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laying up funds against your own old age, remember that the study of virtue will never fail you, but will keep you always young, for the home of virtue is full of dreams and illusions (cap. 25).” Elsewhere he says: “Every ill leaves a pang in the memory, except the supreme ill, death, which destroys memory together with life.”1 We may also quote this ingenious comparison : “A vase may be mended if you break it before it goes to the oven ; afterwards, all repairs are impossible.” 2 Everywhere we find the noblest spirituality, and that a spirituality founded upon the widest scientific exploration undertaken by any human head since the days of Aristotle ; at one time, he proclaims “that our bodies are subject to heaven, and that heaven itself is subject to the mind ;” 3 at another, “that mortal beauty passes away, but that a creation of art endures.” 4 –
I need not carry my analysis farther. I have said enough to show how great a place letters occupied in a mind which might well have been filled by art on the one hand, and science or philosophy on the other. Encyclopædic as the Leonardo we used to know was, he was yet incomplete ; we have now learnt that he attacked the apparently impossible in order to extend his means of expression, and that he succeeded. If Michelangelo the poet conquers our admiration by the wild energy of his style, Leonardo creeps into our affections by the sweetness and serenity of his. His triumph is in descriptive poetry, but he also knows how to inform his maxims with an eloquence which is at once penetrating and familiar.
Here, unless I am mistaken, he introduced a new note into the literature of the Italian Renaissance. The reader will forgive me for having insisted upon it at such length. It is impossible to be indifferent to any thing which throws additional light on such a man as Leonardo da Vinci.
The completion of M. Charles Ravaisson-Mollien's great work 1 Richter, vol. ii., p. 29, C.A. 336.
2 Ibid., p. 375. 3 Beltrami, fol. 65.
4 “Cosa bella mortal passa e non d'arte” (Richter, vol. i., p. 326). We must read the Vergine delle Rocce to find how brilliant these somewhat hazy axioms can become when treated by such a virtuoso as Gabriele d'Annunzio.
of transcribing, translating, and annotating the rich collection of Leonardo's manuscripts preserved in France, allows us at last to solve a problem which has in these latter days greatly stirred the curiosity of his admirers. Some eight or ten years ago, the hypothesis started by Dr. Richter, that at one time Leonardo was converted to Mohammedanism, threw pious souls into no little perturbation. Let us endeavour, with the help of his writings and of certain characteristic features of his career, to determine what Leonardo's religious convictions really were.
To begin with : even if: it could be shown and this is precisely one of the points most in dispute—that Leonardo had broken with the teachings of the Church, it would still be none the less certain that he was a deist, and not an atheist or materialist.
Doubts of Leonardo's orthodoxy are very old. As early as the middle of the sixteenth century, Vasari spoke of his “capricci nel filosafar delle cose naturale,” adding that the author of the Last Supper “ had taken up such heretical notions that he really belonged to no religion, and, in short, that he laid more store by his quality as a philosopher than as a Christian.”1 But on more careful examination the biographer seems to have recognised the slight foundation upon which his assertions rested, for he left them out of his second edition, published in 1588.
Devotional formulæ and the external practices of religion make it difficult to penetrate very far into men's real consciences; but it may safely be affirmed that impiety, in the true sense, was rare in the times with which we are dealing. The Italians of the sixteenth century fell rather into heresy, in itself a strong manifestation of religious sentiments, and not, as some have asserted, into “ freethinking.” If we look at those about Leonardo, what do we see? Botticelli, the soft and tender Botticelli, came perilously near the stake when he lent his brush to the expression of Matteo Palmieri's
1 “Per il che fece nell' animo, uno concetto si eretico che e' non si accostava a qualsi voglia religione, stimando per avventura più lo esser filosofo che cristiano."
2 That of Perugino, whose Madonnas were so devotional, might be quoted on the other side.
theories on the nature of angels. On another occasion the same artist risked an audacious repartee, but he was not slow to make amends, and he ended his life in an odour of contrition which edified his contemporaries. We know that another friend of Leonardo, his fellow-pupil, Lorenzo di Credi, was famous all through his life for piety. But these masters, who were nothing but painters, are not to be compared with him, for intellectual scope and power.
