Jonathan Jones’s thoughtful, but late meditation on the late, great J.G.Ballard celebrates his painterly style. Known for his surrealistic descriptions of this world, he had intellectual ancestors in such artists as Dali, Ernst and Magritte. But it is not a well-known fact that Ballard was interested in renaissance artists too, especially Leonardoda Vinci.
One of his finest Leonardo- inspired stories is his Giaconda of the Twilight Noon. Beat that for a title. This is a more like a literary tone poem evoking a state of disturbed mind; in this case that of the protagonist Maitland. Temporarily blinded and in a wheelchair, Maitland has visions of marine terrain reminiscent of the cliffs and rocks in Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks. On regaining his external sight, Maitland finds that he has lost the inner sight with the Leonardo-like vision. So Maitland makes the dreadful decision to blind himself permanently. This oedipal act returns Maitland to the vision of the womb of Leonardo’s painting forever.
Ballard also wrote a story called The Lost Leonardo, which as its title suggests is about the theft of a masterpiece, in this case a fictional representation of the crucifixion by Leonardo. But this is a very different art crime, perpetrated by no less a figure than Ahasuerus, sometimes known as the Wandering Jew, who taunted Christ on the Cross and was condemned to roam the earth until Judgment Day. Determined to put a better spin on himself, Ahasuerus has journeyed through time re-painting and re-touching images of himself that appear in scenes of the crucifixion, including ones by Poussin, Rembrandt and Veronese, to mention a few. Out of 439 on the web gallery of art, I’ve chosen Mantegna’s in the Louvre- 1457-9. When the curators in the story catch up with Ahasuerus, he has his eyes on a Dali crucifixion. But he flees leaving the lost Leonardo behind, and the last thing heard of him is that he has been made director of a museum that is building up a collection of paintings of the cross.