s death. “Let us give publicity to HIV/AIDS and not hide it, because the only way to make it appear like a normal illness like tuberculosis, like cancer, is always to come out and say somebody has died because of HIV/AIDS, and people will stop regarding it as something extraordinary,” Mandela said at his son’s funeral. Following the tragic event Mandela became an active AIDS campaigner. He also started a charity for HIV awareness and prevention, called 46664, named after the prison number assigned to him in Robben Island prison.
“Even if you have a terminal disease, you don’t have to sit down and mope. Enjoy life and challenge the illness that you have.”
During his last years of life Mandela battled with health issues that led to numerous hospitalizations. In February 2011, at the age of 92, Mandela was hospitalized with a respiratory infection and was released in a stable condition. A year later in 2012 he was re-admitted shortly for a lung infection. In the following years his lung infection took a turn for the worse and in June 2013, he was admitted to the hospital in serious condition once again. Although his condition remained unstable, he was discharged. Unfortunately, the illness advanced and on 5 December 2013 at the age of 95, Mandela passed away at his home in Houghton, Johannesburg.
President Jacob Zuma announced Mandela’s death on television, “Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father,” he said, and the South African government declared a 10-day national mourning as a mark of respect. From 11 to 13 December Mandela’s body laid in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria and two days later on 15 December 2013 a state funeral was held in Qunu. More than 80 representatives of foreign states travelled to South Africa to pay their respects. Nelson Mandela’s death had shaken South Africa to the core and the whole nation mourned for him, for they felt they had lost their hero.
“It becomes important, the older you get, to return to places where you have wonderful recollections.”
Mandela succeeded because of his strong will. Throughout his life he proved that only sky is the limit. Nothing is impossible as long as we never give up. He never gave up on justice, his beliefs, his hope for equal rights and his desire for freedom. He wasn’t vindictive and despite the horrors he had to face he didn’t believe in the eye for an eye justice. It’s good to always remember his words: “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”
Only few will understand in depth his complex personality. He found the inner strength to fight his own battles. He came to this world to make a difference and hold his head up high. Mandela made history, he left his mark and touched people’s lives. He lived a unique life and took hard decisions. He was prepared to sacrifice his life for the freedom of his country, a sacrifice that very few would make.
Mandela was a remarkable man, and he never stopped trying for the best, because, like he said: “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.” The road to freedom was a difficult one, and Mandela opened the door to a better future, but a joint effort is required to keep it on the right track, and according to Mandela’s favourite quote “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
Get inspired from Nelson Mandela’s most important Quotes:
Nelson Mandela Quotes Collection (Phrases)
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Nelson Mandela Quotes (Pictures)
This was an analysis of Nelson Mandela’s personality and life. If you want to find out which personality you belong to or what kind of Motto suits you, click on the link below:
Tributes, honours and awards
Mandela received more than 250 awards, honours, honorary degrees from universities and other recognitions. Some of the most important ones are listed below:
1988 – Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought
1991 – Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize
1993 – Nobel Peace Prize
1993 – Philadelphia Liberty Medal
1994 – Anne Frank Medal
1994 – Olympic Gold Order
1994 – The Hunger Project’s 8th annual Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger
1996 – Freedom of the City of London
2001 – International Gandhi Peace Prize
2002 – Presidential Medal of Freedom
2006 – Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award
2009 – The United Nations General Assembly declared 18 July to be “Nelson Mandela International Day” or else “Mandela Day”
Nelson Mandela has written numerous books, mostly autobiographical ones that provide great insight into his life and help us understand better the horror of apartheid and the struggle for freedom. Others include speeches, letters and quotes of him and address readers of all ages. Some of them are:
1970 – Nelson Mandela: I Am Prepared to Die
1973 – No Easy Walk to Freedom
1978 – The Struggle is My Life
1980 – In His Own Words
1990 – Nelson Mandela Speeches, 1990: Intensify the Struggle to Abolish Apartheid
1991 – How Far We Slaves Have Come! South Africa and Cuba in Today’s World
1993 – Nelson Mandela Speaks: Forging a Democratic, Non-racial South Africa
1994 – Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela
1996 – Mandela: An Illustrated Autobiography
1998 – The Essential Nelson Mandela
2000 – Words of Wisdom: Selected Quotes
2001 – Nelson Mandela
2002 – Nelson Mandela’s Favorite African Folktales
2005 – Prisoner in the Garden: Photos, Letters, and Notes
2009 – Selected Speeches and Writings of Nelson Mandela: The End of Apartheid in South Africa
2010 – Conversations with Myself
2010 – Quotes of Nelson Mandela
2011 – Nelson Mandela by Himself: The Authorised Book of Quotations
2012 – Le Temps est venu
2012 – Notes to the Future: The Authorized Book of Selected Quotations
2013 – Long Walk to Freedom: Illustrated children’s edition
2013 – Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom: The Book of the Film
2013 – Meine Waffe ist das Wort: Mit einem Vorwort von Desmond Tutu
2013 – Un ideale per cui sono pronto a morire – Il discorso più bello di Nelson Mandela
2017 – Dare Not Linger: The Presidential Years (released posthumously and completed by Mandla Langa.)
2018 – The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela
“The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to, and I paint whatever passes through my head without any other consideration. Since my subjects have always been my sensations, my states of mind and the profound reactions that life has been producing in me, I have frequently objectified all this in figures of myself, which were the most sincere and real thing that I could do in order to express what I felt inside and outside of myself.”
More than half a century has passed from her death, and yet Frida Kahlo’s distinctive and iconic image still feels so fresh today. The flowered hair, her intense gaze under that striking unibrow and all that colourful dresses made her stand out to the world. Yet, she wasn’t just an image, Frida Kahlo was a renowned Mexican painter of the 20th century and a worldwide symbol of feminism and vigour.
She was always attracting attention. Either in the streets of New Work, in Paris, or in happenings in Mexico, people just stood and stared at her. The combination of the long colourful dresses, the traditional jewellery and the braided hair with the flowers and the ribbons, created a unique aesthetic style with no comparison. Her appearance, closely bound up with her artworks, shaped her identity, and all those different colours and shapes reflected her unique personality. Regional Mexican garments, such as the Tehuana dresses, became her signature outfit.
