Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

and finally she possessed a people in whom a feeling for all that was great and beautiful had been excited, and who were, at that time, conscious of being the first nation in the world.

Any endeavour to trace the state of Italian civilization of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, in its proper relation as the basis of Art, would lead us too far into historical questions. Some remarks, however, may be permitted. We are much accustomed to regard only the immoral aspect of the Italy of that day, forgetting the infinite freshness and elasticity of the people, that indestructible juvenility from which the upper classes of the nation were constantly receiving new sources of moral life. Though the manners, here and there, were sunk in the deepest depravity, yet civilization might be said to flourish in the truest sense of the word. Then arose among the people not only a common consent, but a positive love for the beautiful and dignified in life; for that which, since the decline of the ancient world, had appeared to slumber, and which now set its high stamp alike on literature, poetry, and manners, on the artistic enhancement of every accessory of life, as well as on the free urbanity of social intercourse. A style of architecture now appeared, combined from the reminiscences of antiquity and the requirements of the day, which, however it may show the want of that inward principle which accompanies all derived and composite creations (such, for example, as the Italian language itself), developed a new beauty in form and a new harmony of proportion. This was the time, therefore, for sculpture and painting to flourish in their fullest freedom and grandeur. The epoch of ecclesiasticpolitical strife had passed away, leaving a certain indifference behind it, and even the church no longer required art to minister to edification as such, but rather to supply that beautiful and living type of form which is in itself the symbol of the High and the Infinite. In addition to this, profane and classic art had come greatly into vogue. In the province of art, as well as in every other belonging to Italian civilization, respect for antiquity became an element of the highest importance. Poetry and the plastic arts were now enriched by subjects and models of indisputable normal value. It is admirable, too, to observe the freedom and independence with

which the great men of the day availed themselves of this assistance. We find no traces of laborious copyingsm-none were needed by a race who had themselves acquired every detail of plastic form afresh. The period of Raphael was not indebted in the first instance to the antique, but rather felt itself marvellously inspired by its spirit; and borrowing from it not the merely national and accidental, but the immutable and the infinite, was itself enabled to reproduce the immutable and the infinite likewise.

CHAPTER I.

LEONARDO DA VINCI AND HIS FOLLOWERS.

At the head of this new period stands Leonardo da Vinci,' His works are the first which afford complete satisfaction to the eye and mind, for, although contemporary with many of the artists already mentioned, he was not, like them, confined to one direction. Leonardo was born in the year 1452, at Vinci, a castellated village in the Val d'Arno; he died in France, in 1519. Distinguished alike by gifts of body and mind, he appears to have possessed an unparalleled versatility, united with indefatigable zeal in extending his inquiries and enlarging the sphere of his attainments. He was handsome, well-formed, and endowed with surprising bodily strength; he was master of all the knightly exercises of riding, dancing, and fencing; as an architect he constructed several edifices, particularly in Milan, and left designs for others. He was a sculptor, painter, musician, and poet; he applied himself zealously to all the sciences necessary to the improvement of Art, particularly anatomy (both of men and horses), mathematics, perspective, mechanics, etc.; he has also left several

1 C. Amoretti, Memorie Storiche su la vita, gli studj e le opere di Lionardo da Vinci, Milano, 1804.-L. da Vinci, by Hugo Count Gallenberg, Leipzig, 1834.-A mediocre translation of the last, with some extracts from German authors.— Brown, The Life of L. da Vinci, London, 1828.–Outlines in Landon.-Vies et Euvres, etc., t. L. da V. The engravings by Fumagalli, – Scuola di Lionardo da Vinci in Lombardia, Milano, 1811,- are very important for Leonardo and his school.

works on physics. Descriptions of playful mechanical contrivances have been preserved, with which he amused himself and others; he invented all kinds of machines for swimming, diving, and flying; a compass, an hygrometer, etc. Some of his schemes were grander and more important; for example, that of cutting a canal to unite Florence with Pisa : the actual completion of similar works occupied much of his time elsewhere. Another plan-bold, but for him not impossible—was to raise the ancient baptistery or church of S. Giovanni at Florence from the ground, by a sub-structure, to do away with the somewhat sunken appearance, which has so unpleasing an effect in this otherwise beautiful building. Finally, we must not omit his exertions and numerous inventions in military architecture.

