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But here again we may ask, was Leonardo a realist, or did he distort nature by dwelling exclusively on exceptions? Realism, as we understand it in our own times, is either platitude or an exclusive preoccupation with what is ugly. From this grovelling point of view, proud, free spirits such as Leonardo can never be realists. Has not the master shown us by his example that art must be either subjective or non-existent? Take any one of his heads of old men: even when he seems to be giving himself up to the work of mechanical reproduction, he eliminates, perhaps unconsciously, everything opposed to the type that rises before his imagination, interposing between his eyes and the model. He ends by giving us, not a photographically faithful image of some individual, but an ideal of his own, which has incorporated itself in some face, seen, perhaps, by chance. Under his pencil this face is unwittingly transformed, and in a moment its personality is exchanged for one the artist has evolved from dreams.
Darwins of his day. Yet Leonardo seems to have studied only the exterior physiognomy of beings; his pencil does not penetrate beyond this. But he wished to create, and even to overstep Nature; in all branches of knowledge, his love of research was very strongly developed, and he inquired into the greater in order to obtain the less. His sheets of sketches must be looked upon as jottings purposely exaggerated, a teratological system carried to an extreme, a jeu d'esprit akin to those of Bacon, when he amused himself by turning rhetorician, and arguing the pros and cons of a question." (Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 1879, vol. i., p. 201.)
These grotesque drawings, which were a mere accident in Leonardo's art, an accident I do not hesitate to call regrettable, became the favourite food of vulgar taste among a certain class of amateurs. They were eagerly sought after by collectors, and, what was worse, were laboriously copied and imitated by many artists. Hence the frequency with which they occur in various European collections.
By this creation of the aesthetics of ugliness side by side with a sublime formula of beauty, Leonardo showed the way on a path of extreme danger.
Towards the close of his sojourn in Milan, the master drew up a list of his drawings on one of the sheets of that Codex Atlanticus which is, so to speak, the Palladium of the Ambrosiana Library. I will transcribe this document, for in spite of its curiously laconic nature, it gives evidence of the singular catholicity of Leonardo's studies, and at the same time, it allows us to plunge into some of the mysterious recesses of his mind: "A head full face, of a young man, with fine flowing hair. Many flowers drawn from nature. A head, full face, with curly hair. Certain figures of S. Jerome. The measurements of a figure. Drawings of furnaces. A head of the Duke. Many designs for knots. Four studies for the panel of S. Angelo. A small composition of Girolamo da Fegline. A head of Christ done with the pen. Eight S. Sebastians. Several compositions of angels. A chalcedony (probably an antique cameo]. A head in profile with fine hair. Some pitchers seen in (?) perspective. Some machines for ships. Some machines for water-works. A head of Atalante [Atalante da Migliorotti ?], looking up. The head of Girolamo da Fegline. The head of Gian Francisco Borso. Several throats of old women. Several heads of old men. Several nude figures, complete. Several arms, eyes, feet, and positions. A Madonna, finished. Another, nearly in profile. Head of Our Lady ascending into Heaven. A head of an old man with a long chin. A head of a gipsy girl. A head with a hat on. A representation of the Passion, a cast. A head of a girl with her hair gathered in a knot. A head with the brown hair dressed."!
Did Leonardo make any essays in engraving? We may affirm at 1 Richter, vol. i., pp. 355-3S6
least that, like Durer, Holbein, Jean Cousin, and other masters, he never himself engraved on wood. This fact has been definitely established by the Marchese d'Adda.1 In the dedication of the Trattato del la Divina Proportions, Leonardo's friend Pacioli certainly declares that he asked the latter to engrave the "schemata" for the treatise. "Schemata .... Vincii nostri Leonardo manibus scalpta." But a little farther on he adds, in referring to the base of a column (ch. vi. fol. 28 v°):".... As you may see in the disposition of the regular bodies and others which you will find further on, done by Leonardo da Vinci, the excellent painter, architect, and musician, a man gifted with all the virtues, at the time when we were in the town of Milan, in the service of the very excellent Duke Lodovico Sforza Anglo, between the years 1496 and 1499. At this period we left the city together, in consequence of events, and went to settle in
Florence At Milan, I had with my own hands illuminated
and ornamented these drawings, to the number of sixty, to insert them in the copy destined for the Duke2 and also in two others, one for Galeazzo San Severino of Milan; the other, for the most excellent Piero Soderini, Gonfaloniere of Florence, in whose palace he is at present, etc. ..." It is evident, says the Marchese d'Adda, that Pacioli refers to Leonardo's share in the preparation of the manuscript, and that he had never heard of the woodcuts for the volume, which was not printed at Venice till I 509, long after the two friends had quitted Milan.