“I paint my own reality. The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to, and I paint whatever passes through my head without any other consideration.”
Common theme in Frida’s paintings was herself, always painted in vibrant colours. With shocking intimacy, lots of phantasy and humour she depicts her own body broken, bleeding or in pain. She painted her own reality and made art out of her physical and emotional pain. Her works might be overly dramatic but nonetheless authentic and make people stare them with awe. Every little detail is important too, for it may hide her deepest and most secret feelings. Her eyes in her self-portraits draw people in and gaze into their very soul. Pablo Picasso, who admired her deeply, once said: “Neither Derain, nor I, nor you are capable of painting a head like those of Frida Kahlo.”
Her inspiration was her own life. Frida recreated snapshots of her life, where her physical and psychological pain is evident. Her life and her work were shaped not only by her turbulent relationship with Diego Riviera — their marriage, the infidelities, their divorce, their remarriage, — but also by her chronic physical pain, the multiple surgeries, the miscarriages, and the amputation. Her works narrate a personal journey through pain and hardship, masked under a thick layer of colourful oil paint.
“I don’t give a shit what the world thinks. I was born a bitch, I was born a painter, I was born fucked. But I was happy in my way. You did not understand what I am. I am love. I am pleasure, I am essence, I am an idiot, I am an alcoholic, I am tenacious. I am; simply I am … You are a shit.”
Looking deeper into Frida Kahlo’s life and work, one could say that Frida might have actually suffered from borderline personality disorder (BPD). Overall, people with BPD have a fragmented, chaotic sense of self, meaning they lack stability or self-cohesion. Their emotional relationships are unstable, they experience tremendous fear of abandonment, and they try to avoid being abandoned by any means often using manipulating techniques. This could perhaps explain why Frida felt hopeless and empty throughout her life.
During her whole life, Frida was trying to feel cohesive and complete. She was constantly seeking love, approval and attention from the people around her in order to feel alive. All that derived from her childhood years. Her illness at the age of six and her withered leg made her feel fragile, weak and inferior to other children. Yet, it was her fragility that brought her father closer to her. He always helped her and looked after her. Frida was the third child of her father’s second marriage and thus she feared that he would neglect her. Thus, she tried to make him love her more than his other children and bound him to her. This was a reoccurring theme in her life. Her mother on the other hand, wasn’t as caring as her father, what left an empty space in her heart.
Inevitably, she was trying to get from her husband the love she never got from her mother. Diego was an older man, with whom she felt secure, because he protected her just like her father did. Yet, Diego meant much more to Frida. He was not only her partner but her mentor as well. His influence helped her shape her art and her persona. She had idealized him. They were strongly attached to each other. One needed the other to feel complete as a person. Each time that this special bond broke, it had serious effect on their lives, especially Frida’s. She felt abandoned, lonely and heartbroken. Her life had no meaning. It comes as no surprise that she forgave his many infidelities and remarried him. They shared an emotional attachment that made Frida need Diego in order to live and keep her art alive. Diego felt no different.
Frida’s fragmented self and feelings of abandonment are obvious in all of her paintings. Despite all the people who cared about her, she always felt lonely and unwanted. Her constant need of love and approval was evident in all the letters she wrote to Diego, her friends and lovers. She took rejection hard and often struggled with depression for long periods of time. In spite of all the anxiety and periods of depression, Frida used to say that she loved life, and there were times when everything seemed pretty. In her final years, all the heavy medication she took, due to her serious health condition, made her paranoid from times to times. Frida was afraid of death and thus she took great care of her health. Her serious health problems made her have regular medical check-ups and go under multiple surgeries.
As said before, Frida was an attention-seeker. Her appearance alone –the colourful dresses, the jewellery and the flowers – never went unnoticed. She had managed to create an extraordinary persona that cached everyone’s eye. However, Frida didn’t hesitate to deploy her own pain and suffering to get what she wanted – admiration and attention. And that surely is reflected in her paintings too. By painting herself as a martyr, who has suffered extreme pain, she managed to provoke feelings not only of admiration but also of pity and sympathy. She presented her problems in an overdramatic way, making others see her as a tragic victim, either of Diego’s infidelity or her physical pain’s. She rightfully won the title of “The Grande Dama of Suffering” for she used her illness and suffering in her favor. “We like being ill to protect ourselves,” she wrote in her diary, because she felt that when sick, she was loved and taken care of the most.
Nothing could fill the empty space inside Frida’s soul. The only thing that partially soothed her pain was her relationship with Diego. But every fight made it worse. Over time her desperation grew bigger and led her to alcohol and excessive use of painkillers. During the last year of her life she made numerous suicide attempts. People with BPD often behave like that. Frida loved kids, but she couldn’t have children of her own and that was killing her. Painting was the solution to her every problem. Getting through hardship by making art became an integral part of her life. It gave her strength and a reason to live. Receiving admiration for her works was her only comfort in life.
“The most important part of the body is the brain. Of my face, I like the eyebrows and eyes. Aside from that, I like nothing. My head is too small.”
Frida Kahlo was born on July 6, 1907 in Coyoacán, a small city in the suburbs of Mexico. She was born with a mixed heritage. Her father, Guillermo Kahlo, was German of Hungarian-Jewish descent, whilst her mother, Matilde Calderón, was of Spanish and Indian heritage and a devout Catholic. Her full name was Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderón, but she dropped the ‘e’ from her German name because of the rise of Nazism in Germany at the time, and became known as Frida, using a more Hispanic name. It’s obvious that Frida wanted to create a myth around her name. Thus, she also claimed to be born on 1910, the same year with the outbreak of the Mexican revolution.
Yet, Frida wasn’t born lucky. All the hardship started at her early childhood. When she was only six years old, Frida was diagnosed with polio. The disease, caused great damage to her right leg, leaving it shorter and weaker than the left. She tried very hard to cope with her disfigurement. She usually hid it under long skirts or crossed one leg over the other while seated, as often seen in photographs. Children used to make fun of her in school, calling her “Pata de Palo”, meaning peg-leg, a nickname which she later adopted herself and jokingly used to sign her letters to her friends. Frida closed herself off from other people and created a world of phantasy in her mind. She invented an imaginary friend who later might have inspired her double portrait The Two Fridas (1939).