But the centre of all the various powers of this great man was his prevailing love for the plastic arts—for painting especially, to which he dedicated the greatest and best part of his active life. His anatomical studies have been already mentioned. The same zeal which he applied to the study of mere form was extended to all its manifestations of life. None could be more eager, more quick, in observing and seizing the expressions of the passions, as they are displayed in countenance and gesture. He visited all the most frequented places, the scenes where the active powers of man are most fully developed, and he drew in a sketch-book, which he always carried with him, whatever interested him.' He followed criminals to execution, in order to witness the pangs of the deepest despair; he invited peasants to his house, and related laughable stories to them, that he might learn from their physiognomies the essence of comic expression. Inanimate nature be studied with the same earnestness. Of his various writings on Art, the “Trattato della Pittura' has descended to our times, and still forms a very useful compendium.

If this disposition to careful study shows the sure foundation on which the style of Leonardo is based ; if a just conception and characteristic representation of what was before him are

1

Single heads and caricatures are still to be seen in different collections, Others are preserved to us by the engravings of W. Hollar and Jac. Sandrart. See the German translation of Vasari, vol. iii. p. 16.

to be considered as the elements of his practice, he displays on the other hand a profound subjective feeling, a refined, enthusiastic sentimentality, which in some sort may be compared with the characteristics of the Umbrian school. In some of his works one or other of these two tendencies predominates; in his principal ones, on the other hand, both seem to balance each other in the purest harmony, elevated to so high a degree of perfection by this union of the power of thought with the feeling for beauty of form, that Leonardo is justly entitled to take one of the first places among the masters of modern Art. He who investigated common life even to its minutest modifications and details, could also represent the holy and divine with a dignity, calmness, and beauty of which the greatest genius only is capable.

Leonardo was the natural son of a certain Pietro, a notary of the Signoria of Florence, by whom he was placed in the school of Andrea Verocchio. From this master he must have derived his inclination for the double study of sculpture and painting. The Baptism of Christ, in which an angel done by the scholar is said to have deterred the master from the practice of painting, has been already mentioned (p. 214). Little is known of other early works of Leonardo. It is related that he once painted a fabulous monster, and made studies for it from toads, serpents, lizards, bats, etc., of which he had a whole menagerie; his own father drew back in fear from the horrible picture, but afterwards sold it at a high price. He also painted a head of Medusa, lying on the earth amidst all sorts of reptiles : it is supposed to be the same now in the gallery of the Uffizj at Florence; it seems, however, more probable that this is a later but very excellent copy of the original.' This picture, which is deficient in marking as compared with Leonardo's usual style, is still very masterly in many respects; the faded, sallow colour, the dark vapour issuing from the mouth, the convulsion of death in the glassy, fixed, expiring eyes, are all powerfully expressed. Two cartoons of his early time were particularly famous : one represented Neptune, in a stormy sea, surrounded by nymphs and tritons; the other, the Fall of Man, in a beautiful and elabo

| Rumohr, Ital. Forsch, ii. 307.

rate landscape indicating Paradise : neither of these exist. It is difficult to decide with regard to other early productions ascribed to Leonardo da Vinci; a critical investigation of his works has as yet been only partially undertaken; by far the greater part of those which bear his name in galleries are later imitations or the work of his scholars. Besides a Madonna, with a vase of water with flowers, in the Borghese Gallery (which, however, was no longer there in 1846), two portraits existing in Florence have the greatest claims to originality—the one that of a youth in the gallery of the Uffizj; the other that of Ginevra Benci, in the Pitti Palace, an unpretending but intelligently conceived picture of the greatest decision and purity of drawing and modelling.

In the year 1482 Leonardo was invited to the court of Lodovico Sforza il Moro, then regent, afterwards Duke, of Milan. This prince, although an usurper, showed the greatest zeal in cherishing learning and art: in this course he followed alike his own inclination and the example of other Italian sovereigns. Learned men, poets, and artists were invited to his court, and Leonardo, according to Vasari, recommended himself at first as a musician and improvisatore. The foundation of an academy of Art, the earliest establishment of the kind, was soon intrusted to him : his works on Art 2

appear to have been composed for it; and the numerous 'scholars whom he formed in Milan bear testimony to his great efficiency in this institution.

Of the various undertakings conducted by Leonardo for Lodovico Sforza, we shall turn our attention to those only which have reference to the formative arts. Two are especially remarkable; they employed him during the greater part of his stay in Milan (till 1499). One was an equestrian statue, intended to have been cast in bronze, of colossal dimensions, in memory of Francesco Sforza, father of Lodo

1 [According to Richa, Notizie Istoriche delle Chiese Fiorentine (Firenze, 1754–1762), vol. viii. p. 191, the Florentine Academy is much older, since it dates from the time of Giotto.—ED.]

% Trattato della Pittura. A great number of editions. The first appeared in Paris, 1651, with a Life of Leonardo, by Raphael Dufresne. The best is that of Rome, 1817; Gugl. Manzi. There are several French and German translations.

« AnteriorContinuar »