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in the Accademia delle Belle Arti at Venice is a tangled whirl of horse and foot-soldiers, in which the eye at first sight is fairly puzzled to ! distinguish the artist's meaning. 1
In another drawing, also at Venice, we see how ardently the artist has worked upon the central group, giving extraordinary vigour to the actors and splendid rhythm to the lines. Here foot-soldiers, in the most varied, and, it must be added, the most violent attitudes,
brandish axes and lances at each other. This sketch proves that Leonardo's idea of representing a cavalry fight, so as to crush Michel- ) angelo by his superior knowledge of equine anatomy, was not that which originally occurred to him. A third drawing at Venice represents a less closely packed, and for this reason, perhaps, a more picturesque conflict than its two predecessors. In this case horsemen are mingled with infantry soldiers.
At last, in two drawings in the Pesth Museum,” we see the artist
1 Richter, pl. xxi., xxviii., lii., liv., lvi.
2 Richter, vol. i. p. 338-339. Fol. i. verso, of the Trivulzio MS. has a head in profile (turned to the left), with a long peaked chin, which bears a strong resemblance to one of the combatants in the Battle of Anghiari.
turning his attention to studies in detail, for separate figures. We see him endeavouring to fix the physiognomy of two of the horsemen who appear in the cartoon : the turbaned rider, waving his sword (a study for this figure exists in the Venetian Accademia), and the other, with a helmet adorned with a dragon, who breaks off the staft of the banner. Both these figures are' of a full-blooded, almost sensual type. The third study, that of a young beardless man, seen
in profile, opening his mouth to shout, appears in the picture formerly · in the Timbal collection (on the right). He may also be recognised in
a red chalk drawing in the Windsor Library, in which three-quarters of the figure are shown. Dr. Richter has connected this figure with a somewhat clumsy drawing in the Codex Atlanticus (Saggio, pl. xxii.). A drawing in the British Museum (Braun, no. 293) of a young man
1 The Royal Collection of Drawings by the Old Masters at Windsor. Drawings by Leonardo da Vinci ; London, Grosvenor Gallery, 1878, no. 87. See a similar figure in another of the Windsor drawings, published by Herr Müller-Walde, fig. 12. A drawing in the Ambrosiana Library, bearing a few words in Leonardo's hand, shows us a study for a profile head of a man shouting. The drawing in the Turin Library (no. 4) may possibly be connected with the Battle of Anghiari. A red chalk drawing in the Louvre (Braun, 'r 195), of a man three quarters to the left, seems to me to belong to the Battle of Anghiari.' I may say the same of another in the same collection, of two naked men struggling on the ground (Braun, 196). It must be connected with some preliminary study by the master, though it is too weak and rounded to be actually by his hand. A red chalk drawing in the Accademia, Venice, of a sour-looking old man (Naya, 212), attributed to Michelangelo, I take to be rather a study inspired by the Battle of Anghiari.
in a helmet, seen in profile, looking to the left, seems to me to be a study of the same head as that in the Pesth drawing.
A study in MS. K (pl. xiv.), of the Institut de France, represents a man on horseback, with a loosely flying mantle, bending to the left. This subject had long been in Leonardo's mind. He may perhaps, like a careful housekeeper, have kept it by him, to be used when occasion served. We do, indeed, find another horseman, with a Auttering cloak, bending to the right from a rearing charger, in a drawing in MS. B at the Institut (folio 46, vo). Gerli has also published (pl. vii.) a horseman in a flying mantle, rushing upon a foot-soldier, and (pl. xii.) two naked riders, their only covering a cloak that waves in the wind. .
These sketches, various as they are, leave us without any satisfactory solution of a problem which more than one of my readers will be disposed to propound. Did the cartoon of the Battle of Anghiari only comprise the group of soldiers struggling round the banner? or did this group represent a mere episode in a far larger composition ? Vasari contents himself with describing the capture of the standard, without reference to any other figures. Benvenuto Cellini is no more explicit. “Il mirabile Lionardo da Vinci aveva preso per elezione di mostrare una battaglia di cavalli concerta presura di bandiere, tanto divinamente fatti quanto immaginar si possa.”