“My toys were those of a boy: skates, bicycles.”
However, Frida didn’t give up and tried to overcome her impairment. She got into several sports, such as football, boxing and swimming. She liked climbing on trees and ride her bike along the lakes of Chapultepec Park, activities unusual for little girls in Mexico at the time. She was different in every aspect and people admired her for that. On the other hand, the singularity of her behaviour scared the other children away.
“I am in agreement with everything my father taught me and nothing my mother taught me.”
Even within her family Frida felt alone and isolated. Her loneliness is evident both in the family pictures and her paintings later on. As a tomboy, she was very different from her sisters — even from her sister Cristina, no matter how close in age they were. Her mother, Matilde, wasn’t an affectionate person. She was cold and distant towards her and seemed to love God more.
The lack of affection from her mother might be the root cause of Frida’s emotional hunger throughout her life. She needed the love and attention that was deprived as a child. A mother-child bond is one of the most important bonds in the first years of a child’s life and has a huge emotional impact on the child when its missing.
Unlike with her mother, Frida had a very close relationship with her father. Guillermo loved Frida very much and it was very obvious that she was his favourite child. “Frida is the most intelligent of my daughters, she is the most like me,” he said. He was very attentive towards Frida and devoted himself to her recovery, since she was special for him. Guillermo also wanted to spark Frida’s imagination in a wide variety of ways. He was a photographer, and he liked taking Frida with him at his studio or at the photo shooting locations. He was a good painter too, and that’s how Frida first came in contact with painting. He was Frida’s role model, and he made her childhood happy. She admired him for never giving up on his work, despite his health problem (he long suffered from epileptic seizures), and it seems that she took his example later in her life as well.
“I was a child who went about in a world of colors… My friends, my companions, became women slowly; I became old in instants”.
In 1922, Frida’s father believing in her intelligence and having great hopes for her, decided to enrol Frida to Escuela Nacional Prepatoria, a preparatory school in Mexico City. Her mother was most likely opposed to this idea, thinking it would be very dangerous for a girl to be alone in an unprotected environment. In addition, it was very rare for girls of the time to get a higher education. In fact, there were only 35 girls out of the two hundred students in that school.
Her distinctive clothing and her unusual hairstyle drew her classmate’s attention, however this time positively. Her friends thought she was fascinating. They said she carried “a little world” in her bag, books, notebooks, drawings even dried flowers and butterflies. Frida wasn’t a diligent student. Thanks to her intelligence however she got high scores without much of an effort. She could read a text once and remember it forever. She didn’t like attending boring lectures, instead she preferred to sit outside and read books with her friends. Frida was unconventional for her time; her friends were too, and so they formed a group named Los Cachuchas. It consisted of seven boys and two girls. They liked creating chaos at school with the outrageous pranks they pulled. Once, they brought a donkey in the halls and the classrooms emptied and, on another occasion, they set off firecrackers during a boring lecture that they wanted to get cancelled. Frida Kahlo was gaining somewhat of a name amongst her peers.
“I very much love things, life, people.”
In Prepatoria Frida saw Diego Rivera for the first time, a well-known painter of the time, who was there to paint a mural in one of the school’s amphitheatres. He was then 36 years old and Frida barely 15. Frida was immediately and completely smitten by Diego. She idolized him, and dreamt of them being together. Indeed, her dream came true many years later. Diego was working long hours at the amphitheatre, always accompanied by beautiful models, who posed for him, and who most probably were his lovers too. One of those beautiful women was Diego’s wife, Lupe Marín. She and Frida would become good friends in the future. Frida was always just sitting there and watching Diego paint with awe. She was jealous of his lovers, and she made fun of him now and then trying to embarrass him in front of them, by calling one with the name of the other. One day Frida told her friends: “My ambition is to have a child by Diego Rivera. And I’m going to tell him so someday.” Frida wasn’t blessed to have children with Diego, but they did get married nonetheless.
“I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best.”
Undoubtedly, the nearly fatal accident Frida had when she was 18 years old, shocked everyone who knew her. On September 17, 1925, Frida was riding a bus home from school together with her first boyfriend and fellow Cachucha, Alejandro Gomez Arias, when an old electric trolley car crashed into the bus. Those who were present in the accident were talking about a girl covered in blood and glitter. This girl was Frida, and she would survive to become one of the greatest artists of all time.
In that life-threatening accident, Frida got heavily injured. She was taken to the hospital nearly in pieces. Her spinal column, collarbone, pelvis and ribs were all broken in more than one places. Her shoulder was dislocated. Her right leg was fractured in 11 places, whilst her right foot was crushed as well. An iron handrail was penetrating her body from one side to the other. The pain was excruciating.
Due to the multiple fractures and injuries Frida was bedridden in the hospital for three months. The shock was so big for her parents that none of them visited her at the hospital. Her mother kept to herself for several months, whilst her father fell seriously ill. Her sister Matilde and a few friends were the only ones who went to visit Frida. When she got out of the hospital, the atmosphere in her house was very heavy. She spent many months recovering at home, suffering from severe pain from head to toe. She felt lonely and was overly afraid of death.
“My painting carries with it the message of pain.”
From 1925 onwards, Frida’s life became a constant battle against ill-health and corrosion. For many months she was laid up in bed, wearing plaster corsets, that prevented her from moving. Therefore, Frida began to paint. At first painting was something to help pass time, but later on it became an integral part of her life. Through painting Frida managed to reinvent herself and she began a brave attempt to rise like some phoenix from the ashes. She had found a way to express her feelings and the pain she was going through. Her first works were mostly self-portraits that revealed her physical suffering and her feelings of loneliness and helplessness. She bared her soul to the world and used her phantasy to describe her inner struggles not in words but in colours. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.
“I love you more than my own skin.”
By 1928 Frida was able to move and walk again. The same year, Frida was officially introduced to Diego Rivera, who she met again after all these years. Diego was then 41 years old and one of the most famous artists in Mexico. His murals decorated the walls of the country’s most important buildings. One day, Frida went to find Diego at the site where he was working. She found him atop a scaffolding working on another one of his murals. She called him loudly and asked him to get down and give her his honest opinion on the works she’d brought with her. “Look, I have not come to flirt or anything even if you are a woman-chaser. I have come to show you my painting. If you are interested in it, tell me so, if not, likewise, so that I will go to work at something else to help my parents,” she said. Diego got down from the scaffolding and took a look at Frida’s paintings, “Look,” he said, “in the first place, I am very interested in your painting, above all in this portrait of you, which is the most original. The other three seem to me to be influenced by what you have seen. Go home, paint a painting, and next Sunday I will come and see it and tell you what I think. You have talent.”
