LEONARDO DA VINCI: life, love & creations: (the gay story)

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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,- 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 ' Richter.

Palazzo Vecchto, Florence. Sophia at Padua — when he war, seventeen. Nowadays, at thirty, an artist is considered young and brilliant, with all his future before him. Four hundred years ago many a great artist had said his last word at that age. Mastership was the final point of this long and strenuous initiation. Notwithstanding his growing taste for sculpture on a grand scale, he 1 These patriarchal customs remained in force till well into the eighteenth century. Sebastien Bourdon spent seven years under his fir.

In , the statutes of the Paris Academy of Painting and Sculpture fixed three years as the average term of ap renticeship ; each member of the Academy might only receive one pupil at a time. I here add a few notes to my former essays. If the tomb of Giovanna Tornabuoni, formerly in the church of the Minerva at Rome, is now generally recognised as a production from the studio of the master, but not by his own hand, a learned critic, H err Bode, attributes to Verrocchio various bas-reliefs in bronze and stucco : the Descent from tlie Cross with the portrait of Duke Federigo of Urbino?

We learn from a document of that up till the very eve of his death he was engaged upon a marble fountain for King Mathias Corvinus. The following are a few dates by which to fix the chronology of the master's work. In S — we find him engaged on a bronze candelabrum for the Palazzo Vecchio. In , he executed the bronze sar- cophagus of Giovanni and Piero de' Medici in the sacristy of the church of San Lorenzo. In , he began the mausoleum of Cardinal Forteguerra in the cathedral at Pistoja. Then came in the small bas-relief of the Beheading of John the Baptist, destined for the silver altar of the Baptistery; between and the Unbelief of S.

Thomas; finally, towards the end of a career that was all too short Verrocchio died in , at the age of fifty-three , the equestrian statue of Colleone, his unfinished masterpiece.

Leonardo Da Vinci's Sexuality

The impetus necessary to set this somewhat slow and confused intelligence soaring was — so the biographer Vasari afiirms — a sight of the masterpieces of antiquity in Rome. For my part, I am inclined to attribute Verrocchio's evolution to the influence of Leonardo, so rapidly transformed from the pupil into the master A his master ; an influence which caused those germs of beauty, scattered at first but sparsely through Verrocchio's work, attained to maturity in the superb group of The Unbelief of S.

Thomas and the Angels of the Forte- guerra monument, rising finally to the virile dignity, the grand style, of the Colleone. Compared with the part played by Michelangelo, that of Ver- rocchio, the last great Florentine sculptor of the fifteenth century, may appear wanting in brilliance ; it was assuredly not wanting in utility. Verrocchio was before all things a seeker, if not a finder ; essentially incomplete in organisation, but most suggestive in spirit, he sowed more than he reaped, and produced more pupils than master- pieces.

The revolution he brought about with Leonardo's co-operation 1 Gaye, Carteggio, vol. He is the master of puckered faces, of crumpled, tortured draperies ; no one could be less inspired by the antique, as regards clearness of conception, or distinction and amplitude of form. But there is an extraordinary sincerity in his work ; he makes a quiver of life run through frail limbs, reproduces the soft moisture of the skin, obtains startling effects of chiaroscuro with his complex draperies, gives warmth and colour to subjects apparently the most simple.

His favourite type of beauty is somewhat unhealthy, and not wholly devoid of affectation. Ghirlandajo's Florentine women are haughty and impassive ; Botticelli's fascinating in their guileless tenderness ; Verrocchio's are pensive and melancholy. Even his men — take the S. Thomas, for instance — have a plaintive dis- illusioned smile, the Leo- nardesque smile. All there is of femi- nine, one might almost say effeminate, in Leo- nardo's art, the delicacy, the viorbidc zza, the suavity, appear, though often merely in embryo, in the work of Andrea Verrocchio.

To sum up, Verrocchio is the plastic artist, deeply enamoured of form, deliafhtina: in hoi- lowing it out, in fining it down ; he has none of the literary temperament of a Donatello, a Mantegna, masters who, in order to give expression to the passions that stir them, to realise their ideal, need a vast theatre, numerous actors, dramatic subjects.

There is no nitsc-cii-sccnc, no searching after recondite ideas with Verrocchio, any more than with Leonardo. A critic has spoken of the natural sympathy between Verrocchio and Leonardo. Verrocchio was a limited spirit, a prosaic character; Leonardo, on the other hand, was the personification of unquenchable curiosity, of aristo- cratic tastes, of innate grace and elegance.

The one raises himself laboriously towards a higher ideal ; the other brings that ideal with him into the world. We shall see presently what was Leonardo's attitude with respect to his master's teachinir. For the moment we will confine ourselves to affirming that never did artist revolt more openly against all methodical and continuous work.

Under this master — so essentially suggestive — Leonardo was thrown with several fellow-students who, without attaining his glory, achieved a brilliant place among painters. The chief of these was Perugino. Born in , and consequently six years older than Leonardo, the young Umbrian artist had passed through the most severe trials before becoming known, perhaps even before winning the attention of so reputed a master as Verrocchio.

For long months together, Vasari tells us, he had no bed but an old wooden chest, and was constrained to sit up for whole nights working for his living. When he placed himself under Verrocchio, or when he left him, no one knows. The very fact of a connection between tlie two artists has been questioned. It is true, of course, that Verrocchio only prac- tised painting incidentally and did not shine in that branch of art ;! Moreover, if one studies closely the analogies between the productions of Verrocchio and those of his two undisputed pupils, Leonardo da Vinci and Lorenzo di Credi, and then the traces of relationship between the works of the two latter, one is forced to acknowledge that at no period of an extraordinarily prolific career does the manner of Perugino present the slightest family resemblance to that of his reputed master, or his reputed fellow-students.

His warm and lustrous scale of colour, his sharply accentuated outlines, and above all, his favourite types, taken exclusively from his native country, and showing all the meagreness of the Umbrian race, are all his own. At the most, his sojourn in Florence and, later on, in Rome, familiarised him with certain accessories then in fashion, for instance, those ornaments in the antique style which he introduced lavishly in his pictures, where they proclaim their want of harmony with the rest of the composition, the sentiment of which is so unclassical.

We must be careful, however, to question the testimony of an author usually so well informed as Vasari on such evidence. If we consider the house of Verrocchio not as an artist's studio, strictly speaking, but as a laboratory, a true chemical laboratory, the argu- ments just brought forward lose their force. Under this ardent innovator, Perugino may well have studied, not so much the art of painting, as the science of colouring, the chemical properties of colours, their combinations, all those problems which the pupils of Verrocchio, Leonardo as well as Lorenzo di Credi, were unceasingly engaged upon.

