Denton Jaques Snider.

Music and the fine arts; a psychology of aesthetic online

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haunted him through life, more particularly
in his Florentine home, from which he fled
again and again.

It is recorded that the boy Lionardo
showed his versatility in many ways, but
that his main bent came to the surface in his
drawings. The tendency to sketch every-
thing and everybody was inborn; man and
the world impressed upon his receptive soul
an image which he had to throw out of him-
self into shape at once. It w^as his method
of getting to know things and people : he pic-
tured them in their essence, hitting off the
pivotal psychologic moment in a few
strokes; then he might say, I understand
you now, having re-created your form that
I may read you at your source of being. But
this Avas not merely Lionardo 's individual
tendency, it was that of the age wdiich was
pictorial, especially that of Florence whose
highest bloom of culture at this time was the
artistic. Herein the deepest strain of the
folk-soul seemed to be re-born into the soul
of Lionardo, who of course had many com-
peers. The popular heart longed to see it-
self painted and sculptured with an inten-
sity of which we now can have little concep-

The result was that the voutli Lionardo,


when lie was about fifteen probably, found
Ills Avay as apprentice to the shop of Andrea
del Verocchio, sculptor, goldsmith, painter,
a self-made man of the people, who had ris-
en to the top of his Art. Lionardo is report-
ed to have helped his master in certain
works, for instance, in the picture called
The Baptism of Christ (Florence) and even
in the world-famous statue of Bartolommeo
Colleoni. Very doubtful are his movements
and works during these seven years, till we
reach the well-documented date of 1572
when he was received into the Florentine
Guild of Painters, which may be deemed the
end of his apprenticeship.

But just here occurs the largest gap in
his life, full ten years or more, between 1572
and 1582. What was this active, restless
spirit engaged in during this decenniumi
Biographers have tried to fill the chasm
with this and that work of his but the result
is a beggarly report. He must have been
absent from Florence most of the time,
though there are two or three traces of his
temporary presence. Our view is that this
was the period of Lionardo 's travels, just
the occupation for a young man between
twenty and thirty. Moreover his situation
was such that he would be specially sensitive
to those Florentine stings already men-


tioned, which would not be wanting in the
guild of his fellow-artists. But whither did
he go? Undoubtedly to the East, the seat of
the World 's History in those years ; the bat-
tle-line was sharply drawn between Orient
and Occident, Turk and European, Moslem
and Christian, Constantinople had fallen
the year after Lionardo's birth, with a shock
which quaked all Christendom. The largest
and most revered Christian temple. Saint
Sophia, had been turned into a Mahommed-
an Mosque. What was the meaning of it all
— what is to be the outcome? Such an in-
quisitive spirit as Lionardo was sure to in-
vestigate with his own eyes the supreme
world-historical fact of his time, yea of his
race just then.

These are, then, Lionardo's years of trav-
el {WanderjaJire, following the Lehrjahre
or apprenticeship, as the Germans state of-
ten life's epochs). Repeated indications are
found in the later Lionardian manuscripts
which can only be construed as reminis-
cences of such a journey. Descriptions of
Oriental lands, even of the bridge of Pera at
Constantinople, of works which he reports
having made as engineer for the Khedive of
Egypt, names of towns written in Arabic
letters, some of his script running from
right to left in the Oriental manner, are evi-


clences wliicli cannot be sophisticated from
their natural meaning into mere fantastic
spurts of Lionarclo's imagination, as some
biographers have tried to make out. Then
his own recommendation to Ludovico il
Moro (already cited) breathes the note of
a practised military engineer. To be sure
he had good reason to bridle his tongue and
pen to safe silence in that papal Italy which
was again thinking of a new crusade against
the infidel Turk ever advancing.

It is probable that Lionardo visited his
home several times during these ten years,
especially as there was a good understand-
ing between Constantinople and Florence
under the Medici. Florentine bankers were
located in the Turkish capital, and evidently
lent funds to the government, seemingly for
armaments against Christendom. Money
then, as always, had little patriotism and
less religion. In this connection a significant
occurrence may be mentioned : A conspira-
tor at Florence who had assassinated Giu-
liano dei Medici, brother of Lorenzo, the
city's autocrat, fled to Constantinople and
on being demanded by the Florentine ruler
was delivered up by the Turk, and sent back
home where he was hung in 1479. Lionardo,
who favored the Medici, was present and
sketched the criminal suspended from the


gallows, and besides made a special draw-
ing of his face. So our artist turns up in
Florence just then after a long absence, and
shows a great interest in a certain event. It
is our opinion that he was in Constantinople
when the extradition was demanded and ob-
tained — possibly he had a hand in it as
knowing the guilty man — and that he re-
turned to Florence with the officers in
charge for some recognition of his service.
Of course all this is conjecture, but it ac-
counts for his presence, his interest, and his
picture at an authenticated date.