Just a few days after his first visit at her house, Diego kissed Frida for the first time and the two became inseparable. They had a huge age difference between them. Diego was 20 years older than Frida but this didn’t seem to bother her. Frida’s family eventually accepted their relationship as well. Her father used to warn Diego; “She is a devil,” he often said. But Diego loved Frida’s unconventional thought and sharp mind. He was struck by her fresh spirt and sexuality. It looked like they never got bored of each other. From the way they spoke to each other, it was clear that they also shared the same sense of humour and sarcasm, “You have a dog face,” he was saying teasingly, “And you have the face of a frog!” she was answering him back. It’s a wonder that a young and beautiful girl like Frida fell in love with someone so much older, overweight and physically unattractive, like Diego. Diego’s appearance might not have been his strong point, but he had a strong social status, a great talent and charm that attracted the ladies. He was Frida’s world, her everything; her teenage crush, her mentor, her source of inspiration, her great love. He was a strong man and Frida was feeling safe in his arms. She could lean on him and evolve her talent.
“Diego was everything; my child, my lover, my universe.”
Frida and Diego got married on August 21, 1929, in a simple ceremony that only Frida’s father and few other friends attended. Frida’s parents said it was like the marriage between an elephant and a dove. During the first few months of their marriage Frida wasn’t painting much. She devoted herself to taking care of her husband. Yet, in 1929 in her self-portrait “Time flies” her serious and rather sad face reveals that there might have been troubles in their marriage already. Frida suffered a miscarriage that left her devastated. She tried not to think about it much, therefore she kept her mind busy by taking care after her house and Diego, by painting, or by accompanying her husband at work. Despite the pain and disappointment of not being able to have a baby, Frida had another problem to deal with – Diego’s affairs with other women. Although her feelings were hurt, she was always trying to laugh Diego’s affairs off. As a couple they had a stormy relationship with many violent fights, yet they loved each other deeply. Frida was going through tremendous mood swings. There were times when she was upset, furious, and felt hatred towards Diego, and others when she felt utterly in love with him and swore to love and take care of him forever.
One thing is for sure, one could not live without the other. “Little Frida” was like a mother to Diego who loved him unconditionally and forgave his mistakes. He too loved her very much and believed in her and her talent. That’s also why he tried to make her independent by helping her develop and evolve her work as an artist. On the other hand, Frida felt emotionally complete only when she was by Diego’s side. Despite the pain he was causing her, he was the only one who could fill her empty soul. She found meaning in life, only when he was in it. Even her art was highly influenced by him. Her existence was meaningless without him. She was his most loyal ally and supporter, and she never asked more than he could give. This was the only way the two could be together. A friend of theirs one said: “She treated him like a god. He treated her like a sweet thing.”
Diego did not only help Frida shape her art, but also helped her create a persona. In fact, Frida only embraced the so- called Mexicanism during her lifetime, just to please Diego. That’s why she started wearing the traditional Tahuana dresses. But all the while, all these colourful dresses, the jewellery, the ribbons and the flowers became an integral part of her image and personality. They served as inspiration for her art and at the same time as a mask to hide her pain and despair.
“I find that Americans completely lack sensibility and good taste. They are boring, and they all have faces like unbaked rolls.”
The political scene in Mexico was tense. Diego, as an artist inspired by the political landscape of the time, was considered to be a controversial figure. The Communists called him “government agent” whilst the government an “agent of the revolution”. Diego decided that it was time to leave the country. Frida of course supported his decision and followed him to San Francisco on November, 10, 1930. On their way there, Frida gave Diego a self-portrait with a strange city in the background as a gift. “Its background was an unfamiliar city skyline. When we arrived in San Francisco, I was almost frightened to realize that her imagined city was the very one we were now seeing for the first time,” Diego said.
Frida knew very well that for Diego art came first. He was working long hours, and he was away from home all day long. At first, the days in San Francisco were very boring to Frida. She used to follow Diego at work, and she rarely painted for herself. After Diego’s art exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Frida’s life became more interesting. She got new friends, such as Dr. Eloesser and Tina Modotti with whom she explored Manhattan and went out to luxurious restaurants and the movies. Although she regularly mocked the American lifestyle, she got used to the new way of living. She was no longer the shy and lonely woman she used to be when they first came to America. Wherever she’d go, she was always the centre of attention, thanks to her Mexican outfit and Diego was always bringing out the best of her extraordinary character when they were together in public. In 1932, in Detroit, Frida and Diego lived a life in luxury, and quickly became a part of the city’s high society, amongst other artists and billionaires of the time. One of them was Henry Ford who gave them a car in exchange for a portrait of his daughter.
“I think that little by little I’ll be able to solve my problems and survive.”
In the summer of 1932, Frida got pregnant again for the second time. She decided to keep the baby despite her ill-health but unfortunately the pregnancy was lost. She spent thirteen days in the hospital, full of pain and grieve. For many days she was crying nonstop out of despair and fear that she would never be able to have a baby. Frida’s feelings are reflected in her painting Henry Ford Hospital (The Flying Bed) (1932), where she depicted herself lying in the hospital bed, suffering and bleeding. At first, she started with just a few drawings and a portrait, and later on, she asked her doctor to bring her some medical books so that she could draw in detail the lost fetus. Frida’s artistic outburst that followed this tragic event of her life is best described by Diego’s own words: “Immediately thereafter, she began work on a series of masterpieces with had no precedent in the history of art—paintings which exalted the feminine qualities of endurance to truth, reality, cruelty, and suffering. Never before had a woman put such agonized poetry on canvas as Frida did at this time in Detroit.”