It were fruitless to demand of him compositions brilli- antly imagined or cunningly put together ; warmth of colour, com- bined with the expression of meditation, of religious fervour — these are his sole qualities, and they are not to be despised. Such distinctions were accorded only to patrons or to friends. At least, it was suggested that he should paint the great hall of the Palazzo Pubblico of Perugia at this date.

Leonardo, with all his numerous writings, is so chary of details as to his private affairs and connections that we know not whether the rela- tions with Perusfino, besfun in Ver- rocchio's studio, survived the depar- ture of the latter. Yet another Umbrian, Fiorenzo di Lorenzo of Perugia, appears to have worked in Verroc- chio's studio. Ulmann, Sandra Botticelli, p.

He was Hving at that time with his mother " Mona Lisa," a widow aged sixty years. His two sisters, Lucrezia and Lena, were married. The fortune of the little household consisted of a tiny property at Casarotta. A tender friendship united Lorenzo and his master, whom he accompanied later to Venice, to assist in the e. UfTui, Florence. His was a nature profoundly contemplative and religious : he was an impassioned follower of Savonarola, as were the great majority of Florentine artists ; but, after the fall of the prophet, discourage- ment followed on boundless enthusiasm.

This picture, as well as another after Verrocchio, went to Spain. Lorenzo was a slow and laborious spirit, rather than a livc'ly and original genius. It is said that he prepared his oils himself, and with his own hand ground his colours to an impalpable dust. After having tried the gradations of each colour upon his palette — he made use of as many as thirty shades to the colour — he forbade his servants to sweep his studio, lest one speck of dust should dim the transparency and polish of his pictures, which, in this respect, are like enamels.

He was distinguished for deep religious con- victions ; but of what avail are convictions to the artist or the poet without talent, the gift of communicating his emotions to others? Nothing could be more limited than the range of Lorenzo's com- positions ; they are either Holy Conversations or Madonnas, these last usually circular in form.


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About the only secular picture known as his is his Venus, in the UffizL Gallery. His figures are, for the most part, heavy: the Infant Jesus in particular being remarkable for the inordinate size of the head, and the total absence of expression. His landscape, indeed, has higher qualities, thanks chiefly to the colour, in which firmness has not destroyed harmony.

Lorenzo practised portraiture as well as religious painting. If the portraits attributed to him in the Louvre are indeed his, Leonardo's fellow-student must have possessed the power of subtle characterisation in the very highest degree.

Leonardo da Vinci myths, explained | OUPblog

A few touches, as quiet as they are exact, and of incom- parable lightness, suffice to fix the physiognomy, and suggest the soul of his model, on a sheet of paper, usually rose-tinted. The Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris possesses a portrait of an old man, in body-colour, more closely akin to Lorenzo's pictures, and marked by the same laboured handling : this is the sign manual of the master.

For instance, one who does not care for landscape, will declare that it is a matter for short and simple study only. Our Botticelli was wont to say that this study was vain, for you had but to throw a sponge soaked with different colours against a wall, and you at once obtained upon that wall a stain, wherein you might distinguish a landscape. And indeed," Leonardo adds, " this artist painted very poor landscapes.

In it Leonardo unconsciously criticises that very species of picturesque pantheism, those optical illusions to which no one sacrificed more than he did himself. It is the same with the sound of bells, wherein each person can distinguish whatever words he pleases. But although these stains furnish forth divers subjects, they do not show us how to terminate a particular point. Taking into consideration Leonardo's facetious humour, his delight in mystification — there was a touch of the Mephistopheles in him — and his e.

Piero di Cosimo attempted, like Leonardo, to form figures with clouds. See his biography in Vasari. For if in the Umbrian schools the embryo painter such as Raphael, for instance had all the gentleness and timidity of a girl, in Florence, from Giotto's time, practical joking never ceased to form an integral part of the education of an artist. The most brilliant of these fellow - students, who cultivateil art as amateurs rather than as professionals, was Atal- ante dei Migliarotti, born in Florence in of an unlawful union, like Leonardo himself which was perhaps a bond the more between them.

Like Leonardo, he ex- celled upon the lute, and it was in the character of musician, and not as a painter, that he accom- panied his friend to the court of Lodovico Moro. His reputation increased so greatly that in the Marquis of Mantua, wishing to have the Orfco of Poliziano represented, called upon Atalante to fill the principal part. Later on. Musde N. An anonymous person had denounced him, with three other Florentines, as having had immoral relations with a certain Jacopo Salterello, aged seventeen, apparently apprenticed to a goldsmith. In consequence, the accused appeared, on April 9, , before the tribunal sittiiii; at San.

They were all accjuitted, on condition that they should come up again after a fresh enquiry. At the second hearing, which took place Juno 7, , the case against them was definitively dismissed. In 15 13, the same year in which Leonardo made his triumphal entry into Rome surrounded by a constellation of pupils, Atalante filled the post of inspector of architectural works at the Papal Court.

It was, at least, a last slight bond between him and Art; twenty-two years later, in , on the eve of his death, he was still occupying this obscure situation, which left him ample leisure to meditate upon the follies of his youth. As to Zoroastro di Peretola, the pupil, and not the fellow-student of Leonardo, we shall consider him later on. The reader knows something of the atmosphere that reigned in Verrocchio's studio. Let us now endeavour to trace its action upon so impressionable a mind as that of the youthful Leonardo.

First and foremost, the beginner found himself constrained to submit to a certain discipline. How did he bend to the yoke? Did he bind himself to the programme which he recommended later on to his own disciples, and which he laid down as follows? Further chaps. Never imitate the manner of another ; for thereby you become the grandson instead of the son of nature. And, truly, models are found in such abundance in nature that it is far better to go to them than to masters.

I do not say this to those who strive to become rich by their art, but to those who desire glory and honour thereby. With such tendencies as these, the models created by his pre- decessors would have but little influence upon the youthful beginner. However, Leonardo soon abandoned this practice. In the Trattato della Pittura chap.

Dxxxviii he strongly advises students not to make use of models over which paper or thin leather has been drawn, but, on the contrary, to sketch their draperies from nature, carefully noting differences of texture. The better to make them understood, I shall compare the various stages in the development of Verrocchio's art, as I have endeavoured to define them pp. We do not know for certain when he entered Verrocchio's studio, but it was long before ,- for at that date, being then twenty years of age, he was received into the guild of painters of Florence ; 1 Among the artists of the sixteenth century who made use of clay models similar to those of Leonardo, we may mention Garofalo and Tintoretto see my L Histore de VAit pendant la Renaissance, vol.

