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The naked prostrate old man has served as model for the kneeling king. It may be noted that his figure has been gradually raised in passing from the Louvre drawing to the final cartoon. Other persons have not been utilised, as, for instance, the young man who shades his eyes with his hand; unless, indeed, he served as a study for the old man on the right in the Galichon drawing and the Uflizi cartoon. As to the young man standing, with extended hands, in the Louvre drawing, he, perhaps, was the original of the standing figure with uplifted hands on the right.
Let us now take the cartoon. The figures seem to emerge from a kind of mist; the most striking feature of the composition is the profound veneration expressed for the Divine Pair, the almost abject attitudes, the protesting hands. Leonardo did not propose to use grand and simple lines in this picture, as in the Last Supper, but rather to be lavish of picturesque groups; he treated the theme from the pictorial rather than from the decorative standpoint, introducing trees, which would have produced a magnificent effect; heads of horses full of character and animation; in the background, other horses, with mighty necks and chests, caracoling as in the Battle of Anghiari. The picture would have been lively, varied, and picturesque beyond any finished work by the master. A supreme distinction breathes from it, the charm of reverie; we note the master's pre-occupation with astonishing problems of chiaroscuro, of greater subtlety than those of Correggio. The sketch, in fact, is a grandiose creation, containing passages in a heroic style peculiar to Leonardo; the heroism here is more human, more picturesque, less abstract than that of Michelangelo.
The principal scene takes place in the open air, in a wide landscape, with lofty trees in the centre, and rocks in the background. The ox and the ass have disappeared. In the foreground, about the middle of the composition, the Virgin is seated; smiling, yet deeply moved, she presents her Son to the adoring kings. Her attitude has been slightly modified in the interval between the execution of the Galichon drawing and that of the Uffizi cartoon. In the former, she was seen almost in profile, bending forward; she is now erect, and has more dignity in her bearing, greater liberty in her gaze. She is charming both in expression and attitude, her left foot drawn back over her right, a
motive which seems to have inspired Raphael in the Madonna di
Foligno, where the same pose of foot and head is adopted. The Child
has undergone modifications no less important. In the drawing, he was seated on his mother's knee, and turning his back to her, he bent forward to the king kneeling before him; in the cartoon, he rests comfortably upon her lap, reclining rather than sitting, his right hand gracefully raised, while with his left he touches
the vase the donor offers him. The latter, who was naked in the
Galichon drawing, is now draped in an ample cloak; instead of holding
out the vase to the Child with both hands, he offers it with one,
resting the other upon the ground. In short, there is not a figure in
the group which does not testify to the enormous amount of work
bestowed on the composition.
The spectators on either side call for our special attention. Some
are full of majesty, others of eager animation. They are grouped with
inimitable ease and liberty. By
an artifice, the secrets of which
have been known only to the
greatest dramatists, Leonardo
opposes the calm of the persons
standing at the extremities, and
enframing the composition, so
to speak, to the emotional and
passionate gestures of those
who press towards the Virgin,
or kneel before her.
Here, again, Raphael was
inspired by Leonardo; he .., ,
* (1 he Louvre )
borrowed several of the worshippers placed to the left in his Dispute of the Sacrament, one of the most animated and eloquent of his groups.
This imitation is very evident in a drawing in the late Due d'Aumale's collection.1 Three of the figures on the left, the old man leaning
1 See Crowe and Cavalcaselle, Raphael, vol. ii. p. 31-34
forward, the young man in profile beside him, and the man with his back to the spectator in the foreground, are almost exactly reproduced; as is also the person standing on the extreme left, wrapped in a cloak, his chin resting on his hand. The breadth and majesty of this last figure, indeed, inspired yet another artist, more powerful and original than Raphael, an artist who was always ready to cry out against plagiarism, though he himself did not fail to lay the works of his predecessors under contribution. I refer to Michelangelo. Compare the figure of God the Father in his Creation of Eve in the Sistine Chapel with this old man of Leonardo's. The analogy is striking.
In this Adoration of the Magi, which biographers have passed over almost in silence, we have, in fact, the germs of two masterpieces by Michelangelo and by Raphael.
It is only men of genius like Leonardo who can thus lavish, to some extent unconsciously, treasures which make the fortunes of others, great and small.
The background of the cartoon consists of classic ruins, with crumbling arches, beneath which are animated groups of men on foot and on horseback; the double staircase is retained, and several figures are seated on the steps on one side.
Of all the episodes of the sacred story, the Adoration of the Magi is that which lends itself best to the introduction of the hippie element.1 It must therefore have been specially attractive to Leonardo, at all times such an ardent lover of horses.
Without transgressing the rules of sacred imagery, he was able to indulge a taste on which, indeed, he had every reason to congratulate himself. He accordingly gives us some dozen horses in every variety of attitude: lying down, standing, resting, walking, rearing, galloping. In the background to the right we have a regular cavalry skirmish, a forecast of that in the Battle of Anghiari; naked combatants struggling among the feet of the horses on the ground, a woman, also naked, flying in terror, etc.2 The central action suffers a little from their vicinity ; but great men alone are privileged to digress in this fashion. The vegetation, always so carefully observed by Leonardo, has not been sacrificed. A magnificent palm rises in the middle distance, near the centre.
1 We need only recall the superb cavalcade of Gentile da Fabriano's Adoration of the Magi, in the Accademia at Florence; the chargers, fiery or placid, which abound in Benozzo Gozzoli's frescoes in the Riccardi Palace, and in Fra Filippo's and Filippino Lippi's pictures in the Uffizi.
2 A horse's head in the Windsor collection seems to bear some relation to the horse standing to the left in the Adoration of the Magi, as does another horse's head, with indications of measurements, in MS. A of the Uibliothequc dc 1'Institut.
One other peculiarity should be noted. Leonardo, a painter exclusively, with a certain contempt for the decorative arts, has not given the costumes of his heroes the richness by which these are generally marked in the art of the Middle Ages and of the early Renaissance.
He has dressed his personages in tunics, togas, or mantles, recalling those of the ancients—one of his rare gleanings from the art of Greece and Rome—but draped with greater freedom. Again, the vessels containing the offerings of the monarchs have none of the magnificence invariably bestowed on them by the primitive painters, and so well adapted to relieve the lines of a composition. They are chalices of simple shape and small size, with covers terminating in knobs.
One of the most learned of our modern art-historians has given an excellent analysis of the technique of the cartoon :l "Leonardo," he says, "first made a very careful drawing with pen or brush on the prepared panel; he put the whole into perspective, as the drawing in the Uffizi shows; he then shaded with brown colour; but as he made use of a kind of bitumen, it has lowered very much in tone, and, in his finished works, this bituminous colour has absorbed all the others, and blackened the shadows extravagantly." Vasari, too, described Leonardo's innovations in much the same tone: "He introduced a certain darkness into oil-painting, which the moderns have adopted to give greater
vigour and relief to their figures Anxious to relieve the objects
he represented as much as possible, he strove to produce the most intense blacks by means of dark shadows, and thus to make the luminous parts of his pictures more brilliant; the result being that he gradually suppressed the high lights, and that his pictures have the effect of night-pieces."2
Unconsciously or deliberately, Leonardo shows predilections no less
1 Passavant upud Rigollot, Catalogue de FCEuvre de Leonard de Vinci, p. 314.
2 For the progress brought about by Leonardo in the art of modelling, see Briicke and Helmholtz's Principes Stientifiques des Beaux Arts, p. no—in. Paris, 1878 (tr. from the German).