As seen in her paintings My Birth (1932), My Nurse and I (1937), Me and My Doll (1937), the agony of not being able to have a baby followed her through her life. According to Diego they had three more failed attempts to have children. There could be many reasons why Frida so desperately desired to have kids. Perhaps all that she wanted was to give Diego a child or just strengthen their relationship. Another guess, is that she sought some form of fulfilment in motherhood. Her obsession with motherhood was evident not only in her paintings but also in Caza Azul, her home in Mexico. There, Frida kept fertility books, a human fetus preserved in a jar of formaldehyde — a gift from Dr. Eloesser — and a huge collection of dolls. Frida clearly had lots of love to give. She was very affectionate with her sister’s children, and also had many pets; cats, dogs, pigeons, parrots, an eagle, a few monkeys and a deer.
“Pain, pleasure, and death are no more than a process for existence.”
Just a few months after her miscarriage in 1932, her mother died in Mexico. This was a very difficult period in Frida’s life. In just a short period of time, Frida not only lost an unborn child but also her mother. The two of them never had an affectionate relationship in the past but despite their fights they came pretty close later on when both grew older. Frida used to call her “mi Jefe” (my chief). At the news of her loss, Frida fell apart. She would miss her mother dearly for the rest of her life.
“Painting completed my life.”
Kahlo channelled her grief into art. Despite the fact that she started painting more and only got better by time, painting wasn’t her favourite activity at the time. Instead, she preferred getting dressed in her traditional dresses and go out to visit friends, to shop or go to the movies. She wasn’t devoted enough. She considered painting as part of her persona, and nothing was more important to her than just being who she was –the remarkable Frida Kahlo. Diego believed in her talent, but his efforts to make her take art seriously went in vain. However, her negative attitude towards her work would change over time.
“I am that clumsy human, always loving, loving, loving. And loving. And never leaving.”
Frida’s and Diego’s marriage suffered under great strain and continued to deteriorate. Diego was working around the clock. Frida, most of the time was staying home alone, feeling sad and lonely. She was crying a lot, what seemed to make Diego angry.
In 1933, Diego got a job to paint a mural at the newly built Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. He liked his life in America. He was enjoying the fame he got from this country and didn’t want to go back to his old life. But Frida was homesick and desperate to return to Mexico. This of course brought forth many arguments between them. Frida depicts her lonely life in America and her need to go back home in her painting My Dress Hangs There (1933). The fights were very intense sometimes and Frida’s eyes were always red from crying. After a while Diego got fired from the project because he incorporated politically controversial messages into his work that insulted the Rockefeller family, and they took action to shut it down. His mural was immediately coved up. That incident seemed to have greatly upset Diego and caused further troubles in their marriage. Soon after, they decided to return to Mexico but Diego never felt right about this decision and blamed Frida for persisting. His behaviour gave Frida a hard time and made her feel guilty and miserable.
“I suffered from two grave accidents in my life. One in which a streetcar knocked me down. The other accident is Diego.”
When Frida and Diego returned to Mexico in 1933, they moved into their new house at the corner of Palmas and Altavista in San Angel, a house especially designed to suit their unique and unconventional lifestyle. In fact, it consisted of two separate buildings joined by an elevated bridge. Frida’s was painted pink, Diego’s blue. Both were surrounded by a natural cactus fence inspired by the Mexican tradition that caught everyone’s eye. The colourful walls, the paintings, the huge garden with the rare plants which Frida was gardening herself, as well as the bizarre pets, such as monkeys and parrots made the house look as if it came from another planet. Their house acted as a creative nest for some of the most famous and talented artists of the time. Painters, writers, photographers, musicians, actors, even politicians, and other renown and wealthy people visited the famous couple’s home, and they all had a story to tell.
Despite how colourful their house might have been, their life had its dark side. Frida’s dream for a fresh start in their marriage crashed the moment they arrived in Mexico. Diego was dealing with great psychological pressure due to his failed mural at the Rockefeller Center and his reluctant return to Mexico. He couldn’t find meaning in his art anymore and painted less. He had lost many pounds and suffered from psychosomatic disorders. Perhaps he was going through a middle age crisis. All these affected Frida as well, who was yet again felling lonely and helpless. Her health was going from bad to worse. During 1934 she was admitted three times to the hospital, once to get an abortion and the rest due the worsening pain in her leg.
“I tried to drown my sorrows, but the bastards learned how to swim, and now I am overwhelmed by this decent and good feeling.”
The situation only got worse when Frida discovered Diego’s affair with her younger sister Cristina. The attraction between those two began much sooner in 1929, when Christina posed naked in the role of Eve for one of Diego’s murals. Christina had perhaps always been jealous and competitive of Frida, nevertheless she was undoubtably another victim of Diego’s charm. Frida was dealing with a double betrayal, not only from her husband, but from her sister as well. It hurt her feelings irreparably. She was overwhelmed with anger, disappointment, resentment. Her world fell apart. Now she was truly alone. She vented her anger by cutting her hair short, and she stopped wearing the Tehuana dresses that Diego liked.
Frida could take it no more. She left Diego and moved in a modern apartment in the center of Mexico City. She tried to fool everyone into thinking that she was happy. But those who truly knew her, could see the pain in her eyes. Her painting A Few Small Nips (1935) portrays her hurt soul, the despair and melancholy she was feeling. She lies naked, bleeding and suffering, whilst Diego stands beside the bed staring at her with a knife in his hand.
“I never paint dreams or nightmares. I paint my own reality.”
Despite being separated, they met regularly. They couldn’t stay away from each other for long. Diego knew that he could never be faithful to a woman, but he truly regretted hurting her. If he had to choose between Frida and Christina, he would choose Frida without any hesitation.
By the end of 1935, Frida using her humour as a weapon, got over it pretty quickly and forgave Diego for what he did. Sure, a mistake can be forgiven, but not forgotten as seen in her paintings Memory (1937) and Remembrance of an Open Wound (1938). Frida however appears different this time. The wound is still there, but she stands free and powerful, ready to go her own way. It is a fact that this event made Frida stronger. Instead of being a just beautiful presence by Diego’s side, she decided to get independent. Of course, she never stopped shining bright next to him, but soon she realized that what got the other’s attention was her own light and energy.
“Of the opposite sex, I have the moustache and, in general, the face.”