Shall I be accused of temerity if, armed with these dates, I venture to maintain, contrary to common opinion, that between pupil and master there was an interchange of ideas particularly advantageous to the latter ; that Leonardo gave to Verrocchio as much, if not more, than he received from him? The Baptism of Christ, to which I shall refer later, is not the only work in which the collaboration of the two artists is palpable, and the contrast between the two manners self-evident ; this contrast is still more striking between the works of Verrocchio which are anterior to Leonardo's entry into his studio, and those he produced later.

In their drawings, we have an invaluable criterion whereby to measure the respective value of the work of the master and that of his disciple. The drawings are not sensibly worse than those which Morelli and Gronau ascribe to him. Let us now compare the earliest efforts of Leonardo with these archaic works.

A curious pen and ink landscape, with the inscription : " Di di sea Maria della Neve, a di 2 d'aghosto ' the day of S. Mary of the Snow, August 2, , dates from , when Leonardo was twenty-one. It represents a plain between mountains, two, those which bound it to right and left of the foreground, rising almost perpendicularly. On the one to the left stands a town surrounded by ramparts flanked with towers. English translation by Miss Ffoulkes, , p. Kunstsammluiigen, , i. The composition has none of the clumsiness of Verrocchio's ; the most insignificant details acquire an incomparable delicacy and smoothness under that cunning hand.

Nevertheless, the landscape evidendy a study from nature is wanting in decision and in intention ; there is something vague about it, as in the vast majority of the productions of the genius which lent itself with such difficulty to any precise and categorical scheme of expression.

The drawing of furnishes us with another valuable landmark : Leonardo had already adopted his peculiar system of writing from right to left, after the manner of the Orientals. Resides these dates, which are fixed by figures, there are others which may be determined by peculiarities of style. Though bearing no chronological inscription by Leonardo's hand, the two studies I am about to mention belong none the less to a well-defined period of his career ; if, hitherto, they have not attracted the attention of the historians of the master, the question once raised, no one will deny that they must have been executed at the besfinnine of his term of apprenticeship, and in Verrocchio's studio.

The first, now at Weimar, shows us the head of a youth, in every point the counterpart of Verrocchio's David , but less harsh, more rounded, the mouth less compressed, the cheek-bones and the throat less angular — in a word, the type bears the Leonardesque imprint in every particular. For the rest, we note the same curled locks as in the statue, save that the clusters, which are more abundant, fall lower on the forehead ; the same long eyes. We have here, probably, a model treated at one time by the master, at another by the pupil ; where one is dry and restless, the other is all Snows.

But de Geymiiller has objected, and with reason, that these mountains have not the Alpine character ; that the heights of the foreground are much lower than the Rigi ; finally, that the latter has never had a city bearing the smallest resemblance to the one in Leonardo's drawing upon one of its slopes. Moreover, there is nothing to show that, at this period, Leonardo had crossed the Alps. In Baron Liphart's opinion, this drawing represents a view of the Apennines, near Lucca. Miiller-Walde, Leonardo da Vinci, p. Here, if I am not mistaken, is the point where that striving aiter beauty begins which, after a certain moment, makes itself felt in Verrocchio's chief works : his Incredulity of S.

Another study of Three dancing Girls and a sketch of a head Accademia at Venice , offers the same points of resemblance, and the same differences. Here we see again the crumpled draperies so dear to Verrocchio, his abruptness of movement, his stiffness of fore- shortening, notably in the dancer in the background holding a scarf over her head like a child with a skipping-rope. The technique — the drawing is executed in pen-and-ink — recalls the hand of Verrocchio, but it has a freedom and charm unknown to that artist.

Charles Ravaisson-Mollien does not hesitate to recognise Leonardo's writing. John the Baptist? A contemporary, Landucci, declares that never before had so beautiful a head of Christ been seen: "la piii bella testa del Salvatore ch' ancora si sia fatta. Here again, the pupil revealed his crushing superiority. The Baplism of Christ, in the Accademia of Florence, gives us certain valuable indications as to the collaboration of the two artists.

Vasar tells us, that after having seen the kneeling angel, painted by Leonardo at the side of the Christ, Verrocchio, in despair, threw down his brushes and gave up painting. A careful study of the picture confirms the probability of this story. Nothing could be more unsatisfactory, more meagre than the two chief figures, Christ and S.

John ; without distinction of form, or poetry ot expression, they are simply laborious studies of some aged and unlovely model, some wretched mechanic whom Ver- rocchio got to pose for him. Charles Perkins justly criticises the hardness of the lines, the stiffness of the style, the ab- sence of all sentiment. Look, on the other hand, at the consum- mate youthful grace of the angel tradition assigns to Leonardo! How the lion reveals himself in the first stroke of his paw, and with what excellent reason did Verrocchio confess himself van- quished!

It is not impossible that the background was also the work of the young beginner ; it is a fantastic landscape, not unlike that of the Mo7ia Lisa. The brown scale of colour, too, resembles that which Leonardo adopted, notably in the Saint Jerome, of the Vatican Gallery, in the Adoration of the Magi of the Uffizi which, however, is only a cartoon , in the Virgin of the Rocks, and in the Mona Lisa.

Giovanni e Paolo ai Venice. It was rather he who opened up to his astonished master unsus- pected sources of beauty, which the latter scarcely had time to turn to account. For my own part, I make no pretensions to such powers of divination, and am content to draw my conclusions from facts that are obvious to all open and impartial minds.

Signor Morelli, indeed, maintains that the Bapiisnt of Christ is entirely by Verroc- chios hand. The reader must forgive me if I respect a tradition that agrees so well with the testimony of the work itself, and continue to believe in the collaboration of master and pupil. A sketch in the Turin Museum shows us Leonardo preparing the figure of the angel, whose beauty astounded his contemporaries. Another drawing, in the Windsor Collection reproduced in our Plate 2 , a study of drapery on a kneeling figure in profile to the left, also has analogies with the angel in the Baptism.

It may not be superfluous to point out that Lorenzo di Credi reproduced certain details of the Baptism of Christ in his picture of the same subject in the Church of. There is also a strong likeness between the angel of Verrocchio's Baptism and the Virgin's attendant angel in Domenico Ghirlandajo's picture in the National Gallery of London.

But this Madonna and Child seem to me too pure and classic a work for our master. It has too little in common with his restless and very individual manner. L'Arte, , p. Printed by Draeger, Parts. A T the beginning of Leonardo's career, as in that of every great artist, we meet with the legend of a first masterpiece. Ser Piero charged his son to paint something on it, but without telling him where it came from. Perceiving that the shield was warped and very roughly cut, Leonardo straightened it out by heat, and sent it to a turner to plane and polish.