Leonardo over and over again reverts to the benevolence and grandeur of the Supreme Being. He names him with emotion. He celebrates the justice of the Creator, of the “primo motore” who had willed that no force should lack the necessary qualities for the work it had to do. This declaration has been justly compared to, a passage in Leibnitz: "The supreme wisdom of God led Him to choose those laws of movement which were in closest agreement with abstract and metaphysical reasoning.” 1 Elsewhere we find Leonardo exclaiming, “I obey Thee, Lord, in the first place through the love it is but reasonable I should feel for Thee; in the second, because Thou canst lengthen or shorten human life at Thy pleasure”; again, we find him saying, “ Thou, O God, who sellest us all good things at the price of labour."1–
i Séailles, Revue politique et littéraire, 1881, p. 629.-Cf. Léonard de Vinci, l'Artiste et le Savant, by the same author, p. 317.
Declarations like these discount the importance of the following paradox upon idolatry, on which theories of Leonardo's philosophical audacity have been based. “I wish I had words to blame those who think we ought to adore men rather than the sun, as I do not see a greater or more admirable body in the whole universe than the latter, which, with its light, illuminates the celestial bodies which are sprinkled over the firmament. All souls proceed from it, because all the heat which is in living animals comes from their souls. In the whole universe there is no other heat or light, as I shall demonstrate in my fourth book, and certainly those who have desired to worship men as gods-Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, and others like them-have made a great mistake, for we can see that even if a man were as large as our world, he would, in the universe, seem only like the very smallest star, which looks merely like a point, and, moreover, that he is mortal, and rots in his tomb.” 2
To understand such a state of mind we must place ourselves at the point of view of the Italy of the Renaissance, and take account of the indolence, “the vis inertiæ,” which led thinkers and scholars as well as artists to respect religious things. Like his contemporaries, Leonardo bows before the dogmas taught him in his childhood. “I leave on one side,” he says somewhere, “the sacred writings, seeing that they are supreme truth” (lascio star le lettere incoronate, perche sono sommo verità [Richter, vol. ii., $ 837]).
But when, by the fortune of study, he is driven to choose between accepted beliefs and the conclusions to which his investigations lead, he dismisses all but the truth from his mind. The Church teaches that the world was created 5,288 years before the birth of Christ, but Leonardo counts by hundreds of thousands of years; he agrees that the visible action of the Po upon the valley through which it flows must have required two thousand centuries.3
i Richter, vol. ii., p. 285.
3 Elsewhere he speaks of the invention of astrology as having taken place 57,000 years before the Trojan War (Richter, vol. ii., p. 171).
Leonardo's researches in geology led him to touch upon the gravest problems of Biblical history; Noah's deluge, was it a universal deluge or was it not ? His answer is categorical : “We read in the Bible that the Deluge was caused by forty days and forty nights of rain, and that the mass of water rose ten cubits above the highest mountain in the world. If thus it really took place and the rain was universal, it must have covered our globe, which has the form of a sphere. Now the surface of a sphere is at every point equally distant from the centre; in these conditions it was impossible for the water to run away, for water can only flow downwards. How then could the water of this tremendous deluge run away, if it is shown that it could not move? And if it did flow off, how did it begin to move, if it did not move upwards? Here then we have no natural explanations : we must either take refuge in the supposition of a miracle, or declare that the water evaporated under the heat of the sun.” 1
Let us turn to the attitude of Leonardo towards Christianity. We cannot doubt that, although he respected the beliefs in which he had been brought up (as his proceedings with regard to the Last Supper, his scruples in completing the figure of Christ; his conversation with Zenale, etc., show), the founder of the Milanese Academy betrays a certain independence of mind, and shows that he attached more importance to works than to dogmas.
The Prophecies or Enigmas contain a certain number of allusions, which are occasionally a little indiscreet: “Who are those who believe in the Son, but only build churches to the Mother?” Answer. “The Christians.” “What mean the lamentations which take place among all the great nations of Europe over the death of a single man slain in the East ?” Answer. “ The mourning of Good Friday.” “Who are those who, being dead, provide food after a thousand years for many who live ?” Answer. “The religion of the monks, who live upon the saints so long dead.” “I see Christ again sold, and crucified, and his saints martyred.” Answer. “Crucifixes put up for sale.” 2
1 Richter, vol. ii., pp. 208–209.
2 Richter, vol. ii., p. 369. M. Charles Levêque has perhaps given too much significance to this passage in saying that it shows Leonardo to have been indignant at