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victories, her arts, and her monuments, enjoyed prosperity, health, and peace. . . ." So runs the inscription on Domenico Ghirlandajo's frescoes in Santa Maria Novella. Guicciardini, too, at the beginning of his Istoria a"Italia, fixes the apogee of his country's prosperity in the year 1490: "A sovereign peace and tranquillity reigned on every side," he says. "Cultivated in the most mountainous and sterile districts as well as in the fertile regions and the plains, Italy acknowledged no power but her own, and rich, not only in her population, her merchandise, and her treasure, but illustrious in the highest degree through the magnificence of many of her princes, the splendour of many famous cities, the majesty of the seat of religion, could point with pride to a host of men eminent in every science at the head of public adminstration, and to the noblest talents in every branch of art or industry; with all this she cherished her military glory, according to the custom of the times; and, endowed with so many qualities and so many gifts, she enjoyed the highest repute and renown among all other nations."
The Milanese chronicler, Corio, celebrates the blessings of peace in almost identical terms, and enumerates the titles of his masters, the Sforzi, to glory:
"The war between the Duke and the Venetians being at an end, it appeared to every one that peace was finally assured, and no one had a thought but for the accumulation of riches, an end which was held to justify every means. Free play was given to pomps and pleasures, and with the peace, Jupiter triumphed in such sort that all things appeared as stable and as solid as at the most favoured time in the past. The court of our princes was dazzling, splendid with new fashions, new costumes, and all delights. Nevertheless, at this period talent (the Italian author uses the untranslatable word "virtu,") shone with such brilliance, and so keen an emulation had arisen between Minerva and Venus, that each sought how best to ornament her school. That of Cupid was recruited from among our fairest youths ; thither fathers sent their daughters, husbands their wives, brothers their sisters, and that without any scruple, so that many took part in the amorous dance, which passed for something truly marvellous. Minerva, on her side, did all in he"r power to grace her elegant academy. Indeed, Lodovico Sforza, a glorious and illustrious prince, had taken into his service men of the highest eminence, summoning them from the remotest parts of Europe. Greek was known thoroughly at his court, verse and prose were equally brilliant, the Muses excelled in rhyme; there were to be found the masters of sculpture ; thither came the finest painters from the most distant regions; songs and music of all sorts were so full of suavity and sweet accord, that it seemed as though they must have come down from heaven to this famous court. . . ."
But a nation cannot thus define and analyse its own greatness with impunity; from the day when, ceasing to question its own strength, it believes blindly in its star, it is bound to decline. Hapless Italy, and with her, Lodovico il Moro, Leonardo da Vinci, and even the worthy chronicler, Corio himself, were soon to learn this by sad experience.
Before studying the masterpieces created by Leonardo's genius in Milan, and his influence on the Milanese School, to which he gave a new inspiration and direction, just as Raphael did to the Roman School, we must glance at the Court of the Sforzi, his new patrons, and inquire what elements this milieu, at once youthful and suggestive, could add to the rich and varied treasure the new-comer brought with him from Florence.1
The duchy of Milan then, as now, the wealthiest of the provinces of Italy, was ruled by a dynasty of parvenus; mercenaries, condottieri, in the full force of the term. The founder of his house's fortune, Francesco Sforza, the son of a peasant turned general, had married the natural daughter of the last Visconti, and established his dominion over the whole of Milan, partly by force of arms, partly by diplomacy. Francesco was succeeded by his son, Galeazzo Maria, a monster of debauchery and cruelty, after whose assassination the ducal coronet fell to his infant son, the feeble and anaemic Gian Galeazzo. Profiting by the weakness of his nephew, Lodovico il Moro, Galeazzo Maria's brother, seized the reins of government, rather by subtlety than strength, and reigned in his nephew's name, till he finally rid himself of Gian Galeazzo by poison.
1 The details I give here may be completed by those in my Renaissance en Italie (( en France au temps de Charles VIII. (Paris, 1885, p. 209-273.)
Let us pause a moment before this figure, so justly celebrated, both for its crimes and its enlightened taste—before this tyrant, perfidious as he was cowardly, before this fastidious and impassioned amateur who, among the contemporary host of illustrious patrons of Art and Letters, had but one rival, Lorenzo de Medici, the personification of liberality and discrimination. Yet even Lorenzo the Magnificent could not boast of a Bramante or a Leonardo da Vinci among his servants.
Born at Vigevano on April 3, 1451, the fourth son of Francesco Sforza, Lodovico was early noted for his physical and mental qualities. The most careful of educations added lustre to his natural gifts; he rapidly familiarised himself with the humanities, learned to read and write fluently in Latin, and earned the admiration of his tutors by the tenacity of his memory, no less than by his facility of elocution.1 In person he was a man of lofty stature, with very strongly marked features of an Oriental cast, a more than aquiline nose, a somewhat short chin, the whole countenance remarkable for its extraordinary mobility. The darkness of his complexion was particularly noticeable, and gained him his sobriquet of II Moro, the Moor. Far from feeling ashamed of this peculiarity, Lodovico was proud of it, and in allusion thereto, he adopted as badge a mulberry-tree (in Italian, Moro).11
1 "Fu oltra li altri fratelli dedito alli studii; el per il bono ingegno suo facilmente capiva il senso deli autori, di modo che, fra tutti li altri dominarno mai Milano, fu il più litterato" (Prato, Archivio storico italiano, voi. iii. p. 256-257). "Vir ore probo, moribus humanis, ingeniorum amantissimus, sequi servantissimus, nam et soepe jus dicebat, lites Iongas et inextricabiles brevites cognoscendo. Postremo fortunam adversam habuit" (Raphael Maffei da Volterra, Geographia, Book iv.). See also Roscoe, Vila e Pontificato di Leone X., ed. Bossi, vol. i. pp. 49, 141, 145, 146 (Milan, 1816).—Like all dogmatic spirits, Rio, the learned, impetuous, and eloquent author of L'Art Chretien, is full of inconsistencies. If it had been in his power, he would have sent the whole line of the Medici and many others, to the stake of the Inquisition, but for Lodovico he is full of tenderness.
