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LEONARDO S DEBUT AT THE COURT OF MILAN—HIS PROGRAMME—THE EQUESTRIAN STATUE OF FRANCESCO SFORZA—LEONARDO AS A SCULPTOR—HIS INFLUENCE ON THE SCULPTURE OF NORTHERN ITALY
(Valton Collection, Paris.)
il Moro, at that time regent of the duchy for his nephew Gian Galeazzo. This epistle can hardly be called a monument of diffidence, as the reader will presently have an oppor
1 This manuscript, preserved in the Ambrosiana, is written irom left to right, and not, like the rest of Leonardo's manuscripts, from right to left. M. Charles Ravaisson-Mollien has pronounced against its authenticity (Les Ecrits de Leonard de Vinci, p. 34).— Richter (The literary Works of Leonardo da Vi?ici, vol. ii. pp. 34, 395—398) and Uzielli (Ricerche, 2nd ed. vol. i. p. 85—89), on the other hand, consider it to be a genuine production of Leonardo's. This is also my opinion.
tunity of judging; in it the painter, the sculptor, the architect, the military and hydraulic engineer, come forward and make their boast in turn.
"Having, most illustrious lord, seen and duly considered the experiments of all those who repute themselves masters in the art of inventing instruments of war, and having found that their instruments differ in no way from such as are in common use, I will endeavour, without wishing to injure any one else, to make known to your Excellency certain secrets of my own; as briefly enumerated here below:—
"i. I have a way of constructing very light bridges, most easy to carry, by which the enemy may be pursued and put to flight. Others also of a stronger kind, that resist fire or assault, and are easy to place and remove. I know ways also for burning and destroying those of the enemy.
"2. In case of investing a place I know how to remove the water from ditches and to make various scaling ladders and other such instruments.
"3. Item: If, on account of the height or strength of position, the place cannot be bombarded, I have a way for ruining every fortress which is not on stone foundations.
"4. I can also make a kind of cannon, easy and convenient to transport, that will discharge inflammable matters, causing great injury to the enemy and also great terror from the smoke.
"5. Item: By means of winding and narrow underground passages, made without noise, I can contrive a way for passing under ditches or any stream.
"9. (sic) And, if the fight should be at sea, I have numerous engines of the utmost activity both for attack and defence ; vessels that will resist the heaviest fire—also powders or vapours.
"6. Item: I can construct covered carts, secure and indestructible, bearing artillery, which, entering among the enemy, will break the strongest body of men, and which the infantry can follow without impediment.
"7. I can construct cannon, mortars and fire-engines of beautiful and useful shape, and different from those in common use.
"8. Where the use of cannon is impracticable, I can replace them by catapults, mangonels and engines for discharging missiles of admirable efficacy and hitherto unknown—in short, according as the case may be, I can contrive endless means of offence.
"10. In time of peace, I believe I can equal any one in architecture and in constructing buildings, public or private, and in conducting water from one place to another.1
"Then I can execute sculpture, whether in marble, bronze, or terra-cotta ; also in painting I can do as much as any other, be he who he may.
"Further, I could engage to execute the bronze horse in lasting memory of your father and of the illustrious house of Sforza, and, if any of the above mentioned things should appear impossible and impracticable to you, I offer to make trial of them in your park, or in any other place that may please your Excellency, to whom I commend myself in utmost humility."
The artist, we know, performed even more than he promised, but did the military engineer carry out this amazing programme? That is a question which I shall endeavour to answer in due course.
In all probability, Leonardo set to work immediately after his arrival in Milan upon the equestrian statue of Francesco Sforza, an undertaking which occupied him, at intervals, for seventeen years.
Rumours of the discussions which had been going on for ten years as to the choice of a suitable design must, of course, have reached Leonardo, and in the memorial addressed to Lodovico, he declares himself ready—as we have seen—to undertake the execution of the "cavallo," otherwise the equestrian statue.2
1 It is interesting to note here, that by a decree of May 16, 1483, Lodovico ordered the construction of a canal between the Adda and Milan.
2 The history of this equestrian statue has been traced, though with too evident a bias, by M. Louis Courajod in his Leonard de Vinci et la Statue de Francois Sforza (1879), by M. BonnafK in his Sabba da Castiglione (1884, p. 12—14) and more recently by Herr Muller-Walde in the Jahrbuch der kg. Kunstsammlungen (1897, p. 92—169). The German author claims to have discovered a clue, enabling him to distinguish between the drawings which refer to the Sforza statue, and those for the statue of Trivulzio. Unfortunately, the results of Herr Miiller-Walde's labours had not yet been given to the public when the present volume went to press.
Had Leonardo remained in Florence, he might very easily have painted a Last Supper equal to that of Santa Maria delle Grazie for some monastery of his native city, but he most certainly would never have been commissioned to execute a piece of sculpture such as the equestrian statue of Duke Francesco, as conspicuous in dimensions as for the idea of supremacy and sway it was calculated to impress on the beholder. The doctrine of equality, so jealously
insisted upon by the
Florentine populace, had long relegated sculpture to the sphere of religion; the utmost that the Republic had done in any other spirit being to accord the honour of monumental tombs to her chancellors, Leonardo Bruni and Carlo Marsuppini. But to have set up in a public place the statue of a condottiere, and, worse still, of one whose family still claimed sovereignty, would have raised a storm of indignation among the keenly susceptible citizens. As well propose that they should return to the worship of graven images! Hence any Florentine sculptor who wished to execute monumental statues was forced to seek such commissions elsewhere than at home: Donatello at Padua (the equestrian statue of Gattamelata); Baroncelli at Ferrara (the equestrian statue of Niccolo d'Este), Verrocchio, at Venice (the equestrian statue of Colleone), and lastly, Leonardo at Milan.