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STUDY FROM ONE OF THE QUIRINAL HORSES, SCHOOL OF LEONARDO.
quoting, the following very definite assertion : “Suppose that an artist had to choose between copying antique models or those of modern times, he should choose the antique for imitation in preference to the modern.”]
Let us consider first the branch of art which is, as it were, the parent and frame of the rest,
imposing upon them its own laws of arrangement, of symmetry, and even of illumination; I mean, of course, architecture. What was the attitude of Leonardo towards it? The answer is easy. He admitted the ancient orders only, except that he would allow their occasional combination with the Byzantine cupola. He accepted with no less eagerness the authority of Vitruvius, to which, indeed, he was constantly referring.? Many of his designs reproduce, or at least recall, Greek and Roman monuments, especially the mausoleum of Halicarnassus; one of his ideas for the base of the Sforza statue was taken from the castle of St. Angelo at Rome.
1 “L'imitatione delle cose antiche è piu laudabile che quella delle moderne.” (Richter, vol. ii., p. 434.)
2 Richter, vol. ii., pp. 429, 442, 452, 453.
From these premises Aows a series of deductions of great importance, as the reader will readily understand.
The mere fact that Leonardo accepted Roman forms in architecture tends to prove that he admired classic methods in the provision of architectural settings and in the arrangement of figures in that setting. The principles of grouping which he followed in the Sforza statue, in his Last Supper, in his Saint Anne, are in no way inconsistent with those of antique models.
When Leonardo lamented that he was unable to equal the ancients in symmetry, he was, perhaps, thinking of their mastery of the science of composition.
(Windsor Library.) One of his own contemporaries, a certain Platino Piatta, places the following declaration in his mouth :
Mirator veterum discipulusque memor
So far as the canon of human proportion was concerned, Leonardo deferred, more perhaps than was reasonable, to the laws laid down by Vitruvius. The latter, he says, declares that the measurements of the human body are thus correlated : four fingers make one palm, four palms one foot, six palms one cubit, and four cubits or twenty-four palms the total stature of man. “If you separate your legs far enough to diminish your height by one-fourteenth, and stretch your arms outwards and upwards until your two middle fingers touch a line drawn horizontally across your poll, then your extremities will touch a circle of which your navel is the centre, and the space enclosed between your legs will be an equilateral triangle.”
i Bossi, Delle Opinioni de Leonardo da Vinci, p. 14-15. 2 Richter, vol. i., p. 182, no. 343.
The attention Leonardo gave to the nude should also, I think, be ascribed to his study of the antique.
Every now and again, especially in his sketches for the Adoration of the Magi (vol. i., p. 67), he drew figures quite undraped, so that he might the better observe their structure and the play of their movements.
In Leonardo's method of rendering the human figure we also find analogies with the antique. Excluding portraits and modern costumes from religious pictures, his efforts were given to make his personages excel by their own beauty, instead of through the brilliancy of their ornaments and surroundings. And what simplicity in his composition ! What rigour in his selection! What thoroughness and completeness in his synthesis !
The young painter had little sympathy with realism in costume. Living in an ideal world, the modes and habits of his time did not trouble him, so that nothing is rarer in his work than to find memoranda of actual life, or reproduction of this or that landscape or building. No artist has shown less solicitude in those directions. He was interested in man himself, and not in man's historical setting:1
Leonardo's proscription of the costume of his own time, a costume reproduced with so much care by the “quattrocentisti,” was, like the retrospective nature of his investigations, a proof of his abstract and idealistic mind. Putting aside a few portraits, the figures he painted are robed after the antique ; they wear tunics, togas, cloaks; and wear them with an ease which justifies us in saying that no artist has at
1 Among the rare exceptions to this rule we may quote a few drawings of young men armed, and kneeling, in MS. L. at the Institut (Ch. Ravaisson-Mollien, vol. v., fols. 2 and 4).