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dint of superhuman labour he contrived to conceal all traces of preparation; by prodigies of genius he gave to the whole the appearance of a work created by a single effort, and produced as it were by magic.
To a nature so essentially aristocratic as that of Leonardo, the horizon of Florence may well have seemed somewhat limited. The artist was probably ill at ease in a society which was radically middle-class; for popular prejudice against, the nobility, and all that recalled the bygone tyranny, had lost nothing of its intensity; the Medici of the fifteenth century, Cosimo, Piero, and Lorenzo the Magnificent, had constantly to reckon with it, in spite of their omnipotence. And, munificent as these wealthy bankers and merchants were, they could not dispense honours, places, and treasure like the sovereign princes. In a community in which an irritable spirit of equality still reigned, the artist had perforce to live modestly and plainly. This was bondage for a spirit so brilliant and exuberant as Leonardo! The luxury of a Court, magnificent fetes to organise, grandiose experiments to institute, a brilliant destiny to conquer—all these were attractions that were inevitably to draw him, sooner or later, to those elegant, refined and corrupt despots to whom most of the states of Italy were subject at the time,
But other causes were at work. Leonardo, we must remember, had no family. His father's successive marriages, the birth of numerous brothers and sisters, had finally driven him from the house he had for a time looked upon as his own. Among his fellow-citizens, he must have suffered from the blemish on his name. He may have had to endure ironical smiles, to hear himself branded by sobriquets more or less offensive. Among strangers, his illegitimacy could not be made a perpetual reproach to him, for the best of reasons—it would be unknown.
I am inclined to think that much which was bizarre in Leonardo's conduct, his extravagance, his occasional horse-play, proceeded from his desire to place himself beyond and above the conventions of his surroundings—conventions which forced him constantly to expiate a fault not his own. Far from submitting to this humiliation, and suffering in silence, he defied public opinion, and, as he could not be the most highly esteemed, he determined to prove himself the most gifted and the most brilliant.
We now approach a problem which has greatly exercised the world of art historians during the last few years. Did Leonardo go straight from Florence to Milan, or, yielding to the inspiration of his unstable humour, did he set out on travels more or less prolonged before pitching his tent in the rich plain of Lombardy? A few years ago, Dr. Richter hazarded a conjecture at once bold and ingenious. Struck by the numerous passages in which the master alludes to Oriental things, he concluded that Leonardo had visited the East, that he had served the Sultan of Egypt, and even that he had embraced Islamism.1
As far as the journey itself is concerned, there is a certain probability in the hypothesis, at least at the first blush. Many
1 Zeitschrift fur bild. Kunst, 1881. The Literary Works of Leonardo da Vinci, vol. ii. p. 385-392. La Chronique des Arts, 1881, p. 87-88. Cf. Charles Ravaisson-Mollien, Les Merits de Leonard de Vinci, Paris, 1881. Uzielli, Ricerche, 2nd edit. vol. i. p. 72 et setl. Govi, Alcuni Frammenti. Douglas, Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society, June, 1884. De Geymiiller, Les derniers Travaux sur Leonard de Vinci. Gazette des Beaux Arts, 1886. Enlart, Les Monuments gothiques de Chypre, 1898,
Italian artists, architects, painters, sculptors, and founders sought their fortunes at the Court of the Sultan, the Czar, or the ruler of Egypt: Michelozzo went to Cyprus, Aristotele di Fioravante settled at Moscow, Gentile Bellini spent a year at Constantinople, to say nothing of the innumerable Tuscan and Lombard masters established at Pesth, Cracow, Warsaw, and even in Asia!
The arguments put forward by Dr. Richter rest on more than one striking particular. In a manuscript by Leonardo in the British Museum there is an allusion to the eruptions of Etna and Stromboli ; in the library at Windsor, a description of the Island of Cyprus; one of the manuscripts belonging to the Institut de France contains a plan of a bridge, inscribed, "Ponte da Pera a Gostantinopoli ;" finally, in a sort of parable on the prohibition of wine, Leonardo shows his familiarity with a characteristic trait of Mussulman manners. There is yet another presumption, which seems still more conclusive: the famous Codex Atlanticus of Milan contains the copy of a letter addressed to the "Diodario di Sorio," the Diodaris of Syria, giving an account of works executed for the Sultan of Babylon, i.e. the Sultan of Cairo, by the writer: "I am now in Armenia, to devote myself to the works you charged me with when you sent me hither," wrote Leonardo. "In order to begin in the districts which seem to me best suited to our purpose, I have come to the town of Chalendra. It is a city close to our frontier, situated on the coast, at the foot of Mount Taurus, etc." Another letter begins thus: "I do not deserve the accusation of idleness, O Diodario, which your reproaches seem to imply. But the rather, as your benevolence, which caused you to create the post you gave me, is boundless, I have felt myself bound to make many researches, and thoroughly to inquire into the causes of effects so vast and stupendous; and this business has taken me a long time, etc."
From the report drawn up by Leonardo it would seem that the artist had been sent from Egypt to Asia Minor as engineer of the Sultan Kait-Bai. According to some Arabian documents, extracts from which have been furnished by M. Schefer, this sovereign travelled through the Euphrates and Tigris valleys in 1477 to inspect the fortresses which were destined to fall into the hands of the Turks about forty years later. In 1483 there was a terrible earthquake in Syria, especially at Aleppo; and to this Leonardo's words " grande e stupendo effelto," seem to allude. In his report Leonardo speaks at some length of the ruin of the town, and the despair of the inhabitants. His descriptions are illustrated by drawings representing rocks, the Arab names of which are given in Italian characters, and by a little map of Armenia.
In confirmation of these letters, the erasures and certain peculiarities of expression in which seem to show them to be actual compositions of Leonardo's, and not merely copies of documents by others, Dr. Richter points out that there are drawings of Mount Taurus by Leonardo, and that we further find notes and sketches relating to the East among his works. We may add that, according to Dr. Richter, this journey to the East took place either between 1473 and 1477 or between 1481 and 1485, periods during which we have no information whatever as to the master's life.
Plausible as Dr. Richter's hypothesis is, and strongly as it has been supported by some learned authorities, I think we must accept it with great reserve. Leonardo, whose imagination was always at work, may have gleaned information about the East from a variety of sources. An indefatigable compiler (some third of his manuscripts consists of extracts from ancient or modern authors), he may have transcribed documents composed by others, without taking the trouble to inform the reader (who was indeed, himself only, for he does not seem to have wished his writings to be printed), that he was not giving his own testimony, but quoting that of others. He may have drawn his particulars from a young man of the Gondi family, who was at Constantinople in 1480, from a member, that is to say, of the Florentine family who sub-let a house to Leonardo's father; or, again, from a friend in Milan, who had come in contact with the Sultan of Egypt's ambassador when he passed through the Lombard capital in 1476. We know the names of a whole series of Milanese who visited the Holy Land: Giovanni Giacomo Trivulzio, for instance, went to Syria in 1476l; Benedetto Dei, who was appointed director
1 Archivio storico Lombardo, 1886, p. 866 et seg.