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the learned editor of his literary and scientific remains, goes so far as to say 1 that among all these countless drawings he had only found one single study from the antique, an equestrian statue, taken apparently from that of Marcus Aurelius, at Rome (pl. lxxiii.).
As a fact, his imitations are relatively numerous.
Among those of a more or less indefinite kind, we may quote the bust of an old man, draped in the Roman fashion, with his right hand thrust out through the folds of his toga (Richter, pl. xxx. ; cf. xxviii., no. 7). On the other hand, a drawing in red chalk, at Windsor, seems to me a reproduction of the torso of Pasquin, with an attempt to restore the lower part of the body. Again (Richter, pl. Ixiii.), we have the drawing of a cameo bearing the design of a genius standing by the side of another figure.”
If from figures we pass to motives of decoration, we again met by a certain number of these borrowings. Accepting The Annunciation, of the Uffizi, as the work of Leonardo, we there find him introducing a marble tripod of extreme richness. sketch more or less suggesting an antique tripod occurs in one of the Windsor drawings (Richter, vol. I, pl. lxii.). A candelabrum in the Codex Atlanticus, of great purity and harmony of form, is derived, beyond a doubt, from the antique. also refer to the harpies and trophies which to have decorated the mausoleum of Trivulzio (Saggio, pl. xvi., and vol. i., p. 159).
To conclude, this great artist treated the antique as it should be treated by one who wishes to profit by its teaching, and desires to receive lessons rather than labour-saving formulæ. By dint of long and thoughtful, though intermittent study, Leonardo mastered the antique spirit. Allowing it to germinate freely within him, he counted upon the wealth and independence of his own nature to enable him to turn it to his own use, to transform it, and to
1 Vol. i., p. 244.
2 Like most of his contemporaries, Leonardo used an antique gem as a seal. His letter to Cardinal Ippolito d'Este (in the Modena archives) still bears the impression of a small cameo representing a head in profile.
produce with its aid works of art which should be essentially vital and modern.
In this chapter I have only discussed the relations between the antique and the art of Leonardo. I have now to do as much for his philosophy, his science, and his mechanics, and to show how, in those directions also, we continually encounter the Greeks and the Romans.
THE POET, THE THINKER, THE PHILOSOPHER-LEONARDO'S CONVICTIONS, MORAL
Léonard, ce frère Italien de Faust.”
HE painter of Mona Lisa and the
Last Supper enchanted and dazzled
his contemporaries from the first hour, and four centuries have not diminished the prestige of his artistic creations. As a thinker and investigator he has been less fortunate. It has required the efforts of several generations of learned men, from Venturi, Libri, and Govi, down to Uzielli, Richter, Charles Ravaisson-Mollien, Beltrami, and Piumati, to complete the work of rehabilitation.
I propose, in my turn, to inquire what
place was occupied by letters in the activities of this universal genius. So far the problem has not even been attacked; and if I have to be content at last with a
A YOUTH MEDITATING.
negative result, I shall not regret any trouble which may enable me to penetrate a little more profoundly into the mind of such a
To form a true judgment of Leonardo's writings we must begin by recognising that here we have to do, in literature and philosophy no less than in science, with the self-taught man “par excellence.” Education has little purchase on natures essentially original, and we may safely assert that the education received by this particular child of genius in the hamlet of Vinci and afterwards in Florence itself was about as careless as it could be. We can, moreover, point to evidence on Leonardo's early studies which bears every sign of authenticity. A biographer tells us that he showed an unbounded, even an extravagant, thirst for acquiring knowledge, but that his curiosity was equalled by the instability of his tastes. He passed from arithmetic to music, from natural history to the arts of design, and from these to the occult sciences, without any sign of fatigue, but also without any steady devotion. His literary and historical studies always occupied a second place.
In spite of his great faculty of assimilation, Leonardo always betrays a certain embarrassment before a literary or historical question. We may
take him at his word when he calls himself “illiterato" and uomo senza lettere.” " I know well,” he says somewhere, “that as I am not lettered, some impertinent individual may think himself justified in finding fault, and in calling me an illiterate person. Idiots! Do they not know that I might give the answer of Marius to the Roman patricians : 'It is by those who bedeck themselves with the labours of others that I am not allowed to enjoy my own.' They say that because I have not trained myself in letters, I cannot do justice to the subjects I wish to treat. They do not know that such matters as occupy me are better fitted for treatment by experiment than by words. Now, those who have written well have learnt from experience, to which I myself always look up as my master.”
What suffering and humiliation may be divined behind such a confession!
With a reserve which does him credit. Leonardo abstains from all
critical judgment, except when a scientific opinion has to be contested. In his writings upon art he only once allows himself to be seduced into a judgment on a colleague (Botticelli); and so, when he has to deal with poets, thinkers, historians, he is content with the statement of facts. Even while proclaiming the utility and pleasure-giving power of history, at the very moment of confessing that “the knowledge of past times and of geography adorns and nourishes the intellect,” he is continually guilty of the most extraordinary anachronisms. He talks somewhere of “the part played by Archimedes of Syracuse, who lived at the court of Ecliderides, King of the Cirodastri, in the wars between the Spaniards and the English (!)” He attributes to Cato the credit of having discovered the tomb of this same Archimedes, although the proverbial schoolboy could have told him that the honour was Cicero's. If his reticence of judgment in matters of art sprang from tolerance or indifference, in matters of learning it is to be explained by an only too well founded distrust of his own knowledge. It is, in fact, hopeless to deny that, in spite of all his efforts, Leonardo never became a scholar. His glory rests on another foundation.
The embarrassments felt by a man of genius like this, whenever he had to invent a “mise-en-scène or to find some telling formula, move us to deep pity as well as to boundless admiration. The clearest and most suggestive of analysts, he lacked the nicety and fluency of expression which education had made so easy to his Florentine fellow citizens. This is how, in default of schooling, in default of having mastered the secrets of versification like Poliziano, or the subtleties of Platonic philosophy like Marsilio Ficino, or the problems of the known and the unknown like Pico de la Mirandola, in default, indeed, of certain rudimentary branches of knowledge which his unimportant contemporaries had learnt as children, Leonardo failed of appreciation with the immense majority of his countrymen, in spite of the unrivalled scope of his genius. Again, what a mistake he made in a rhetorical age in despising oratory, and spurning the friendship of those whom we now call log-rollers ! And yet again, why did he not stay in Florence ? or settle in Rome? The most famous scholars would have hastened