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One section--the seventy-seventh—of the Trattato is devoted to discussing the observation of saints' days.1 Leonardo is severe
upon hypocrites, and does not hesitate to let us see that, in his opinion, the spirit is vastly more important than the letter in matters of religion. " Among the host of fools we find a certain section called hypocrites, who are continually exercising their ingenuity to deceive themselves and others, but principally others. In reality they deceive themselves more than they do their neighbours. I am alluding to such people as
those who blame painters for devoting saints' days to the study of matters having to do with knowledge of nature, and for taking pains to acquire as much of that knowledge as they can. Leonardo seems
to have hugged a certain prejudice against the
ASCRIBED TO AMBROGIO
(National Gallery, London.)
the profanation of sacred objects (Journal des Savants, 1890, p. 145). Michelangelo, indeed, groans over the profanation of such objects : "qua si fa elmi di calici e spade.” Guasti, Le Poesie di Michelangelo, p. 157.)
1 The rules of the artists' corporations strictly forbade work to be done on Sundays and saints' days. With some corporations more than a hundred days were thus affected, and it is quite possible that Leonardo may have been fined by one or another of them.
" regular” clergy. We find him indulging in such exclamations as this : “Farisei, frati santi, vol dire "_" Pharisees, that is to say, monks.” Elsewhere he declares that many of them have made a trade of deceiving the foolish multitude with false miracles 1.
What,” he asks in his Prophecies, “are the false coins which help those to triumph who spend them?” and he answers, " the
monks, who, spending nothing but words, receive great riches, and give Paradise.” 2
He girds, too, against the workers of false miracles: "and many make a trade of deceptions and sham miracles, cheating the silly crowd, and if no one showed that he understood their deceits, they would make a good thing of them.” 3 Compared to these attacks the following is relatively mild. “A priest, perambulating his parish on
(National Gallery, London.) Easter Saturday, sprinkled a picture on which a painter was at work with holy water; to the latter, who demanded what that was for, the priest answered that
1 Richter, vol. ii., P. 302.
God was in the habit of restoring one a hundredfold for all the good one did here below. Scarcely had the priest emerged from the house before the painter upset a bucket of water on his head, crying : 'there you are, rewarded a hundredfold for the good you have done me with your holy water, which has half-spoiled my picture !'”1
With a man like this morality must have counted for at least as much as faith. The writings of Leonardo abound, in fact, with precepts as simple in their teaching as they are eloquent in expression. Let us take a few examples. “Falsehood is so vile that if it spoke well of God, it would take something from the grace of His divinity, while truth is so excellent that when applied to the smallest things, it makes them noble." 2 “ Intellectual ardour drives away luxury”“la passione dell'animo caccia via la lussuria.” 3 Leonardo's contempt for money breaks out in many places : “ Money, dirt !” he cries; again, “Oh, poverty of man! Of how many things do you become the slave for the sake of money!”
Like so many upright natures, he inclined to misanthropy as time went on, till, in the end, bitterness took the place of serenity.4
It is plain from all these different pieces of evidence, that Leonardo, without displaying any special marks of devotion or taking part in theological discussions, submitted with docility to the demands of public religion, as, in fact, every one had to do, who did not wish to become acquainted with the stake. But a conduct which, with others, might have been the result of calculation sprang,
with him, from the tolerance we look for in all superior minds.
The pictures and drawings of Leonardo allow us to see a little deeper still into the problem ; they show that except in his rendering of the Last Supper, he took greater liberties with sacred iconography than any other artist. Not content with suppressing the nimbi and other traditional attributes of holiness, he represents
1 Richter, vol. ii., p. 347. See also p. 349, and Codex Atlanticus, fol. 469-470.
4 Codex Atlanticus, fol. 328.-Müller-Walde, Jahrbuch for 1897, p. 109.-It is impossible to avoid being struck by Leonardo's habitual decorum and by his horror of licentious language. Once only does he indulge in a pleasantry of doubtful taste (Manuscript F., at the Institut de France, verso of cover).