All these sketches point to multiple action. Yet, in all the ancient copies which have been preserved, only one episode appears : the struggle for the possession of the standard. Did the cartoon contain no episode save this? Or did Leonardo throw all the other incidents of the battle into the background of his picture ? Dr. Richter is inclined to think that the greater number of the above-mentioned drawings, as well as several others by Raphael, reproduce various parts of the cartoon, of which the well-known group was a mere fragment. According to this learned authority, whose opinion is accepted by Geymüller, the cavalry front which advances so proudly to the fray, with banners waving, figured on the extreme right of the
cartoon. This opinion is founded on the fact that the horse seen ) from behind, which appears on the extreme right in Raphael's sketch,
i Leonardo da Vinci, vol. ii., p. 337-338. Les derniers Travaux sur Leonardo da Vinci, p. 39-40.
reappears in exactly the same form near the extreme left of a sketch by Leonardo, wrongly ascribed to Cesare da Sesto (p. 145), which reproduces another portion of the cartoon. This horse 1 is taken to be the figure which connected the group of horsemen fighting for the standard with the right side of the composition.
In this celebrated group Leonardo has rendered, with unspeakable skill, all the fury and despair and desperate effort of which the animal frame is capable, its grinding teeth, its yelling throat. We are not standing before a picture, we are in the thick of the fight. Even on the very ground, and under the horses' feet, the struggle goes on fiercely. One soldier, brought to his knees, may think only of how to shelter himself behind his buckler from the horse that rears above him ; but close beside him two men clinging to each other are engaged in the most deadly strife.
At a first glance the dresses and armour may appear fantasticthe cuirasses with ram's heads in the centre and ram's horns on the shoulders ; the helmets adorned with dragons. The turbans and curved swords that look like Turkish scimitars, seem more suited to some imaginary army than 10 real “condottieri.” Yet a mass of contemporary testimony shows us that the Italians of Leonardo's time did load themselves with such extravagant adornments. It was a caprice characteristic of the men of the Renaissance. Art, they decreed, was to spread its influence even over sciences which seemed to be the negation of all art. The military engineer, the armourer, the very cannon-founder, were looked on as varieties of the artist.
The central group of four horsemen is incomparable in its vigour and fury. Two Florentine centaurs have succeeded in laying hold of the end of the staff of the Milanese standard ; one of them has even contrived to break it in half, and is grasping the portion to which the banner itself is affixed. While one assailant uses both hands to hold the precious spoil, his comrade brandishes his sword, to keep back a turbaned Milanese, who is rushing to the standard-bearer's assistance. The standard-bearer himself is in
1 A horse, identical at all points, appears in a drawing published by Gerli (pl. xxviii.), and reproduced in the Gazette des Beaux Arts (first period, vol. xxx., p. 147). But it is well known that Gerli's plates are frequently made up of details taken here and there from Leonardo's works.
a very awkward position. His foes, in their efforts to snatch the fag, have brought the pole right behind his back and under his arm ; thus he cannot turn to face them, and his resistance is reduced to desperate contortions, one hand clutching the end of the staff, the other thrown behind him. Meanwhile the horses neigh and rear, tearing at each other with their teeth.
The two cartoons of the Battle of Anghiari and the Pisan War embody the different temperaments of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. In Leonardo's work, knowledge, sublety, distinction, pervade the whole, without weakening the magnificent dash of the composition. Michelangelo's cartoon may be lacking in that science of picturesque grouping, which he never attained at any time. But how eloquent are his athletic forms, how noble his attitudes ! How clear, living, dramatic, powerful even to brutality, the whole picture is! The generous passion of liberty, the noble audacity of the old Republic, shone for the last time in this cartoon of Buonarroti's.
And this was the last, too, of those grand contests, so appropriate to the spirit of Florentine democracy, immortalised by Brunellesco, Ghiberti, Donatello, Della Robbia, and many another. Florence, on, the eve of losing her freedom, could not have desired a more brilliant finale than this epic struggle between the two greatest of her sons, Michelangelo and Leonardo.