Apparently, the next few years were happy ones, as Frida moved back in with Diego. To spent her time, she used to take long walks, visit her sisters, even go on some brief excursions in the countryside. However, during those years Frida started drinking heavily. Sometimes she carried a little flask of cognac in her purse or hid it in her coat. Now and then, she’d put liquor in a perfume’s bottle and while pretending to wear her perfume, she’d take a quick sip or two under her blouse without anyone noticing. It was widely known that “Frida could drink any man under the table.” Her alcohol problem is evident through Dr. Eloesser’s letters. He advised her to cut down alcohol and she answered that she had stopped drinking “cocktailitos” and only drunk a bear daily. But her addiction in alcohol and drugs would only become worse.
Moreover, it wasn’t just Diego who was unfaithful. Frida herself had quite a few affairs, with not just men but with women as well. The free-spirited and unconventional lifestyle at the time, helped her embrace her homosexual side. The love affairs between women were then a common thing and considered as innocent pleasures. Neither Frida, nor Diego who encouraged her and seemed to enjoy his wife’s homosexual affairs, were ashamed of her homosexuality and it didn’t by any means make her less appealing in his eyes. In What I saw in the Water (1938) and Two Nudes in a Forest (1939), Frida presents her ambivalent sexuality to the world. Some say that Diego encouraged Frida’s homosexual affairs because he couldn’t or wouldn’t please her sexually himself whilst others because he wanted to be free to have his own. What’s for sure is that he didn’t have the same reaction to Frida’s heterosexual affairs. Then, he became jealous and possessive. Frida kept those affairs in secret and warned her lovers that Diego was even capable of murder. Her strong sexuality is expressed through her paintings Flower of Life (1943) and Sun and Life (1947), where the sexual energy is almost palpable.
“I leave you my portrait so that you will have my presence all the days and nights that I am away from you.”
On November 21, 1936, after nine whole years in exile, the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky and his wife Natalia arrived in the harbour of Torreón in Mexico. At the behest of Diego, the Mexican government granted Trotsky political asylum under the condition that he wouldn’t interfere in the country’s internal affairs. Frida was among those who welcomed them, while Diego awaited them home. Frida and Diego would share their home with Trotsky and his wife for the next two years. Diego took care of the house’s safety, while Frida was their advisor and accompanied the couple almost everywhere, since none of them spoke a word of Spanish.
Trotsky was very friendly towards Diego and Frida, despite his cold and distant character. The four of them spent a lot of time together; they often had lunch together, made picknicks and went on small trips near the Mexico City. It was only a matter of time before Trotsky fell for Frida. At first, he wrote her love letters, which he slipped into books that didn’t hesitate to give her even in front of their partners. In just a few weeks the flirt turned into a love affair and the couple met in secret in Christina’s home.
But eventually Frida grew tired of him and ended the affair in just a few months. Trotsky through another letter explained Frida how important she was to him and begged her not to break up with him, but Frida had made up her mind. “I’m very tired of the old man,” she wrote in a letter to her friend Ella Wolfe. Frida was flattered by his attention and impressed by his status in the political world, but she wasn’t in love with him. A few months later, on November 7, 1937 — a significant date because it was not only Trotsky’s birthday but also the anniversary of the October Revolution — Frida painted a self-portrait as a birthday gift for Trotsky. She turned him down but gave herself back to him in the form of a portrait to tease him. In the dedication she wrote: “For Leon Trotsky with all love I dedicate this painting on the 7th of November 1937. Frida Kahlo in San Angel, Mexico.”
“I am my own muse, the subject I know best.”
Since her relationship with Trotsky ended, and he and his wife moved out, Frida’s relationship with Diego came back to normal. They lived together but put a great emphasis on personal autonomy and freedom. In the meantime, Frida started taking her art more seriously. She improved her technique by working every day with great concentration. The years 1937-1938 were her most productive years so far.
Frida spent many hours working alone in her studio even though she could easily get distracted. Frida deserved all the admiration and encouragement she received, however she never believed in herself and in the value of her work. She was very modest and hesitated to let others see her work. She neither tried to exhibit her work, nor sell them or get good reviews. She wanted to be remembered for who she was as a person, rather than as an artist. In the summer of 1938, she made her own money by selling four of her paintings for 200 dollars each to the American actor Edward G. Robinson. This came as a surprise to Frida and immediately realized what this meant for her, “This way I am going to be able to be free, I’ll be able to travel and do what I want without asking Diego for money,” she said.
“I don’t know how to write love letters.”
In December of that same year Frida travelled to New York City alone for her first solo art exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery. The exhibition was crowned with complete success, despite the bad economy. Twenty-five of her paintings were exhibited and half of them were sold. The exhibition received great reviews. There, she met the famous French surrealist poet and critic André Breton, who got so fascinated by Frida’s paintings that characterized her art as “a ribbon around a bomb”. Frida wanted to use her maiden name and not Diego’s, so that people won’t presume that she wanted to get advantage of her husband’s name, but, in the end, she had to use Diego’s name in a parenthesis beside hers as well. Diego was incredibly supportive in all this, and he cleared the way for her success by sending many letters of recommendation to prominent figures of the artistic world of the time.
Frida loved being in the center of attention and completely independent for the first time. She was free, away from Diego, determined to live her life in Manhattan to the fullest. She had many friends there and always had a great time wherever she’d go. Everyone got captivated by her bright personality whereas her unique appearance and outfits drew great attention as always. She liked life in New York and was fascinated by the varied street life of Chinatown, Little Italy, Broadway and Harlem. Only her poor health was holding her back. Due to the pain in her right leg she couldn’t walk long distances, while the pain in her spine worsened.
While in New York, Frida continued her secret love affair with the photographer Nickolas Muray. Frida’s love letters reveal that it must have been a passionate relationship. However, no one and nothing could compare to the powerful connection she had with Diego. He was always in her thoughts. In the meantime, André Breton was organizing a second exhibition for her in Paris. She had second thoughts about going, but Diego who knew her best and wanted the best for her, convinced her to go.
“They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.”
So, after New York, Frida’s next stop was Paris. The exhibition of her works opened on 10 March 1939 in the Pierre Colle Gallery. Once again, the critics embraced the originality of her art with fantastic reviews. One of her paintings, the colourful self-portrait The Frame, was purchased by The Louvre. Her art inspired the Surrealists’ fascination and was warmly received by many artists, such as Kandinsky and Picasso, who gave her a unique pair of golden hand-shaped earrings as a gift.
