Is this etching a self-portrait by Leonardo da Vinci created hundreds of years ago? That’s what I was told by a Californian friend who had “gone native” in Florence. Another matter: is this, in fact, a commonly believed and shared legend, and what other variations are there on it?
I shared the story with some fellow visitors in Florence on a lunch-time return to the piazza. Ed Chi tried to verify the rumor using a Web search, but with no success. At least in English, there didn’t seem to be much on this in the Web. (See my photo and comments on Flickr.)
I posted the photo on Flickr. I asked questions on LinkedIn and Yahoo! Answers, with no success. I also asked for help from workers on Mechanical Turk. Here’s part of how I asked for help:
There is a portrait etched in stone on the wall of Palazzo Vecchio in Piazza della Signoria in Florence (Firenza), Italy. It is close behind the copy of the David there. I have heard that there is a legend that this is a self-portrait by Leonardo da Vinci. I am looking for any information about this legend, alternate versions of the legend, or information about the real source of the portrait.
What results have been offered seem to suggest that this legend exists — though perhaps it is “actually” (at least as captured online, since perhaps the Leonardo theorists aren’t as active digital content creators) about Michelangelo:
- Palazzo Vecchio in Italian Wikipedia
- Florentine Legends: Fact or Fiction (in Italian)
- Curiosities in Florence
The best way of finding out seemed to actually be my Flickr photo itself, since that’s where Daniel Witting provided the first two links above — however, this was a few months after the photo was first posted to Flickr. Turkers provided a couple useful links also (“Curiosities” above) on a shorter schedule and with a higher price. (I should have also tried uClue — where many former Google Answers researchers now work. This was recommended by Max Harper, who has studied Q&A sites in detail.)
Question and answer services along the lines of Yahoo! Answers rose to global (and U.S.) significance only after success in Korea, where Naver Knowledge iN pioneered the use of an online community to power a Q&A site. A major motivation Korea was the limited amount of Korean content online. With Naver’s offering, Korea’s Internet saavy, English population made information newly available in Korean (and did plenty of other interesting work).
This is as significant a motivation for Q&A sites by English-speaking folks in the U.S., but the present case is an exception.
Some of the questions that made this case interesting to me:
- What culturally-shared beliefs get manifest online? During this whole process, I and others wondered whether perhaps this local legend was only shared orally. It seems that it is represented online after all — at least the Michelangelo variant, but it could have been otherwise.
- How does the pair of languages a task requires knowledge of determine the processes, structres, and communities that are optimal for completing the task? For example, it seems quite important whether the target or source language has many more speakers than the other. (One could think about this simplistically in terms of conditional probabilities of skills with language A given skill with language B and vice verse.)