Gilberto Govi goes even further. He affirms that Pacioli kept Leonardo's original drawings for himself, and made tracings from them for the three manuscript copies. It is certain, at any rate, that the Codex Atlanticus contains sketches of many geometrical figures for Pacioli's work.3
1 Gazette des Beaux Arts, 1868, vol. ii., p. 130, et seq.
2 This copy is in the Geneva Library. Although much injured by damp, it bears the true Leonardesque impress, says the Marchese d'Adda. In it, adds the learned Milanese iconophile, I saw the most unmistakable evidences of the master's influence, both in the geometrical figures and in the splendid miniature in which the author is represented offering his manuscript to Lodovico il Moro. The latter is evidently by the hand of Fra Antonio da Monza. (Gazette des Beaux Arts, 1868, vol. ii., p. 133.)
3 Saggio, p. 13.—Referring to the Leonardesque character certain critics have discovered in the two profile heads in Pacioli's work (fol. 25 of the first Treatise, and fol. 28 of the second), the Marchese d'Adda points out that these were borrowed from a work by Piero della Francesca, Pacioli's master and fellow citizen.
On the other hand, there are several engravings trom copperplates which pass for the works of Leonardo da Vinci.1
In the British Museum, to begin with, there is a Young Woman in Profile, turning to the left. Rich tresses hang about her neck, and fall on her shoulders; a curl strays across her cheek. She wears a slashed bodice. An attempt has been made to connect this head with that of the Mona Lisa. But it is entirely wanting in the flexibility
so characteristic of La Gioconda, and the features have a curiously bewildered expression.
A second example is also in the British Museum, a Young Woman in Profile turned to the right, crowned with ivy, with the inscription AGHA LE. VI. The type here has more distinction, and the handling more flexibility.
A third, the only known example of
STUDY OF A HEAO. FACSIMILE OF AN ENGRAVING AFTER LEONARDO. which belongs to the
same collection, The
Four Horsemen, is certainly from a drawing by Leonardo, though it is impossible to say whether the plate was actually engraved by him.2
1 D'Adda, Gazette des Beaux Arts, 1868, vol. ii., p. 139 et seq.—Passavant, Le PeintreGraveur, vol. v., p. 181.—Delaborde, La Gravure en Italie avant Marc Antonie, p. 183. —A drawing in the Vallardi Collection (no. 1), a woman in profile to the right, has much in common with the two engravings. There is the same high chin, the same continuity of line in the forehead and nose, the same straight nose, the same astonished gaze.
2 Richter, pl. Ixv.—-Other engravings ascribed to Leonardo are either spurious or doubtful. Passavant, Le Pcintre-Gravcur, vol. v., p. 180.
Six engravings are connected with the so-called "Academy of Leonardo." They bear the inscription Academia Leonardi Vinci in the midst of interlaced ornaments, cunningly composed, and forming a sort of labyrinth.1
Several heads of old men, long attributed to Mantegna, seem also to have been executed in the studio of the great head of the Milanese school.l
The equestrian statue of Francesco Sforza, and the Last Supper represent but a small proportion of Leonardo's almost miraculous activity during sixteen or seventeen years of extraordinary fecundity and strenuous toil. We have still to consider his work as an architect, an engineer, a mechanician, a naturalist, a philosopher, and
finally, his labours as a teacher in the Academy to which he gave his name.
The Sforza monument, unfinished though it was, had immediately given Leonardo a place in the front rank of sculptors, just as the Last Supper had raised him to the highest place among painters. Taking into account the scope and variety of his knowledge in the exact sciences, it was natural that the artist should have burned to try his hand at
1 See M. G. Duplessis' article in the Revue Universelle des Arts, 1862, vol. xv., pp. 157-158.