Despite her success, Frida despised Paris. She couldn’t find absolutely no glory in the so-called city of light. She found the bohemian lifestyle of the artistic and intellectual Parisian elite pretentious and superficial. The atmosphere in Breton’s home was suffocating. In addition, she had to be hospitalised once due to a kidney infection. The pain was once again unbearable. Nevertheless, she got a glimpse of Paris’ surrealistic world, explored all the artist’s haunts with her newly made friends and played games such as jeux de la vérité (Truth or Consequences). The haute couture welcomed her with open arms and many French designers got inspired from her Mexican style. In addition, the French Vogue magazine featured a photograph of Frida Kahlo on its cover. Frida’s carefully constructed iconic image never failed to amaze and astonish.
“Really, I do not know whether my paintings are surrealist or not, but I do know that they are the frankest expression of myself.”
Frida was ignoring the fact that she was a Surrealist up until the moment that André Breton labelled her as such. However, she never intended to be part of the movement. Her work might look surrealistic at first sight, but there’s a big difference among her and the other artists of the movement. Her art is not just an outburst of pure imagination, she did not just paint dreams, but rather her own reality, her own life, her own pain. All of her works derive from her own experiences and the way she perceived them. However, her art is often classified as surrealistic, due to the intimacy in her paintings, the vibrant colours and the randomness (especially in What the Water Gave me). From 1944 up until her death, Frida kept a personal diary, what is perhaps her most surreal work. There, she drew shapes and motives without any particular meaning, as if they were made under the influence of drugs. Undeniably this label gained her critical acclaim in her work, especially at a time when women artists were underestimated. Frida took advantage of her new label and took part in the International Exhibition of Surrealism, which was held in Mexico. She exhibited two of her paintings The Two Fridas (1939) and The Wounded Table (1940).
“Nothing is absolute. Everything changes, everything moves, everything revolves, everything flies and goes away.”
When Frida returned to Mexico, in the summer of 1939, Diego requested a divorce from her. Frida moved back to La Casa Azul in Coyoacán, leaving Diego in San Angel. By the end of the year their divorce was official. The reasons still remain unknown. Frida was away for a long time and her absence might have strongly affected Diego. Some say that Diego learned about her affairs with Muray or Trotsky, others say that the problem was sexual, or that Frida could no longer put up with Diego’s infidelity. According to the couple they just went through a difficult phase in their relationship, but nothing would change what they felt or thought for each other. Indeed, just like it happened before, and despite the divorce, the couple continued to be seen together in public.
Yet, the same year Frida fell in depression and her health deteriorated once again. The severe pain in her spine and a fungus infection on her right hand, often prevented her from working. The doctors were persisting on another surgery. Her mental health went from bad to worse as well. She didn’t want to meet up with Diego or her friends, and she barely even left the house. She was feeling so desperate that she was drinking a whole bottle of brandy by herself each day. Moreover, she cut her hair short once again.
“I put on the canvas whatever comes into my mind.”
However, depression helped Frida create some of her best paintings at that time. Unlike in the past, she now made more efforts to sell her works. She wanted to be completely independent of Diego and not take his money. Once again, her works depict the abandonment, loneliness and despair she was feeling during her divorce with Diego, and her fear of death. These are the following:
In the meantime, she learned the news of Trotsky’s assassination. She got terribly distraught about it. Her health got even worse. Not only that, but she was also picked up by the Mexican police, as she knew the murderer, and was interrogated for two days. Being already emotional unstable, Frida had a mental breakdown. She cried for days. Diego, who was in San Francisco at the time, got really worried and asked Dr. Eloesser to convince her to go there too. It was a good diversion and her mood lifted right away. She said that seeing Diego made her feel better in no time.
“Diego is not anybody’s husband and never will be, but he is a great comrade“
Shortly after their reconciliation, Diego proposed to Frida wanting to remarry her. He claimed that she needed him. Truth be told, he needed her as much as she needed him. Frida eventually agreed to remarry Diego but only under two conditions. The first one was to be financial independent. She wanted to make her own money by selling her paintings. The second one was that they would have no sexual relations whatsoever at least not until he proved his loyalty to her.
And so, on December 8, 1940, Frida and Diego got married for the second time. It was a joyful moment for them both. After going through a difficult time of upheaval and depression, Frida realized that she needed Diego to feel complete and secure. Even if they had no sexual relations as promised, he was her anchor in this lonely world. By his side she felt strong and confident. Moreover, Frida had set her own terms this time and was feeling better than ever. They had a loving and affectionate relationship once again.
“I tease and laugh at death, so it won’t get the better of me.”
Frida’s happiness though didn’t last for long. On April 14, 1941, her beloved father, Guillermo Kahlo died in Casa Azul. Frida was utterly and absolutely devastated. She was closer to him than anybody, as he was the first one who believed in her and supported her first steps in the world of art. Her sadness was so deep that her health deteriorated once again and would decline even more over the coming years. Some years after his death, Frida painted her father’s portrait and wrote a dedication that showed how much she loved him and admired him: “I painted my father, Wilhelm Kahlo of Hungarian-German origin, artist-photographer by profession, in character generous, intelligent and fine, valiant because he suffered for sixty years with epilepsy, but he never stopped working and he fought against Hitler, with adoration. His daughter Frida Kahlo.”
“Really, I do not know whether my paintings are surrealist or not, but I do know that they are the frankest expression of myself.”
During the 40s, Frida’s career took off. Her work was gaining recognition in Mexico and was included in the country’s greatest exhibitions. Not only that, but she also got many awards, distinctions and grants and took part in cultural events and big projects. She began to paint large-scale portraits such as The Broken Column (1944) and Tree of Hope, Keep Firm (1946). Still, despite her increasing popularity, it was difficult to make a living on her own.
In September 1940, Frida began teaching art at the Ministry of Public Education School of Painting and Sculpture in Mexico City, better known as La Esmeralda. Her students adored her. She was a living legend for them. She didn’t have to teach them specific painting techniques. All she had to do was inspire and motivate them. But a few months later her health prevented her from teaching at La Esmeralda. However, she continued giving lessons at four of her favourite students, Los Fridos, who regularly visited her in Casa Azul. After all, what place could inspire them more than Frida’s own house? Another great moment for Frida was the opening of the pulqueria “La Rosita”. With Frida’s help and under Diego’s supervision her students had the chance to paint a decorative mural on one of the walls. That night, the event was attended by many people and caught the attention of the Mexican high society.
