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once modernised and preserved the noble simplicity of antique costume so successfully as the author of the Last Supper and the Mona Lisa.
Leonardo declares in the Trattato that the representation of contemporary fashions should be avoided as much as possible (“fugire il più che si può gli abiti deila sua età ”), except in the case of funerary statues. In this connection he relates how, in his youth, “every one, young or old, wore clothes with edges cut into points, each point in turn being cut into smaller ones. Shoes and head-dresses, pouches, offensive arms, collars, trains, the edges of petticoats, even the mouths of those who wished to be in the height of fashion, were adorned with deep indentations. Next,” he goes on to say, “came a time when sleeves grew so voluminous that they became larger than the garments to which they were attached. Then collars grew so high that they ended by covering the whole head. Afterwards they went to the opposite extreme, and were made so low that they were no longer supported by the shoulders, which they failed to reach. Later again, garments were made so extravagantly long, that they had to be carried over the arm to avoid being trodden upon. Then they were made so short and skimpy that they hardly reached the waist and elbows, and their wearers suffered martyrdom, and occasionally burst their sheath. Shoes were made so small that the toes mounted one upon the other and became covered with corns.”
Leonardo's ideal dress was, for an old man, a long and ample garment, in fact a toga (“Che il vecchio sia togato"); for a youth a short, close-fitting one (“il giovane ornato d’abito "), open above the shoulders, except in the case of monks and priests (cap. 541).
So far as his conceptions go, no one approaches more closely to the pagan ideal than Leonardo. Who has professed a greater love for form than he, or has cultivated art for art's sake with greater frankness? Who is more resolute in celebrating the glories of physical beauty, in sacrificing the literary significance of a work of art to some fascinating countenance, to some lovely exercise in the nude ? In this connection we may safely declare that if Leonardo did not
copy the antique, he at least assimilated its spirit more completely than any contemporary. He approaches the Greeks themselves in
the freedom and evident capacity for movement of his figures, as well as in an indescribable rhythm and inspiration. He was Greek, too, in his love for those androgynous forms, uniting masculine vigour with feminine grace, which play so large a part in his work, and of which the most complete type is the S. John the Baptist of the Louvre.
From all this to the treatment of pagan subjects was but a step,
and Leonardo took it more than once. He painted a Medusa, a Triumph of Neptune, a Leda, a Pomona, a Bacchus. In such of these as have survived the conception is in every way satisfactory, being equally removed from the archæological pedantry dear to some artists of the time, and from the anachronisms of others.
Leonardo, however, was curiously forgetful of fitness and his
tropre marillos torical colour when he set out, in a sketch of the Deluge, to intro
(Windsor Library.) duce Neptune with his trident and Æolus with his bag of winds! To represent the infernal regions he recommended that in the Paradise of Pluto should be placed
FIGURE IN ANTIQUE DRAPERY. (FROM DR. RICHTER'S WORK.)
twelve vessels, symbolising the mouths of Hell, from which devils should emerge, with Death, the Furies, a crowd of naked and weeping
children, ashes, and fires of different colours. All this is essentially antique, nay, pagan.
But although he took hints from his Greek and Roman predecessors, Leonardo had no idea of tying himself to their chariot wheels. This we may easily see from the way in which he treated iconography, allegory, and kindred subjects. No artist has ever pushed independence farther than Da
Vinci; we may even say that he pushed it too far, for in matters like these it is absolutely necessary that a painter should be in sympathy with his public, a result only to be arrived at either by deferring to tradition, or by extraordinary proselytising efforts on his own part. But Leonardo followed neither course, and many of his conceptions would be quite incomprehensible without the help of the explanations he has left us.
Rejecting all but a few of the traditional attributes (a column for Courage, three eyes for Prudence, and so on), he undertook to create a complete symbolism for himself. He proposed
(Valton Collection.) to represent Fame in the shape of a bird covered with tongues instead of feathers, to place in the hand of Ingratitude a burning brand, suggesting
1 Richter, vol. i., pp. 306, 354; Ch. Ravaisson-Mollien, MS. G., fol. 6.