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(The Louvre.)

In the present chapter 1 1 propose to show

how the painter of the Mona Lisa, the Virgin of the Rocks, and the Saint Anne developed, by what teachings of his predecessors he profited, through what intimate vicissitudes his ideas passed before culminating in the immortal

page of Santa Maria delle Grazie. For in this, needless to say, we have no abstract and artificial work, born of the caprice of an artist's imagination, but a page from the book of life itself, a story that has been seen and felt, a drama that has been acted. I devote myself to the “processus,” congratulating myself on the fact that my predecessors have confined themselves to the collection of materials, and that I have the pleasure of offering my readers an attempt at a co-ordination of these materials, which, whatever its merit, will at least be novel.

Before entering on this analysis I would say a few words as to the originality of the great picture, and its destination.







The word “Cenacolo” has a certain breadth of application in Italian. It is used indifferently for a dining-hall or refectory, for the special “upper room,” in which the Saviour ate the Last Supper with his disciples, and for a picture representing that holy rite. The church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, that masterpiece of Lombard architecture as developed under the impulse given it by Bramante, was founded by the Dominicans, who began to build it in 1464, on Gothic lines. The work advanced slowly, and was carried on parsimoniously, until Lodovico il Moro, who took a fancy to the building, gave orders for the reconstruction of the cupola and the apse, causing the foundation stone to be laid in 1492. But it was after the death of Beatrice d'Este that the Milanese prince lavished gifts on his favourite church with special profusion, for it was here he buried his wife and children. Not content with pushing on the work vigorously, he filled the sacristy with plate and costly draperies.

The history of The Last Supper in Santa Maria delle Grazie is buried in obscurity. We know not when the masterpiece was begun, when it was finished, nor (in my opinion, the main point of the whole problem) what were the conditions which gave it birth. Let me say at once, and thus make it unnecessary to come back to this question of chronology, that Leonardo was at work upon it in 1497, and that he finished it in that year.1

The refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie forms a very long and fairly high rectangle, vaulted by means of demi-vaults, of which the pendentives sink into the vertical walls, and give rise, at each end of the room, to three demi-lunes. Square-headed windows, seven on the left, four on the right, in the upper part of the wall, give a sufficient light. The room is damp, and shamefully neglected; a layer of bricks does duty for flooring; the dirty green plaster that replaces the marble inlays and tapestries on the walls has scaled off in many places. The visitor

1 Early in June, 1497, Lodovico wrote to one of his agents, telling him to urge Leonardo the Florentine to finish his work for the refectory of Santa Maria, and then to take the decoration of the opposite wall in hand. It would be well, added the Prince, to refer with him to the articles he signed, by which he engaged to finish it within a term specified by himself. (Archivio storico lombardo, 1874, p. 484.)-Cf. Müller-Walde, Jahrbuch der kg. Kunstsammlungen, 1898, p. 114-115.—Leonardo's friend, Luca Pacioli, speaks of the Last Supper as completely finished in his Divina Proportione, concluded in December, 1497.


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finds himself suddenly before the masterpiece of Leonardo and of modern painting, without any of that preparation the mind receives by approaching a work of art set in fit surroundings. The composition is painted on the end wall ; it fills the entire width, and is thus naturally enframed at either end by the return of the wall, and above, by the two little vaults.

Leonardo, as I have already said, disliked working in fresco. It is a process demanding a decision and rapidity utterly opposed to his methods. He accordingly used oil-colour, which, in addition to its other merits, had the charm of novelty to recommend it

Before examining his work in the refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie, we must pass in review the Last Suppers by which it had been preceded. For terms of comparison I may take those by Giotto, Andrea del Castagno, Ghirlandajo, and the unknown painter of the monastery of Sant'Onofrio at Florence.

As Burckhardt has well observed, representations of this sacred feast include two distinct motives, the institution of the Eucharist, and the solemn declaration made by Christ to his apostles: “Unus vestrum ...." one of you shall betray me.

In Giotto's Last Supper, in the Arena Chapel at Padua, the disciples are placed all round the table, an arrangement which practically suppresses three of the number, their backs being turned to the spectator. By an arrangement no less curious—I refrain from applying the word comic, even to the oversight of such a master as Giotto—the haloes of these three are placed, not behind their heads, but in front of their faces, making it impossible for them to see what was happening before them. Action-of which Giotto was generally so lavish-there is none; not a gesture, not a movement ; the disciples look inquiringly at one another. That is the whole drama, a very negative one, as we see. A fresco of the school of Giotto, in the cloister of Santa Croce at Florence, shows greater skill in the arrangement, and more animation. We note certain reminiscences of the triclinia of the ancients, and one very touching motive, the beloved disciple leaning his head on Jesus' breast—" discipulus recumbens in sinu Jesu ;” S. John xiii, 23). A work that comes much nearer to Leonardo's masterpiece, and is, in fact, its true prototype in many respects, is the Last Supper painted by the harsh and gloomy Andrea del Castagno in the resectory of the convent of Sant' Apollonia at Florence. The figures are placed in a setting of severe architecture inlaid with marbles ; a monumental bench or seat surrounds the table. The personages gain greatly in vigour and in dignity by this arrangement of the background. In the centre, Christ raises his hand in benediction ; beside him is the beloved disciple in the traditional attitude, his head leaning on the table ; opposite is Judas, startled and trembling. One of the

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Miniature from the collection of the Marquis of Adda at Milan.)

other disciples—the prototype of the third apostle from the end on the right in Leonardo's painting-opens his hands, as if in amazement, while one of his neighbours clenches his ; a third drops his head on his hand, as if bowed down by the fatal discovery; others whisper their suspicions to one another, or ponder over the matter in silence. The action is of the liveliest ; it abounds in life-like traits, and bears witness to rare faculties of observation. The figures themselves are grave, austere, almost grandiose. It is the composition which is the weak spot in this important work, a work that was undoubtedly known to Leonardo, for he imitated it. Andrea has isolated the actors, in

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