After giving it a coat- ing of plaster, and arranging it to his satis- faction, he bethought him of a subject suitable for painting upon it-something that should be of a nature to strike terror to any who might attack the owner of this piece of armour, after the manner of the Gorgon of old. Collection, P. The young artist suffered severely meanwhile from the stench arising from all these dead animals, but his ardour enabled him to endure it bravely to the end. The work being completed, and neither his father nor the peasant coming to claim the shield, Leonardo reminded his father to have it removed.

Ser Piero therefore repaired one morning to the room occupied by his son, and knocked at the door ; it was opened by Leonardo, who begged him to wait a moment before entering ; whereupon the young man retired, and placing the shield on an easel in the window, so arranged the curtains that the light fell upon the painting in dazzling brilliancy.

Ser Piero, for- getting the errand upon which he had come, experienced at the first glance a violent shock, never thinking that this was nothing but a shield, and, still less, that he was looking at a painting. He fell back a step in alarm, but Leonardo restrained him. He then went secretly and purchased another shield, ornamented with a heart pierced by an arrow, and this he gave to the peasant, who, nothing doubting, ever after regarded him with gratitude. Afterwards, Ser Piero sold Leonardo's shield secretly to some merchants of Florence for lOO ducats, and they, in their turn, easily obtained for it from the Duke of Milan.

Who knows but that this shield served him as a passport, when he went to seek his fortune at the Court of the Sforzi? As a pendant to the shield there was, according to the biographers, a picture representing a Gorgon, surrounded by serpents intertwined, and knotted in a thousand folds — "una testa di Megera con mirabilj et varj agruppamenti di serpi.

But the oracles of Art have now decided that this could not have been pro- duced till long after the death of da Vinci, and that it is the work of some cinquecentist, painting from Vasari's description. Cosimo's inter- ventory is not less precise ; it mentions " un quadro con una Furia infernale del Vinci semplice. Here again we have to content ourselves with Vasari's description, corrobor- ated by the testimony of the biographer edited by Milanesi.

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The Genius of Leonardo da Vinci

The cartoon represented Adam and Eve in the garden of Paradise at the moment of their disobedience. Leonardo made a design of several animals in a meadow studded with flowers, which he rendered with incredible accuracy and truth, painting them in monochrome, with touches of ceruse. The leaves and branches of a fig-tree are executed with such loving care that, verily, one can scarcely fathom the patience of the artist. There is also a palm, to which he has imparted such elasticity by the curves of its foliage as none other could have attained to but himself.

Thus in The Fall we see him engaged upon the reproduction of the very smallest details of vegetation. His burning curiosity searched into problems of the most intricate, not to say ' IMilanesi, Docuvtciiti iiiediti riguardanti Leoiiardo da Vinci, Florence, , p. Taine has expressed this admirably in one of his penetrating pieces of analysis, in which he teaches us more about the genius of a master in a few lines than we learn from whole volumes by others ; we will set it down as it stands, for it would be impossible to put it better.

There is no saying to what the protracted striving after exquisite and profound sensations may not finally lead. Uffizi, Florence. One of the earliest and most interesting among these is the Annunciation in the Louvre, in the gallery overlooking the river. This picture, which is of very small dimensions 14 cm.

It was at- tributed to Lorenzo di Credi until Bayersdorfer, whose opinion was adopted by INIorelli, proposed to give it the name of Leonardo. The curly- headed angel kneeling in a sort of ecstasy in front of the Virgin, suggests the one in the Anminci- ation of the Uffizi, to which we shall presently refer. The Virgin, too, presents the Leonardesque type, with an added touch of morbidezza. But this type, as we know, was adopted by Boltrafifio, and many other Milanese pupils of the master. The little piece of landscape in the background is beautiful, tranquil and imposing.

The trees, unfortunately, have blackened. This Virgin has been compared with a study of a head in the Uffizi see our full-page Plate. On the other hand, the angel of the Louvre suggests that of the Uffizi in every way. The attitude is identical ; he kneels on one knee, the right hand raised, the left falling to the level of the knee. The picture, which once adorned the Convent of Monte Oliveto near Florence, is in every respect worthy of Leonardo's magic brush ; the grace and freshness of the figures, deliciously juvenile with their coquettishly curled hair and their exquisitely arranged draperies,'- the finish and poetic charm of the landscape, a sea-port — perhaps, according to de Geymuller, Porto Pisano — with beacons and a kind of jetty, backed by mountains of improbable height : all are arguments in favour of Leonardo's author- ship.

The angel kneeling on one knee recalls the attitudes, so full of compunction, beloved of Fra Angelico ; it also resembles, in certain points, Lorenzo di Credi's angel in his Annunciation in the Uffizi, saving that in this latter work the drawing is weaker and rounder. In spite of the great charni of this composition, we may be per- mitted to hesitate as to its authenticity, and that for various reasons. In his Treatise on Painting chap, viii. Innunciation, desijite the difference in detail. So too, the drajiery of the kneeling figure, turned to the right Uftizi may be that of the angel.

Muller-Walde, fig. The presence of the magnificent classical pedestal which serves the Virgin for a reading- desk is also calculated to inspire some doubt. Would Leonardo, who rarely copied Greek or Roman sculptures, have been likely to reproduce this with such elaboration? Let us be content to admire a youthful and exquisite work which offers several points of contact v. It is a most enthralling work, combining a grand and dignified solemnity with extreme finish and consummate modelling ; a penetrating poetic charm breathes from the picture.

If the Child, with its puffy cheeks, approaches somewhat too closely to the rather unsympathetic type created by Lorenzo di Credi see No. The landscape is vaporous, as is so often the case in Leonardo's works. But the impasto is rich in the flesh-tints particularly those of the Child which incline to blue. The attribution of this picture to Leonardo was not undisputed. Emile IMolinier, pointing out a replica of the Virgin with the 1 Bayersdorfer. I must, however, draw attention to the fact that, compared with the copy in the Louvre, which, though absolutely faith- ful, is without force or warmth, the Munich picture produces the effect of a diamond beside a piece of glass.

Morelli, whose appreciations — frequently hyper-subtle — should be received with extreme caution, unhesitatingly at- tributed the Munich pic- ture to a mediocre Flemish painter, working from some drawings of Ver- rocchio's. Finally, Herr W. Schmidt puts forward Lorenzo di Credi as its author.! For my part, I will add that what seems to mc the main argument against Leonardo's authorship is the type of 1 See the BiiUdin de la Socicti nationale des Antiquaires de France, The Virgin with the Carnation has been connected with a drawing in the Dresden Gallery attributed to Leonardo and containing a study for a Virgin, a half-length figure.

