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HERE is no name more illustrious in the annals of art and
of science than that of Leonardo da Vinci. And yet this
pre-eminent genius still lacks a biography which shall make him known in all his infinite variety.
The great majority of his drawings have never been reproduced. No critic has even attempted to catalogue and classify these masterpieces of taste and sentiment. It was to this part of my task that I first applied myself. And, among other results, I now offer the public the first descriptive and critical catalogue of the incomparable collection of drawings at Windsor Castle, belonging to her Majesty the Queen of England.
Among the many previous volumes dedicated to Leonardo, students will seek in vain for details as to the genesis of his pictures, and the process through which each of them passed from primordial sketch to final touch. Leonardo, as is conclusively shown by my researches, achieved perfection only by dint of infinite labour.
labour. It was because the groundwork was laid with such minute care, with such a consuming desire for perfection, that the Virgin of the Rocks, the Mona Lisa, and the S. Anne are so full of life and eloquence.
Above all, a summary and analysis was required of the scientific, literary, and artistic manuscripts, the complete publication of which was first begun in our own generation by students such as Messrs. Richter, Charles Ravaisson-Mollien, Beltrami, Ludwig Sabachnikoff and Rouveyre, and the members of the Roman Academy of the “ Lincei.”
Thanks to a methodical examination of these autographs of the master's, I think I have been able to penetrate more profoundly than my predecessors into the inner life of my hero. I may call the special attention of my readers to the chapters dealing with Leonardo's attitude towards the occult sciences, his importance in the field of literature, his religious beliefs and moral principles, his studies of antique modelsstudies hitherto disputed, as will be seen.
I have further endeavoured to re-constitute the society in which the master lived and worked, especially the court of Lodovico il Moro at Milan, that interesting and suggestive centre, to which the supreme evolution of the Italian Renaissance may be referred.
A long course of reading has enabled me to show a new significance in more than one picture and drawing, to point out the true application of more than one manuscript note. I do not, indeed, flatter myself that I have been able to solve all problems. An enterprise such as that to which I have devoted myself demands the collaboration of a whole generation of students. Individual effort could not suffice. But at least I may claim to have discussed opinions I ca share with moderation and with courtesy, and this should give me some title to the indulgence of my
readers. The pleasant duty remains to me of thanking the numerous friends and correspondents who have been good enough to help me in the course of my long and laborious investigations.
They are too many to mention here individually, but I have been careful to record my indebtedness to them, as far as possible, in the body of the volume.
PARIS, October, 1898.