2 "Fu questo signor Ludovico Sforza, da la negrezza del colore, cognominato Moro; cosi appellato primieramente dal patre Francesco e Bianca matre— ne li primi anni—"' (Prato, Archivio storico italiano, first series, vol. iii. p. 256). "Ludovico, il quale fu di color bruno, et pero hebbe il sopranome di moro, et portava la zazzara lunga; si che quasi gli copriva le ciglia, si come dimostra il suo ritratto di mano del Vinci, nel reffettorio delle Gratie di Milano, dove si vede anco il ritratto di Beatrice sua moglia, tutte due in ginocchioni con gli figli avanti, et un Christo in Croce dall' altra mano" (Lomazzo, Trattato della Pittura, ed. of 1584, p. 633). Portraits of Lodovico, sculptured, painted, drawn, engraved, are innumerable; besides the beautiful coin engraved by Caradosso, we
Lodovico had the blood of the Visconti in his veins. His mother, as we have said, was the daughter of the last representative of that famous house. From his grandfather, Filippo Maria, he inherited both cowardice and craft; a short-sighted craft, however, that finally turned to his own disadvantage. Vacillating and uncertain, a man oi schemes rather than of action, he was for ever laboriously spinning webs, through which the most blundering of bluebottles could pass with ease. His life was one long series of contradictions: he chose as father-in-law for his nephew, whom he intended to dethrone, so powerful a sovereign as the King of Naples; he brought the French into Italy, and then moved heaven and earth to drive them out again; he haughtily refused Louis XII.'s offer to leave the government of Milan to him during his lifetime on payment of a tribute to France, and immediately after, ignominiously abandoned his states. In short, he appears to have suffered from a kind of neurosis, which, at critical moments, resulted in utter feebleness and prostration ; he showed an inexhaustible activity in weaving plots, to which he was himself the first to fall a victim. Throughout his endless treacheries, however, one very modern trait is conspicuous, for which he deserves credit: he had an intense horror of bloodshed, a quality all the more praiseworthy in that the example of his brother, Galeazzo Maria, might well have accustomed him to strike by terror, instead of ruling by stratagem. Discovering a plot against his life, he was content, after executing the chief criminal, to condemn the other to life-long imprisonment, with the proviso that he should
may mention the portrait in the Brera, attributed to Zenale, the statue on the tomb in the Certosa at Pavia, and a portrait in black chalk preserved in the collection at Christ Church, Oxford. (Rio, L'Art Chrit/ert, vol. iii. p. 67.)
receive two lashes yearly, on the feast of S. Ambrose. This was mildness indeed as compared with the horrible traditions of the Visconti!
Of restless temperament and insatiable ambition, II Moro seized the first opportunity of wooing fortune: scarcely had his brother Galeazzo Maria fallen a prey to conspirators in 1476, when he began hatching plot after plot against his sister-in-law, the regent, Bona of Savoy. After several years of exile, he returned in triumph in 1479, seized the guardianship of his nephew, and, until the death of the latter in 1494, exercised despotic authority under the titles of Duke of Bari and regent of the Duchy of Milan.1 But the regency was far from satisfying Lodovico's ambition; even the title of Duke of Milan could not assuage his greed: he dreamed of a kingdom of Insubria and Liguria, of which he was to be the sovereign.2 The expedition of Charles VIII. in 1494—1495 interrupted the course of his prosperity for a while. But the storm passed over the Duchy of Milan and left no trace : the thunder-cloud was soon dispersed by the rays of that rising sun towards which all the rulers of Italy turned: Lodovico, the astute promoter of the campaign that ended in the battle of Fornovo; and now, more powerful, more glorious than ever, he found himself the arbiter of Italy.
Both by nature and by education, the prince had a passion for intellectual pleasures. But had this been otherwise, reasons of state would have made him simulate such a passion. The examples of the Medici had taught him that if he desired the suffrages of his citizens, he must appeal to their taste and their vanity. To epicureans such as the Italians—and they were epicureans in the higher sense—a liberality unaccompanied by the encouragement of letters, of science and art, would have failed altogether in its object. No political propaganda was so effectual as the erection of a sumptuous building, the ordering of a statue or a fresco signed by a famous name. The Mecsenas of the period, Francesco Sforza for example, may not have believed blindly in the civilising mission of masterpieces; but the wily diploma
1 For Lodovico's history before his accession to power the reader is referred to a memoir published in the Archivio storico lombardo, 1886, p. 737.
2 H- Francois Delaborde, VExpedition de Charles VIII. en Italic, p. 217.