But it is by no means clear that this drawing is by the hand of Leonardo. Morelli claims it for Verrocchio, and the head has certainly something very poor about it, notably in the modelling of the nose. It offers as many points of divergence as of contact with the Munich picture, and therefore proves nothing cither for or against the authenticity of the latter. Critics have even gone so far as to attribute to Leonardo the miserable little picture, in the same Gallery, of the Virgin seated and holding out a blackberry to the Child, lying nude upon her knees, while the infant S.

John the Baptist adores him with ujjlifted hands No. Geindldegalerie zu Dresden, Hoiinat Collection, Paris. Jerome, and the Mona Lisa. Leonard and S. Bode notes, as particularly characteristic of Leonardo's manner, the contrast of the warm afolden and red-brown tones with the cool blue-green tints, the chiaro- scuro, the " pastoso " of the oil-colours, and the fine net-work which covers the carnations. There are several drawings of absolute authenticity, Dr. Bode adds, which served as preparatory studies for this picture.

These are, first, the por- trait of a woman at Windsor ; the model here is represented with downcast eyes ; a large drawing in silver point, a study for the robe of Christ Malcolm Col- lection in the British INIuseum ; lastly, a pen-and-ink drawing, a sketch, with the head of Saint Leonard, in the Uffizi p. That the Resurrection of the Berlin Museum had its origin in Leon- ardo's studio, that its author laid certain studies of the master under contribution for it, no one can doubt ; but to accept it as a picture painted by his own hand is to maintain a conclusion against which the great majority of connoisseurs from one end of Europe to the other have protested.

But this is important only if the Annunciation really is by the hand of the master — " quod est demonstrandum. Any attempt in that direction would be premature and hazardous. But though we may seek in vain for guiding data in Leonardo's youthful pictures, we are on firmer ground if we turn our attention to his drawings. As basis of our operations we should take, as I have already pointed out, the Landscape dated ; the three Dancing Girls of the Accademia in Venice, which were most certainly executed in the studio of Verrocchio, and perhaps the study for the head of a youth in the Weimar Gallery, a study in which I am inclined to see the portrait of the model who sat to Verrocchio for his David p.

To judge by a certain heaviness in the manipulation of the pen, we may add to these first efforts a drawing in the Windsor Library, essentially rough in execution. It contains several combinations for a Saint Georoe strikine at the dragon either with a lance or with a club : also sketches of horses turning or lying upon the ground with exaggerated flexibility, as if they had no backbone the horse in the left-hand corner suggests the horse of the Colleone statue.

There is a curious shapelessness in the hoofs of these animals, a strange stiffness in their clumsy necks. The pendant to this drawing contains a series of studies for cats and leopards ; a cat watching a mouse, a cat putting up its back, a sleeping cat, a cat washing itself, a leopard crouching before 1 This opinion was brouglit forward for the first time by Dr. The artist has not yet mastered the gamut of expression ; the note of sentiment is as yet unfamiliar to him.

It is well known that Leonardo took great pleasure in designing fantastic helmets ; we may note especially that in the superb drawing of the Warrior in the Malcolm collection. Her Miiller-Walde, one of the latest of the master's biographers, has, however, been surely somewhat hasty in connecting these sketches with the order for the helmet of honour presented to the Duke of Urbino by the Florentine Republic after the taking of X'olterra ! Now, Herr Miiller- Walde knows as well as I do that this helmet was made by Antonio del Pollajuolo ; consequently, my honourable opponent has been forced to fall back upon the hypothesis of a competition in which Leonardo is supposed to have taken part.

Here again, I can only say, that this is an ingenious conjecture without any solid foundation. Indeed, everything justifies the belief that this broad, am. It has none of the freedom and ease proper to Leonardo. The youthful female figure in a cuirass is, he says, no other than La bella Simonetta, as is proved by her perfect resemblance!

But I must confess that I have not been able to find the most distant analogy between the features of these personages and those in Leonardo's sketch, which, from their technique, I should judge to be of much later date. Finally, the young woman with the outstretched left hand of one of the Windsor drawings is, according to Herr Muller-Walde,- no other than Dante's Beatrice, and of the same period as Botticelli's composi- tions.

The hypothesis has, in itself, nothing very improbable about it, but, if I am not mistaken, this again is a much later work. Concurrently with painting, if we may believe Vasari, our sole guide for this period of the master's life, Leonardo worked at sculpture. At the same time he was studying architecture, sketching out plans of buildings, more picturesque than practical, and lastly, applying himself with ardour to the problem for which he had a passion all his life, the movement of water.

It was at this time that he drew up a project for the canalisation of the Arno between Florence and Pisa. In his first efforts as a sculptor, the biographer tells us, Leonardo executed busts of smiling women and children, worthy of a finished artist. A bust dating from this period, a Christ, was later in the possession of the Milanese painter-author, Lomazzo, who describes it as marked by a child-like simplicity and candour, combined with an expression of wisdom, intelligence, and majesty truly divine. No trace of these early efforts has come down to us. But at least we know the models which inspired the young da Vinci ; these were, after the productions of Verrocchio, the polychrome terra- cottas of the della Robbia.

In the Traitato dclla Pittura chap. Vasari further tells us that he pro- fessed great admiration for Donatello. If it cannot with certainty be attributed to the youth- ful master, it may at least show us what the style of his first Florentine sculptures probably was. A drawing in the Uffizi, to which M. Charles Ravaisson first called attention, furnishes us with some particularly valuable indications bearing upon Leonardo's work after he left Verrocchio. This drawing, inscribed with the date in question, shows us that by this time the young master had already addressed himself to the study of those character-heads, beautiful or the reverse, which were destined to occupy so large a place in his work.

He has sketched the portrait of a man about sixty, with a hooked nose, a bold and prominent chin, a very forcibly ' Richter, vol. Malcolm Collection, British Museum. All trace of archaism has disappeared ; the flexibility of the treatment is extraordinary ; the supreme difficulties in the interpretation of the human countenance are triumphantly surmounted. The sketch of , somewhat softened, becomes the marvellous study in red chalk, also in the Uffizi No.

Opposite to this head, which attracts all eyes, there is a head of a young man, very lightly sketched, with those flowing, languorous lines which are the very essence of Leonardo's art. Beside this are sketches of mill-wheels, and something like an embryo turbine — the complete Leonardo already revealed. We do not know which these two Madonnas were, and their identity opens up a wide field for conjectures. By this time, Leonardo's fellow-citizens and even the government had begun to take note of his fam-i. On [anuary i, S, the Signory of Florence commissioned him, in the place of Piero del Pollajuolo, to paint an altar-piece for the chapel of S.