the actors in the sacred history in attitudes which, though full of poetry and tenderness, are inconsistent with the terrible mysteries of religion : the Divine Child teasing a lamb or a cat, the Virgin sitting on her mother's knees, and so on. And yet, to his contemporaries, the pictures of Leonardo seemed inspired with the purest and most profound religious sentiment. In a letter addressed to the Marchesa Isabella d’Este and published lately by M. Charles Yriarte, Father Pietro da Nuvolaria discovers all kinds of symbolical meanings in the Saint Anne of the Louvre. He has imagined a Christ about one year old, escaping from his mother's arms to seize and embrace a lamb. Rising from her mother's lap, the Virgin attempts to separate her child and the lamb, an animal not to be sacrificed, but which figures the Passion of Christ. Saint Anne seems about to make a movement towards restraining her daughter. This, perhaps, is an allusion to the Church, which would not prevent the Passion of Christ.” The Marchesa Isabella, on her part, bears witness to the essentially gentle and pious character of Leonardo's religious pictures. I
If I were dealing with any other artist but da Vinci, who was at least as much a thinker and man of science as he was a painter, I should not have insisted at such length upon his beliefs, but should have been content to repeat the maxim, that the style is the man. The pictures of Leonardo are religious in the highest degree, not, of course, in that ascetic sense in which alone thoroughgoing partisans of the Middle Ages see religious inspiration, but in that idyllic spirit by which more than one page of the Gospels themselves are inspired. We must admit that one aspect of Christian art is founded on maternal and filial affection, and no man can have excited the emotions of more mothers and children than Leonardo.
Leonardo's philosophy has been well analysed by M. Séailles 2 that I need not say more of it here. I shall be satisfied with examining one problem to which my predecessors have paid but scant attention : what influence did Marsilio Ficino, the champion of
1 “Uno quadretto della Madonna, devoto e dolce come è il suo naturale.” (Letter of Isabella d'Este, March 27, 1501.)
2 Léonard de Vinci, l'Artiste et la Savant.
neo-platonic philosophy, exercise over Leonardo?
The Theologia platonica had appeared at Florence in 1482, that is, before, Leonardo had quitted his native city for Milan ; his ideas, therefore, might have been strongly affected by it, but as a fact, they were not. Platonic philosophy seems, indeed, to have counted for little in Leonardo's mind. In M. Ravaisson-Mollien's twelve volumes, Plato is only once quoted (MS. F, fol. 59), and that in connection with a geometrical problem ; 1 Socrates, too, is only mentioned once (MS. F, fol. 4), and then, as M. Charles Levêque has shown, Leonardo ascribes to him an opinion really formulated by Anaxagoras.
We know, however, that the Timeas of Plato was not unknown to Leonardo's collaborator, Luca Pacioli, for there he found certain Pythagorical doctrines, such as the parallelism between regular bodies and the elements, the notion that the triangle played a great part in the formation of the world, etc.
On the other hand, the name of Aristotle occurs continually. 2 “ The attractive parts of Aristotle's writings for Leonardo, says M. Levêque, were those treating of physics, of astronomy, in a word, of Nature. The Greek philosopher's Organum, more or less disfigured by the Middle Ages, seems scarcely to have arrested him at all. He broke no lance with logic. We do not find him saying with Bacon,
Rejiciamus igitur syllogismum,” or treating as sophists the greatest of the Greek philosophers, as the Englishman loved to do. In estimating his feeling for Aristotle, we may reasonably suspect that while he neglected the metaphysician he saw the observer who loomed behind him. In these days no one doubts that a naturalist, a physiologist, a zoologist, and an experimental anatomist were all combined with the metaphysician in Aristotle.” 3
1 Several points of apparent contact between the head of the Academy of Athens and that of the Milanese Academy must be put down rather to accident than intention. Thus we find Plato comparing the soul to the sound of a lyre, and asking whether, when the lyre is broken, the sound dies with it. Leonardo, on his part, declares that the decomposition of the body does not involve that of the soul, and that the soul in the body behaves like the wind in an organ: if a pipe bursts, the action of the wind ceases.
2 MS. D, fol. 84, vo; MS. I, fol. 130, vo; MS. K, fol. 52, vo; MS. M, fol. 62, etc. Govi exaggerates when he says, “ Libero da ogni influsso Aristotelico o Platonico.” (Saggio, p. 7.)
Journal des Savants, 1890, p. 139.