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In 1500 Leonardo traveled to Florence for what would be a short second Florentine period. There is a tradition among many in Istanbul that Mahmed the Conqueror, the legendary founder of the Ottoman Empire, had invited Leonardo to Constantinople to paint his portrait. But with Leonardo being unavailable at that time, the commission had gone to an older contemporary, the Venetian Gentile Bellini, who made the journey to the Ottoman capital and produced the only known likeness of the Sultan. Some sources say Leonardo later came very close to relocating to Constantinople, ostensibly to take a position as court engineer and portraitist for the second sultan, Bayezid II, son of the legendary Mahmed. In his application for the job Leonardo presented a preliminary design for a bridge to span the “Golden Horn,” the famous waterway dividing western Istanbul.

“I, your faithful servant, understand that it has been your intention to erect a bridge from Galata to Stambul...” With these words Leonardo described in a letter to Sultan Bayezid II how he would build the greatest single span bridge of the ancient world. The Sultan remained unconvinced and the bridge was not built. After the letter was discovered in the national archives in Istanbul in 1952, the possibility of realizing Leonardo’s bridge has been the subject of much analysis. But whether Leonardo was saved from disaster or deprived of the legacy of being the greatest bridge builder of his time, the “Golden Horn” Bridge design is an eloquent synthesis of form and function typical of his universal thinking.

(Partial source: Bulent Atalay, “Math and the Mona Lisa.”


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