It would seem that Lionardo was back
in Florence at work in 1481, if we may judge
by the existent contract which he makes to
paint a picture whose subject seems to have
been Adoration of the Magi. It remained
unfinished as usual, but resulted in numer-
ous preparatory sketches by the artist,
wherein we see his wrestles with his sub-
ject. A study drawing for a landscape (in
the Ufficii) is dated 1473, but is questiona-
ble. The horrible Head of Medusa, also at
Florence, is not his. Other works assigned
to this first Period we shall have to omit as
they are doubtful and unimportant. It is
plain, however, that Lionardo has evolved
his unique personality through his varied
experience of life. Now he is to take a new


II. In the year 1482 (here again the date is
contested but is vouched for by the best
document) Lionardo passed from Florence
to Milan and attached himself to the court
of Ludovico Sforza, nicknamed II Moro, a
usurper, despot, coward, secret murderer,
yet cultured, formally religious, and patron
of the Fine Arts. Into the service of such
a ruler Lionardo entered without any mis-
givings probably, being a non-institutional
spirit, as already indicated. His own letter
of introduction, quite a loud blast on his
self's trumpet, has been previously cited.
He evidently thought of his coming career
as that of a military and civil engineer. In
this field he was employed, as is known ; but
his real work turned out something else.

Doubtless his chief time was occupied in
producing court spectacles, festivities of
various kinds, shows intended to dazzle the
people and to cover up the rotten govern-
ment. The thought and labor of months
would thus flash up in a night, make a bril-
liant display and then vanish — a very tran-
sitory business for a man who had such a
big portion of eternity in him. One is re-
minded of another world-genius, Goethe,
who spent so much of his precious time on
similar ephemeral bubbles, doubtless beau-
tiful for a moment, to amuse the court of


Weimar. Still Lioimrdo must have given
his leisure to things of higher value. The
monumental pile of his manuscripts seems
for the most part to have arisen at Milan.
His Academy has been declared a myth by
modern criticism, but his artistic influence
shows traces far and wide, as well as per-
sistent; yea, it had a creative power espe-
cially for painters. He wrote this golden
sentence: "The most meritorious act a man
of talent can perform is to communicate his
gift to others." This desire of impartation
he seems to have genuinely felt and acted
upon; let it be set down to his credit, for
much has to be forgiven him. He planned a
colossal equestrian statue of Francesco Sfor-
za, father of Ludovico and founder of the
usurping dynasty of despots. Several original
drawings, studies for certain parts of this
statue, are still in existence especially at
Windsor, and show the great pains of the
artist in his work. Here also belongs prob-
ably the very characteristic bust of a war-
rior sketched in helmet and armor, which
strikingly resembles Verocchio's Colleoni in
feature. Lionardo had the ambition to add
a third and greater to the two previously
greatest equestrian statues of Italy — that of
his teacher Verocchio and that of Donatel-
lo (Gattamelata). But alas! the French en-


tered Milan, took captive the usurper, and
destroyed liis father's monument, which had
not yet been east in bronze, the lofty model
in clay becoming a target for the Gascon
archers. Lionardo is reported to have spent
sixteen years on the work. Anyhow why at-
tempt to eternize such a man? It cannot be
done, say the Fates of the human deed,
and Lionardo must liave heard bitterly the

