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theatre, treatises on painting, on sculpture, and many other works of the highest merit—such are Alberti's titles to the admiration ana gratitude of posterity. But the Renaissance, on approaching maturity, was to endow another son of Florence with yet greater power, a still wider range. Compared with Leonardo how pedantic, how narrow, nay, how timorous Alberti appears!
These faculties of the mind in no wise prejudiced the qualities of the heart. Like Raphael, Leonardo was distinguished for his infinite kindliness, like him he lavished interest and affection even upon dumb animals. Leonardo, Vasari tells us, had so much charm of manner and conversation that he won all hearts. Though, in a certain sense, he had nothing of his own and worked little, he always found means to keep servants and horses, of which latter he was very fond, as indeed of all animals; he reared and trained them with as much love as patience. Often, passing the places where they sold birds, he would buy some, and taking them out of their cages with his own hand, restore them to liberty. A contemporary of Leonardo, Andrea Corsali, writes from India in 1515 to Giuliano de' Medici, that like " il nostro Leonardo da Vinci" the inhabitants of these regions permit no harm to be done to any living creature.1 This longing for affection, this liberality, this habit of looking upon their pupils as their family, are traits which the two great painters have in common, but are the very traits which distinguish them from Michelangelo, the misanthropic, solitary artist, the sworn foe of feasting and pleasure. In his manner of shaping his career, however, Raphael approaches far nearer to Michelangelo than to Leonardo, who was proverbially easy-going and careless. Raphael, on the contrary, prepared his future with extreme care ; not only gifted but industrious, he occupied himself early in the foundation of his fortune; whereas Leonardo lived from hand to mouth, and subordinated his own interests to the exigencies of science.
1 It appears from Corsali's letter that Leonardo ate no meat, but lived entirely on vegetables, thus forestalling our modern vegetarians by several centuries. (Richter's The Literary Works of Leonardo da Vinci, vol. ii. p. 130.)
From the very beginning—and on this point we do not hesitate to accept Vasari's testimony—the child showed an immoderate, at times even extravagant, thirst for knowledge of every description; he would have made extraordinary progress, had it not been for his marked instability of purpose. He threw himself ardently into the study of one science after another, went at a bound to the very root of questions, but abandoned work as readily as he had begun it. During the few months he devoted to arithmetic, or rather to mathematics, he acquired such knowledge of the subject that he nonplussed his master every moment, and put him to the blush. Music had no less attraction for him; he excelled particularly on the lute, which instrument he used later for the accompaniment of the songs he improvised.1 In short, like another Faust, he desired to traverse the vast cycle of human knowledge, and, not content to have assimilated the discoveries of his contemporaries, to address himself directly to nature in order to extend the field of science.
We have now pointed out the rare capacities of the young genius, the variety of his tastes and acquirements; his pre-eminence in all bodily exercises and all intellectual contests; it is time to consider the use he made of such exceptional gifts. Despite his precocious versatility, one ruling faculty soon showed itself conspicuously in him, and that was a strong, an irresistible vocation for the arts of design. In studying his first original productions, we discover that, to a far greater degree than Raphael, Leonardo was a prodigy. The latest researches have proved how slow and toilsome was the development of the artist of Urbino, through what arduous labour he had to pass before he could give free play to his originality. There was nothing of this with Leonardo. From the first, he declares himself with admirable authority and originality. Not that he was a facile worker—no artist produced more slowly—but, from the very outset, his vision was so personal, that from being the pupil of his masters, he became their initiator.
1 On Leonardo as a musician see the Ricerche of Sig. Uzielli, 2nd ed., vol. i. PP- 557—577
Leonardo's father seems to have resided more often in Florence than in Vinci, and it was undoubtedly in the capital of Tuscany, and not in the obscure little town of Vinci, that the brilliant faculties of the child were unfolded. The site of the house occupied by the family has recently been determined; it stood in the Piazza San Firenze, on the spot where the Gondi palace now stands, and disappeared towards the end of the fifteenth century, when Giuliano Gondi pulled it down to make room for the palace to which he gave his name.