Bernard in the Palazzo Vecchio. The fate of this work was, alas, tliat of so many others. Having thrown himself with ardour into the task on March 16 of the same year he received 25 florins on account the artist tired of it, and the Signory was obliged, on May 20, , to apply, first to Domenico Ghirlandajo, and subsequently to Filippino Lippi, who carried out the commission in Bernard, but in the Hall of Lilies in the Palazzo Vecchio. Herr M tiller- Walde identifies the picture left unfinished by Leonardo with the Adoration of the Magi in the Uffizi, in which other critics, the present writer among them, see the cartoon designed for the con- vent of San Donato at Scopeto see next chapter.

The Cicerone believes it to have been the S. Jerome in the Vatican. In Leonardo appears to have received an order, less important certainly, but more likely to appeal to an imagination which took such delight in the grotesque. After the conspiracy of the Pazzi, the 1 " Coniincio a dipingere una tavola nel detto Palazo, la quale dipoi in sul suo disegno fu finiia per Filip] o di Fra Filippo.

Preiiss Kunstsammlungen, , p. They addressed themselves, as was customary, to the best known painters — Giottino, Andrea del Castagno, and many others had not hesitated to accept similar missions. The gentle Botticelli undertook one part of the work, Leonardo the other. Such at least would seem to be the case, judging from a curious drawing in the collection of M.

The care with which the artist has noted every detail of the criminal's costume, even down to the colour of each article of raiment, authorises us in assuming that this sketch was to serve as the groundwork of a portrait which should take its place beside that executed by Botticelli. Here then we have the seraphic painter suddenly transformed into the depicter of criminals, almost, as it were, the assistant of the executioner! Leonardo, I dare swear, accepted the role without repugnance. For him, science ever went hand in hand with art.

The study of the patient's last moments, the observation of the spasms of the death agony, interested him quite as keenly from the physiological as from the pictorial point of view. At Milan, later on. This tension of every faculty of observation in the artist is eloquently expressed in the drawing in the Bonnat collection. There 1 Poliziano describes the character of this personage in these forcible terms : " Uomo scelerato, audace, e che non conosceva paura, in quale avendo ancora esso mandate male cio che legli aveva, era involto in ogni sorte di sceleratezza Baroncelli was hanged December 29, Leonardo was there- fore in Florence at this period.

How different to Raphael, who was indebted in turn to the Umbrians, the Florentines, and the antique, before he finally created a type and a style exclusively his own! Even Michelangelo, in spite of the originality and loftiness of his genius, more than once laid his pre- decessors under contributions, notably Jacopo della Querela and Signorelli, not to mention the Greeks and Romans.

Predecessors and contemporaries were alike powerless over Leonardo. Indifferent to the motives created by others, he was indebted to no man but himself. Prinled by Draeger, Paris. Kiinstsammluiigen, , p. At last, in despair, they addressed themselves to Filippino Lippi. In he, more expeditious than Leonardo, delivered the beautiful Adoration of the Magi, the brilliant and animated work that now hangs in the same room with Leonardo's unfinished cartoon in the Ufifizi.

From the fact that the subject given to Filippino was the Adoration of the Magi, it was concluded that this was also the subject of the altar-piece begun by Leonardo ; hence the identification of the cartoon with that in the Uffizi. True, the works ol the two artists are almost of the same size, a fact that has escaped my predecessors. Signor Ferri, Keeper of the Prints and Drawings at the Uffizi, informs me that Leonardo's cartoon measures 2 metres 30 cm. Both, in short, adopted a square, or almost a square shape, a very unusual one for such pictures.

But there are several objections to this argument. The interval between Leonardo's commission and Filippino's about is so great that the friars may very well have changed their minds, and chosen a new subject. On the other hand, it is, of course, possible that Leonardo may have treated the same subject twice. But the ne. Kt objection is a weightier one. In June, , the picture ordered bv the monks of San Donato was so far advanced that the brothers made a purchase of ultramarine, a precious substance used on - on definitive paintings.

Now the Uffizi cartoon is simply a sketch in bistre. A further objection is, that one of the studies for the Adoration of the Magi appears on the back of a sketch for Leonardo's masterpiece, the Last Supper. This juxtaposition is difficult to explain, if the cartoon and otlicr famous masters, was, like so many other monuments outlying,' the city, destroyed by the Florentines as a precautionary measure in view of the siege of Florence, They further sent Leonardo at Florence a load of faggots and a load of large logs, with one lira six soldi, for painting the clock, " per dipintura fece di uriolo.

Finally, the style of the cartoon is akin, in parts, to that of Leonardo's works of , rather than to that of youthful achievements, such as the Virgin of the Rocks. It has the supple modelling, the over-elastic attitudes, in which the bony substructure is apt to disappear altogether. We may add that the inclination the artist shows to represent horses in a great variety of attitudes points to the period of his studies for the Battle of Anghiari and the equestrian statue of Francesco Sforza, rather than his initial stages.

The chapel in question was dedicated to Saint Bernard, who figured in the altar-piece by Bernardo Daddi How- are we to reconcile the presence of Saint Bernard with an Adoration of the Magi? This study, on green paper for which Leonardo had a predilection at the beginning of his career , has certainly strong affinities with Verrocchio's type of Christ. But the rest of the German critic's assumption is purely ofratuitous.

Sirzygowski, unacquainted with the studies I had published eight years before in Z' Art April 15 and August 15, , and in the Rroue des deux Mondes October i, 18S7 , is of opinion that the Uffizi cartoon was begun after Leonardo's sojourn at Milan; that the drawing in the Galichon collection dates from 14S0; the right-hand portion of the cartoon from ; and the Madonna and the rest from the first years of the sixteenth century. We can trace these step by step in a number of drawings. It represents the Infant Jesus lying on the ground, with the Virgin adoring, and a child bending over Him.

This strange personage re-appears but in reverse in a drawing formerly in the Armand collection, now in that of M. The drawing in the Bonnat collection also con- tains the figure of a young man, shading his eyes with his left hand. This motive recurs in a drawing in the Louvre, and in one in the Galichon collection, to which I shall return presently. In the latter, however, it is an old man, and not a youth, who thus concentrates his gaze on the Divine Child.

Bonnat's drawing to that of the Armand and Valton collections, save that in the latter he turns his back to the spectator, while in the former he is in profile. Appropriate as all these attitudes are to the shepherds, they are entirely at variance with those traditionally given to the three kings ; we have none of those signs of profound veneration, the genu- flections, the kissing of the feet, etc.

Yet another figure in M. Bonnat's drawing, sketched on the same sheet, but apart from the main group, gives a final indication that we are studying a sketch for an Adoration of the Shepherds. It is a young man with clasped hands, naked but for a strip of drapery passing from his left shoulder to his right hip ; this is a shepherd, not an Eastern king, nor an Oriental attendant. The touching gesture of the clasped hands disappears in the sequel, and I cannot but regret it ; yet only strong and exuberant spirits, like Leonardo, can thus sacrifice their finest details, confident that they will be able to replace them by others no less perfect.

