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APPILY for Leonardo's fame, the
fall of Cæsar Borgia forced him,
for a space, to turn his sole attention to painting
At the same time, a kind of reaction, on which the great master must be congratulated, drove him, whenever occasion offered, to claim his rights and perform his duties as
a Florentine, and to interest himself, once more, in matters which concerned his native country.
Let me hasten to add that both as it
affected public peace and artistic wellbeing, the domestic situation in Florence had altered and improved. On September 10, 1502, Piero Soderini, an upright and resolute, though, it may be, a somewhat narrow-minded man, elected Gonfaloniere for life. In the following year, the deaths of Pope Alexander VI. and of Piero de' Medici (August 18 and December 28, 1503), followed by the downfall of Cæsar Borgia, delivered the city from her three most redoubtable enemies. The period, therefore, was one of comparative calm. The only cause for anxiety to the Florentine government was the long protracted siege of Pisa. This, indeed, dragged wearily on. The war against the
IN THE BATTLE OF ANGHIARI."
unhappy town, which had begun in 1496, did not end until 1509. My readers are aware that at that date, and after a heroic resistance which would seem to have permanently exhausted all her vitality, Pisa was forced to surrender, and submit once more to the most detested of her foes.
A series of significant actions on Leonardo's part proved his settled intention to claim his share alike in the burdens and the prerogatives of Florentine citizenship. He caused his name to be inscribed afresh in the roll of the guild of Florentine painters. He proceeded, with several other persons, to the camp of his fellow-citizens before Pisa, to advise as to the carrying on of the siege works (July 23, 1503). A little later (January 25, 1504) we find him taking part in the deliberations of a commission, consisting of all the leading artists in Florence-Andrea della Robbia, Attavante, the gifted miniature painter, Il Cronaca, Filippino Lippi, Botticelli, the two San Galli, Sansovino, Perugino, Lorenzo di Credo. The duty of this commission was to select the site on which Michelangelo's marble statue of David was to be set up. Leonardo spoke after ten others, and supported the opinion of Giuliano da San Gallo, and several more, to the effect that the colossal figure should be placed under the Loggia of the Signory (the Loggia dei Lanzi), beneath the middle arch, to preserve it from the weather. It should be added that, in deference to the wish of Michelangelo himself, the statue was placed at the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio, opposite the Loggia dei Lanzi, and there remained, as is well known, until 1875.2
A memento of this consultation has probably come down to us in a sketch in the Windsor Library, representing a standing figure, in the exact pose of the David, the right arm hanging down, and grasping a sling, the left raised breast high, the left leg thrown outward. The resemblance is a striking one, though the features differ. Michelangelo has represented a youth, Leonardo has depicted a man of fifty. Immediately below this sketch is another, so rubbed that it
1 One proposal was to turn the course of the Arno; another was to cut a canal (Gaye, Carteggio, vol. ii. p. 62). At the Windsor Castle Library there is a large plan for the Fountain of Neptune, ordered from Leonardo for the square of the Palazzo Vecchio. It is believed that this plan suggested Ammanati's famous fountain. (Cicerone, 7th edition, p. 736.)
2 Gaye, Carteggio, vol. ii. p. 460.
must be guessed at, rather than seen. It would appear to be a first attempt after Buonarroti's marble figure. Herr Müller-Walde, however, takes it to be a study for Leonardo's Triumph of Neptune. The confused outline to be detected under the first drawing does indeed seem to represent a sea-horse, but the general analogy with Michelangelo's David and the dissimilarity with Segni's Neptune are both too strongly marked to admit of my accepting the view put forward by the German savant.
During this period Leonardo's manner of existence-he lived at one time with the Servite Fathers, at another with his friend Rustici, the sculptor, and probably, too, at Santa Maria Novella, close to the chamber in which he was painting his cartoon-was of a comparatively simple kind. According to his account books, he only spent eighteen gold forins (about £36) on the whole of his housekeeping expenses, between June 29 and August 4, 1504. He kept his own purse, and was his own house steward. In the morning he gives a florin to his much-loved pupil Salaï. He, after having purchased bread, wine, eggs, mushrooms, fruit, and bran, and paid the barber and the shoemaker, brings him back three soldi. (There were forty-eight to the florin.)
A far cry this, indeed, from the lordly habits and Sybarite indulgence mentioned by Vasari—and a typical example of the characteristic sobriety of the Italian !
But the modest extent of his resources did not prevent Leonardo from serving his friends. On April 8, 1503, he lent four gold ducats to the celebrated miniature painter, Attavante.?
It is a pleasure to see the great artist going back to this quieter life, taking fresh root in the city which had sheltered his childish years, and steeping his soul once more in the strengthening waters of patriotism. He never had reason to regret it, as far as his art was concerned-for, whatever men may say, inspiration springs not from the brain only, but from the heart as well.
The circumstances under which his return had taken place could not, indeed, have failed to strengthen the mutual affection between the painter and his fellow-citizens. Leonardo's glory had gone before him to Florence; he had left the city as a young artist
1 Richter, The Literary Works of Leonardo da Vinci, vol. ii. p. 458.
of the most brilliant promise: he returned to it, the unquestioned leader of the Italian school; even such masters as Filippino Lippi hastened to do him obeisance, and to renounce the most flattering commissions in his favour. This was the happy condition of men's minds when Leonardo was called by the Florentine Government then, as we have just seen, presided over by Piero Soderini—to take his share in the decoration of the Palazzo Vecchio.
Let me say one word here concerning the apartment destined to be enriched by this fresh masterpiece. It was the great Council Chamber, which had been rebuilt a few years previously-in 1497 : the room which now contains Vasari's frescoes. Leonardo's fellowcitizens, desirous of possessing some production of his already famous brush, selected him to decorate the huge apartment, a very sanctuary of public liberty; and with an instinct worthy of that epoch of fervent patriotism, they commissioned him to picture one of the noblest feats of arms performed by their forefathers—the battle fought by the Florentincs against Niccolò Piccinino, the famous general of Filippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan, in the year 1440, at Anghiari, between Arezzo and Borgo San-Sepolcro.
The earliest discussion as to the decoration of the Council Chamber took place during the autumn of 1503: on October 24, the Council commanded the mace-bearer to make over the keys of the Pope's Chamber at Sta. Maria Novella to Leonardo's keeping. Here the artist was to prepare his cartoon.
About the same time, steps were taken for the restoration of the Council Chamber, in which a scaffolding was shortly erected for the painter's convenience.2
On May 4, 1504, there was a sitting of the Council, from the records of which we gather that Leonardo had already begun the cartoon, and received an instalment of thirty-five gold florins on account. We also learn that the artist was to have completed his work by the end of February, 1505 ; and the Council undertook to pay him fifteen florins a month (about £ 30 1os.) from April 20, 1504.
If the artist had not finished his work by the end of February, 1505, he was bound to return all the money, and to make over his cartoon to the Signory. The execution of the paintings was to be the subject
1 According to Vasari, Leonardo invented a very ingenious machine for the drawing of this cartoon. It rose up when it was compressed, and sank when it was drawn out.