What Florence was during that period of political exhaustion, of industrial and commercial prosperity, of literary, scientific, and artistic exaltation, I shall not attempt to set forth here Among my present readers there are, perhaps, some who have not forgotten earlier publications of mine, notably Les Prdcurseurs de la Renaissance, in which I traced a picture—fairly complete, I think—of intellectual life on the banks of the Arno in the time of Lorenzo the Magnificent.
Towards the period when the da Vinci family settled in Florence, the Florentine school had arrived at one of those climacteric crises at which a power must either abdicate, or start afresh on new lines. The revolution inaugurated by Brunellesco, Donatello, and Masaccio had effected all it was capable of effecting; and we see their successors in the last part of the fifteenth century wavering between imitation and mannerism, powerless to fertilise an exhausted inheritance. In architecture, great as was the talent of the San Galli, the sceptre speedily passed into the hands of Bramante of Urbino, then into those of the representatives of Upper Italy—Vignole, who was born near Modena, Serlio, a native of Bologna, Palladio, most famous of the sons of Vicenza. In sculpture, one Florentine only had achieved a commanding position since Verrocchio and Pollajuolo; it is true that his name was Michaelangelo; but what hopeless mediocrity surrounded him, and how one feels that here too the last word had been said!
As in all periods in which inspiration fails, there reigned in the Florentine studios a spirit of discussion, of death-dealing criticism,
eminently calculated, to discourage and enervate. No longer capable of producing strong and simple works like the glorious masters of the first half of the century, Masaccio, Fra Angelico, Piero della Francesca, or even Andrea del Castagno, every painter strove after novelty, originality, "terribilita "— the word by which Vasari designatesthis tendency—hoping thereby to place himself above criticism.
No artists could be more mannered than these Florentine painters of the end of the fifteenth century; one would willingly give all the cunning of a Pollajuolo for a dash of inspiration. In female beauty, the prevailing ideal was a morbid and suffering type, pale and wasted faces, drooping eyelids, veiled glances, plaintive smiles: if they charm in spite of their incorrect lines it is because they reflect a last ray of the mystical poetry of the middle ages. This ideal, as far removed from the robust and almost virile figures of Masaccio, of Piero della Francesca, of Andrea del Castagno, as it was from the severe though dry distinction of Ghirlandajo's type, was affected, first and foremost, by Fra Filippo Lippo, who was imitated by his son Filippino and by Botticelli. It was mannerism in one of its most dangerous forms.
But let us hear what Leonardo himself has to say, and how clearly he defines the part played by Giotto and afterwards by Masaccio, whose frescoes he no doubt copied, as did all young Florence at that time. "After these came Giotto the Florentine, who—not content with imitating the works of Cimabue, his master—being born in the mountains, and in a solitude interrupted only by goats and such beasts, and being guided by Nature to his art, began by drawing on the rocks the movements of the goats of which he was keeper. And thus he began to draw all the animals which were to be found in the country, and in such wise that after much study he excelled not only all the masters of his time, but all those of many bygone ages." (We may note in passing that Leonardo's testimony confirms the touching account—sometimes questioned—which Ghiberti and Vasari have given us of the early efforts of Giotto). "Afterwards this art declined again, because every one imitated the pictures that were already done. Thus it went on from century to century until Thomas of Florence, nicknamed Masaccio, showed by his perfect works, that those who take for their standard any one but Nature—the mistress of all masters — weary themselves in vain."1
According to a story which has all the appearance of truth, Ser Piero da Vinci, struck by the marked aptitude of his son, took some of his sketches to his friend Verrocchio and begged him to give his opinion on them. The impression made, we are told, was excellent, and Verrocchio did not hesitate to accept the youth as his pupil.
If we assume that Leonardo was then about fifteen, we shall be within range of probability in default of any certain
statement on the subject. As I have shown elsewhere,'2 the majority of the artists of the Renaissance were distinguished for their precocity. Andrea del Sarto began his apprenticeship at seven years of age; Perugino at nine; Fra Bartolommeo at ten; at fifteen
1 Richter. The Literary Works of Leonardo da Vinci, vol. i. p. 332. - See my Raphael, 2nd ed,, pp. 19, 39—40.