“I am happy to be alive, as long as I can paint.”
Frida’s final years were full of struggle and pain. Her health went from bad to worse and the pain in her spine forced her to go under many surgeries. She had to wear medical corsets, and she was unable to sit or lay down in them. She couldn’t handle pain well, nor did she like being bedridden for months. Yet, she had no other choice. She considered those corsets to be some kind of punishment. Her only joy was painting, for she could yet again express her pain through art. The Wounded Deer (1946) is a painting of that time that reflects her declining health. In 1950, she was hospitalized once again. For the many months that followed in the hospital painting was the only thing Frida had in mind. She painted for almost five hours each day. “When I leave the hospital two months from now”, she said, “there are three things I want to do: paint, paint, paint.” Despite everything, Frida kept her hope alive and a positive attitude to the whole situation. Her friends were always around to cheer her up, and Diego never left her side.
Though when she went back home to Casa Azul, she lost her every hope of getting better. Her days were monotonous; because of the pain she mostly staid inside. She could only walk small distances whilst even her wheelchair was uncomfortable. Painkillers were her only salvation. She was feeling desperate and depressed and often had suicidal thoughts. Diego, as usual, was away from home for many hours but Frida didn’t care much anymore. Even though she tried to hide her sorrow in front of others, it was getting more difficult day-by-day. Because of her illness she came closer to her sister Christina, who stayed by her side till the end of her life. They had both long forgotten what divided them in the past. The maids and her nurse loved her dearly and took special care of her as if she was a little child. During that period of time, Frida was painting like no tomorrow. Maybe that’s why her last paintings seem so chaotic. Perhaps she could sense the ending was near.
“To paint is the most terrific thing that there is, but to do it well is very difficult.”
In the meantime, recognition and appreciation for her work continued to grow. In the spring of 1953, Frida had a solo exhibition in Mexico in the Galería Arte Contemporaneo. It was her first solo exhibition in her birthplace and a very special moment of her life. Knowing about her poor health no one expected her to show up. Yet Frida surprised them all on the opening day when she arrived by ambulance, had her bed moved to the centre of gallery and was carried in on a stretcher to the bed. It was an unforgettable night dedicated to Frida. She was the centre of attention and was receiving everyone’s congratulations. It seemed as a final goodbye from all those who admired her.
“Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?”
The last year of Frida’s life was a living nightmare. In August 1953, her right leg had to be amputated below the knee due to gangrene. It felt like a small death to Frida. By losing her leg, she also lost the will to live. She lost her sense of ‘’self’’ and her self-respect. She almost hated herself. She also hated seeing the pity in other people’s eyes, so she didn’t allow visitors. Soon she got a prosthetic leg and her mood lifted for a while. Once again, she tried to deal with it with humour and bought a pair of red leather boots to hide it, but it didn’t really help her feel much better.
Her disability affected her behavior as well. Up until her final moments she loved brushing her hair and wear lipstick, but she couldn’t do much other than that without the help of others. As a result, she always had a bad temper, she was bossy and quarrelsome. When she wasn’t sleeping or under painkillers her behaviour was unpredictable, often hysteric and violent. She got addicted to painkillers and all kinds of opioid medications. She couldn’t do without them. Often, she had to take painkilling injections. When she got desperate, she took excessively high doses or mixed the drugs. Moreover, she was an alcohol addict. She was drinking two litters of cognac per day.
“I paint flowers so they will not die.”
Frida tried many times to kill herself. At first Diego was always by her side but later on he drifted apart as he could no longer see her suffering like that. “If I was brave, I would kill her. I cannot stand to see her suffer so,” he said. His behaviour made Frida feel even more desperate and alone. In some poems she wrote that he was the only reason she was still alive. For almost a year she didn’t paint anything at all. However, in the spring of 1954, she found the strength to get out of her bed and go to her studio. She knew that she didn’t have much time to live and perhaps she wanted to leave some more works behind. Still Life, Frida and Stalin and Marxism will give health to the sick were her last works. All three have a political meaning.
On July 2, 1954, Frida contracted bronchial pneumonia. Against her doctors’ advice she got out of her bed and took part in a Communist demonstration. This was her last public appearance. It was undoubtedly very brave of her. Diego was by her side, pushing her wheelchair in the streets of Mexico and many famous artists were following them.
“I hope the exit is joyful–and I hope never to come back. Frida”
On July 13, 1954, at 6 a.m., while it was still dark outside, Frida’s nurse thought that Frida called her and went to her room to see if she needed anything. She thought that Frida was sleeping and as always, she went to pull up her covers, but then she realized that Frida wasn’t breathing any more. Her hands were cold. Frida had passed away.
The news shocked Diego. He couldn’t accept that his “little Frida” – as he called her – wasn’t part of this world anymore. Like he said, his love for Frida was the most beautiful thing that happened in his entire life. The cause of death was officially reported as pulmonary embolism. Yet, it is very likely, but never confirmed, that Frida couldn’t live like that anymore and committed suicide. Some days prior to her death she drew a black angel in her diary up in the sky – it was undoubtedly the angel of death.
When her death was officially confirmed, they dressed her in her favourite Tehuana dress, braided her hair and adorned her with her favourite jewels. Her friends came throughout the day to say their last goodbye. Her funeral was held in the Palace of Fine Arts, and hundreds of people paid their last respects to their beloved artist. In accordance with her wishes Frida was later cremated.
Frida died at the age of 47 having much more to give to the world. However, she left behind a remarkable legacy of works and a legendary persona. Her house, La Casa Azul, in Coyoacán opened as a museum in 1958, for those who want to get to know her a little better. Among her belongings the visitors have the chance to admire Frida’s last painting, a still life of cut watermelons as a tribute to life, painted eight days before her death. She added the inscription “Viva la Vida” (Long Live Life) by which the painting would become best known. Despite all the difficulties she went through, Frida was a fighter. She loved and lived life to the fullest till the end.
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