In the drawing which passed from M. Alfred Armand's collection to that of M. Valton, the composition has hardly as yet taken definite form in the master's mind. He still seeks and hesitates. Leonardo, indeed, had none of that precision of conception proper to the literary temperament. The drawing of the Valton collection betrays these fluctuations ; it contains only isolated figures, some of them so vaguely indicated that it is impossible to divine the master's intention through the maze of interwoven lines and corrections. Among the recognisable figures I may mention the youth with his foot on a step, and the bearded old man, both borrowed from the draw- ing in the Bonnat collection.

The old man's attitude is slightly modified ; his right hand supports his chin. The figure is repeated further off, leaning on a long staff. Then we have young men, their hands on their hijDs, a usual gesture among the actors or spectators in pictures of the adoration of the Magi ; it occurs, for instance, in Raphael's version of the theme in the Vatican.

Other figures are remarkable for the striking originality of their attitudes ; they stand with arms crossed on their breasts, or hands on their hips, like the Hermes of Praxiteles, or the Narcissus in the Naples Museum. We know from the figure of Silenus mentioned above, that Leonardo now began to draw inspiration from classic models. A drawing in the Louvre in the revolving case at the entrance of the Salles Thiers , consists, like that of the Valton collection, of single figures only. But the composition has advanced a stage. Here, all the attitudes express the deepest reverence. First, we have a prostrate figure ; then two others bowing ; then a person advancing, his body slightly inclined, his hands uplifted as if to express astonishment.

Finally, a spectator who shades his eyes with his hands to get a better view, and another, who stretches out his arm as if exclaiming : " Behold this miracle! In the Louvre drawing, the figures are partially draped ; whereas in the Cologne sketches, only three of the persons have indications of garments behind them. But let us take the actors one by one.

Beginning on the left, in the upper part, we have a charming figure of a young lad, his arms stretched K 2 r,s I. Hiiskins are sHghtly indicated on his feet. In the Louvre drawing, this figure has undergone a complete transformation : instead of nearly facing us, as before, it is now seen almost from behind, clothed in a tunic fastened round the waist by a girdle. The second and central figure is even more thoroughly metamor- phosed. In the Cologne drawing, he faces us, one hand on his hip, the other over his forehead, shading his eyes.

Both gestures are preserved in the Louvre drawing, but the figure is in profile ; and Leonardo has utilised another motive of the ColoQfne drawing for this last fiofure — that of the person in the middle dis- tance, in profile, his hand above his eyes. Another figure, a youth standing, towards the right, his shoulders drawn back, his fore-arms ex- tended in an attitude expressive of surprise and veneration, has disap- peared in the Louvre drawing, as has also one of his companions, stand- ing, to the left, his arm resting on his hip. On the other hand, the bent figure advancing with arms extended, reappears in the Louvre drawing, draped, and with his arms drawn rather closer to his body.

His neighbour, who bends forward with clasped hands, also figures in the Louvre drawing, where, however, he raises his head, instead of inclining it, and advances his right, instead of his left leg. The group of five persons who press eagerly round the Divine Child is strikingly beautiful. But Leonardo suppressed it, as may be seen by a comparison of the Cologne and Galichon drawings.

This group is marked by a fervour and enthusiasm, a passion and emotion, too rare in Leonardo's works. If the drawing in the Cologne Museum contained but this single revelation, if it had nothing of interest beyond this outburst of generous feeling, it would still be of the greatest interest to point it out to Leonardo's admirers, and I should feel myself sufficiently rewarded for my efforts by the pleasure of bringing it to light. To the left are two parallel flights of steps ; at the foot of one of these a camel is lying.

There is nothing strange in this motive ; the Adoration of the Magi was a theme which always gave the painter a certain licence in the multiplication of picturesque details, rare animals, exotic plants, etc. Take, for instance, Luini's fresco at Saronno, with the giraffe in the procession of the Magi. With what delight does the painter overstep the narrow boundary of sacred art, and emerge for a moment into the open air! But to return to the Ufifizi drawing : on the steps of one of the staircases a man is seated ; further on, a man ascends it, running.

But I will not venture to insist on this hypothesis. In the background of the sketch is a group of horses, kicking and rearing. A drawing p. It has been wrongly described as Leonardo's first idea for the Adoration of the Magi ; it would have been more correct to call it his last thought, seeing by how many others it was preceded. The beauty of the drawing, the eloquence and animation of the lightly sketched figures, many of them as yet undraped, the rhythm of the lines, which produces the effect of a musical vibration — Raphael was very evidently inspired by this method of drawing at the close of his Florentine and the beginning of his Roman period — and many other characteristic traits defy analysis.

All is life, afiflatus, love and light! It is easier to define the analogies and the material differences between this drawing and its predecessors. Several of the figures of the earlier Louvre drawing have been retained, with modifications. The bowed naked figure with clasped hands is reversed, and has become the king who advances, bending forward, his hands outstretched.

It may be noted that his figure has been gradually raised in passing from the Louvre drawing to the final cartoon. Other persons have not been utilised, as, for instance, the young man who shades his eyes with his hand ; unless, indeed, he served as a study for the old man on the right in the Galichon drawing and the Uffizi cartoon. As to the young man standing, with extended hands, in the Louvre drawing, he, perhaps, was the original of the standing figure with uplifted hands on the right.

Let us now take the cartoon. The figures seem to emerge from a kind of mist ; the most striking feature of the composition is the pro- found veneration e. Leonardo did not propose to use grand and simple lines in this picture, as in the Last Supper, but rather to be lavish of picturesque groups ; he treated the theme from the pictorial rather than from the decorative standpoint, introducing trees, which would have produced a magnificent effect ; heads of horses full of character and animation; in the background, other horses, with mighty necks and chests, caracoling as in the Battle of Anghiari.

The picture would have been lively, varied, and picturesque beyond any finished work by the master. A supreme distinction breathes from it, the charm of reverie ; we note the master's pre-occupation with astonishing problems of chiaroscuro, of greater subtlety than those of Correggio. The sketch, in fact, is a grandiose creation, containing passages in a heroic style peculiar to Leonardo ; the heroism here is more human, more picturesque, less abstract than that of Michelangelo.

The principal scene takes place in the open air, in a wide landscape, with lofty trees in the centre, and rocks in the background. The ox and the ass have disappeared. In the foreground, about the middle of the composition, the Virgin is seated ; smiling, yet deeply moved, she presents her Son to the adoring kings.

