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coloured mantle, which fell to his knees, and that his carefully kept hair hung in long curls upon his shoulders.” |
Thanks to the exactness of these notes, we can imagine the appearance of the man who created so many masterpieces. His moral character is equally well known to us.
Let us conjure up the figure of a youth, grave and fascinating at once, a good talker, a celebrated improvisatore, a little fond, perhaps, of mystifying his audience, but eager, whenever he found himself alone, in his inquiries into the most knotty problems. Modesty was not exactly his strong point. The programme he laid before Lodovico il Moro proves that clearly. An extreme gentleness, an exquisite kindliness, fortunately tempered his legitimate confidence in his own powers. His patience with his pupils, one of whom, an ill-conditioned fellow, caused him endless trouble, was almost angelic. He showed tenderness even to unreasoning creatures, and would buy caged birds for the sake of the pleasure of setting them free.
Is there any picture of Leonardo as a young man ? I would fain believe it. And yet I have sought in vain for any which might seem likely to be his portrait. Let us, while hoping some other inquirer may be more fortunate, content ourselves with the studies by the master's own hand, which represent him in his riper manhood and old age.
The earliest of these, a red chalk drawing in the Windsor Collection, is a bust in profile.
We see a man of fifty, or thereabouts, with regular, but singularly cold features, an observer rather than a poet. The nose, and the forehead, on which the hair is a little scant, are straight, the moustache is clipped short, giving the face rather a hard and severe look, the hair and beard are carefully waved. This portrait is believed to be that mentioned by Vasari as belonging to Leonardo's favourite pupil, Fr. Melzi. 2
1 “Era di bella persona, proportionata, gratiata, e bello aspetto. Portava un pitoccho rosato, corto sino al ginocchio, che allora s'usavano i vestiri lunghi ; aveva sino al mezzo in petto una bella capellaia, ed inanellata, e ben composta ” (Milanesi.–Fabriczy, Il Codice dell' Anonimo Gaddiano, p. 78).
2 Heaton, Leonardo da Vinci, p. 262. There are several copies of the Windsor drawing. The principal is in the Ambrosian Library, and has been published by Gerli. Vasari's annotators speak of a second copy supposed to be in the national collection in Paris. May not this refer to the red chalk drawing showing the artist in profile, which