Why was Leonardo da Vinci such a genius? He was just like you and me

Her attitude has been slightly modified in the interval between the execution of the Galichon drawing and that of the Uffizi cartoon. In the former, she was seen almost in profile, bending forward ; she is now erect, and has more dignity in her bearing, greater liberty in her gaze.

Although any time he may have spent in jail was brief, and the case was dismissed, two months later, for lack of corroborating witnesses, he had plenty of time to ponder the possible legal punishments: a large fine, public humiliation, exile, burning at the stake. Private notebooks of all sizes, some carried about for quick sketches and on-the-spot observations, others used for long-term, exacting studies in geology, botany, and human anatomy, to specify just a few of the areas in which he posed fundamental questions, and reached answers that were often hundreds of years ahead of his time.

Why is the sky blue? How does the heart function? Music, military engineering, astronomy. Fossils and the doubt they cast on the Biblical story of creation. In the following centuries, at least half the pages were lost. What survives is an unparalleled record of a human mind at work, as fearless and dogged as it was brilliant. And yet, despite occasional jottings—a grocery list, a book to be borrowed—these notebooks were in no way a diary or a personal journal; they contain none of the self-exploration of Augustine or Thoreau.

Consumed with the desire for knowledge, Leonardo told us more about the world than seems possible, and next to nothing about himself. His biographers have a hard time, at once starved and overwhelmed, tasked with constructing a man around the spectacular evidence of this disembodied mind. The paintings offer little more in the way of knowledge. Arguments persist even about the identity of the woman known as Mona Lisa, or why Leonardo never delivered the portrait to the husband who commissioned it, if indeed it was her husband who commissioned it.

Our deepest sense of this most famous artist remains subject to change. The systematic publication of the notebooks, beginning in the late nineteenth century, tipped our understanding of his goals from art toward science, and opened questions about how to square the legendary peacefulness of his nature with his designs for ingeniously murderous war machines. Who will he be for us today? For all the unfamiliar challenges this book presents, in terms of history and culture, Isaacson is working a familiar theme.

As always, he writes with a strongly synthesizing intelligence across a tremendous range; the result is a valuable introduction to a complex subject. The codex is currently owned by Bill Gates, who as Isaacson does not point out had some of its digitized pages used for a screen saver on the Microsoft operating system.

His Leonardo is lucky to have been born illegitimate—because he was not expected to follow his father into the notary business—and lucky, too, to have been only minimally educated, in math and writing, rather than schooled in the Latin authors reserved for youths of higher rank. Untrammelled by authority, he was free to think creatively.

As for being easily distracted, Isaacson warns that a young Leonardo today might well be medicated out of his creative urges. Beneath its diligent research, the book is a study in creativity: how to define it, how to achieve it. Speculation about Caterina has been rampant. But many questions remain.

Did the boy ever live with his mother? Whom did he love, and who loved him? Still, he was a country boy of few prospects. All he could certainly do was draw. The city must have been a revelation to Leonardo: enormously wealthy, with numerous palazzi built by the newly dominant business class, room after room to be filled with art. There were more wood-carvers in town than butchers, and the streets were a living gallery of works by Donatello, Ghiberti, and Brunelleschi—the revolutionary generation that had just passed.

Verrocchio provided a practical education, not only in painting and sculpture but also in metalwork and engineering. And Leonardo, even in his teens, made a strong impression. The identification is appealing if not the established fact that Isaacson ultimately suggests.

more on this story

Most fascinating, however, is the way that Leonardo transformed this lightly boyish charm into a radiantly pure yet sensual ideal of male beauty. He had an affinity for angels. The divide between the two is technical as well as imaginative: Leonardo used oil paint, not old-fashioned egg-based tempera, and applied it in multiple thin layers, each a luminescent veil, so that his angel appears to be modelled in light. He does not seem to have been conventionally ambitious: he stayed with Verrocchio for roughly a decade, far longer than the usual term, both working and living with the Master.

Although they were crudely overpainted sometime later, one can make them out, short and strong: real wings to give fantasy flight. He was still living with Verrocchio when he was charged with sodomy in As soon as he was cleared, he left town for a year, to work on a project in Pistoia. Some have speculated that the charges caused a break with his father—who, by now remarried, went on to have several legitimate sons.

Botticelli, Perugino, and Ghirlandaio were among those who made the cut and were hired to paint the walls of the newly built Sistine Chapel. But there were other possible reasons for the omission. Leonardo had never painted in fresco, the durable technique favored for wall paintings. And he was already known for leaving things unfinished. Indeed, by , he had abandoned two important commissions and departed for Milan. He was thirty years old, and had accomplished little. In a long and detailed letter that reads like a job application, he offered his services to the local ruler, Ludovico Sforza, as a military engineer.

As a seeming afterthought, he mentioned that he could also paint. A chariot fitted with enormous whirling blades, slicing men in half or cutting off their legs, leaving pieces scattered; guns with multiple barrels arranged like organ pipes to increase the speed and intensity of firing; a colossal missile-launching crossbow. Leonardo made many such frightening drawings while in the employ of Ludovico, who gained the title of Duke of Milan only after poisoning his nephew, some years later, but who effectively served in that role throughout the seventeen years that Leonardo spent in the city.

He had never demonstrated any military skills before, and his intention in these drawings remains a matter of dispute. Was he an unworldly visionary or a conscienceless inventor?

Who Was Leonardo da Vinci?

This argument blurs the question of intent, but suggests the complexities involved in making any moral judgments about the man. It was a new life in Milan, which is perhaps just what Leonardo wanted. This sort of work, however, was ephemeral, and has left almost nothing behind, to the immense regret of art historians, who have often fretted that he was wasting his time. Yet Leonardo appears to have been content. The hedonistic court life suited him: he became something of a dandy, dressing in pinks and purples, satins and velvets, his hands scented with lavender. He enjoyed the company of colleagues in widespread disciplines, from architecture to mathematics.

Even the damp Lombard weather seems to have suited him; its blue-gray mists, so different from Tuscan sunlight, become the weather of his paintings. And it was in Milan that he began to keep notebooks. Kenneth Clark, whose book on Leonardo, written in the nineteen-thirties, remains indispensable, observes that the range of his activities led him to write down his ideas, in his strange right-to-left script, and to annotate his drawings, beginning with simple pieces of machinery and ending with the world. Gian Giacomo Caprotti was ten years old when he entered the workshop, the previous year.

A poor boy of extraordinary beauty, he was brought in as a servant, probably also as a model, and to be trained as a painter—he later had a modest career—and stayed for twenty-eight years. If he does not entirely impress us, though, he continued to impress Leonardo, whose most touching portrait shows the maturing man sketched lightly, almost absentmindedly, around a drawing of the human heart.