This brings us to the Last Supper, which
ranks with the half dozen supreme works of
Painting selected by the consensus of the
best judges down the ages. There is a prac-
tical unanimity on the point, this matter is
settled. It remains to seek for the ground
of so much greatness, and to draw its limits,
for this is not the greatness of Michel Angelo
or even of Eaphael. It is evident that Lio-
nardo was conscious of the importance of
his work and labored upon it for a long time
both in spirit and in sketches. Of the latter
many have survived but are widely scat-
tered. Report runs that he wrouglit at it
only two 3^ears (1496-7), but it is really the
fruit of a lifetime, and an utterance of his
w^orld-view up to date. Bandello, story-
teller for our Shakesj^eare and friend of the
artist at Milan, savs that he often saw Lio-
nardo suddenly quit his statue of Sforza and


hurry off in the hot dog-days to the convent
of Santa Maria in order to give a stroke or
two more to some feature of the faces of the
Last Supper. That was what lay deepest
in his mind, deeper seemingly than the
statue. Vasari tells a witty story which be-
longs in this connection. The Dominican
Prior of the convent complained to the Duke
that Lionardo squandered his time sunk idly
in contemplation of his work frequently
half a day at a stretch. The artist, being
called to account by Ludovico, replied : Men
of lofty genius often produce the most when
they work the least, seeking the idea of what
the hands afterwards are to perform. He
further said that two heads had given him
much to think about: that of Christ, which
he had not yet found, and that of Judas, of
which he believed that he now had discov-
ered the model in the pestiferous monk. The
sally made the Duke roar with laughter,
which has been echoed by thousands of
readers since. But it is not known that the
face of Judas is that of the Prior.

We may, therefore well believe that Lio-
nardo brooded long and profoundly on this
picture as a kind of summary and concen-
tration of his whole art-life. Where sliall
we touch its essence? The work follows the
transmitted Christian Mythus, and the theme


is in line witli many old paintings; Giotto
and Ghirlandaio have in arrangement quite
similar Last Suppers. Tims Lionardo has
followed external tradition, he has not re-
created or even changed the mythical or ar-
tistic frame-work handed down by prescrip-
tion. But when we look at the internal treat-
ment and spirit of the work, we can observe
a great transition. The hierarchic looks and
church symbols quite vanish. Character
within is shown by action and feature ; these
individuals, though apostles, freely utter
themselves as human beings. Goethe, who
wrote quite. a long essay on the Last Supper,
observes that "we can read from them the
very words which each person is uttering."
The ecclesiastical purpose is certainly not
obtrusive, it might be a repast of some phi-
losopher with his friends, a keen critic com-
pares it to Plato and the School of Athens.
A still more daring writer, M. Seailles, has
sought to prove that Lionardo when he
painted the Last Supper had ceased to be a
Christian, was at least a philosopher if not
a Mahommedan. Without going to such ex-
tremes, we can feel in this picture the ep-
ochal breach, even the secret protest of Lio-
nardo, of his Art and of his time. There is
the outer conformity to the established or-
der, but the inner liberation from it and the


trausceiisioii into a new artistic conscious-

Of course the technical merits of tlie
painting are of the highest, and reflect at
the same time its depth of spirit. The unity
of it momentously concentrates in the
words of the Master: "One of you will be-
tray me." This becomes the source of the
greatest variety, of a perfect explosion of
character from within outwards all over
each of the twelve human bodies in gesture,
attitude, facial expression and grouping. It
would seem as if Lionardo intended to bring
together his total experience with man's
countenance and other bodily utterance, and
to paint a gallery- of the typical souls of hu-
manity, from the most negative in Judas to
the most positive in Jesus. In his instinct-
ive outburst on hearing the words, each
apostle is individualized according to his
temperament and innate fidelity, for not all
can be alike even in the essential test. You
can pick out the disciple who most resem-
bles Judas. Mark, too, the symmetry of the
whole, so strict and obvious, yet containing
so much free activity. The one central fig-
ure with two groups of threes on each side
imparts a mathematic precision to the con-
struction which nevertheless shows the ful-
lest inner liberty of spirit. Taken all in


all, it is the best organized work of Art in
existence, the most subtle yet the most
transparent in structure. On this side it
shows prolonged and careful calculation,
which undoubtedly extended to the relative
magnitudes of the whole and the parts. We,
who usually look at small copies, should rec-
ollect that the picture measures thirty feet
in width and fifteen feet in height; the fig-
ures are ten feet long on the average. ''I
have often observed him (saj's Bandello) to
go early in the morning and to mount the
scaffolding before the picture; from sunrise
to dusk he would never lay pencil out of his
hand, but paint on, forgetful of food and
drink. Then he would rest — two, three, or
four days, never touching it; still he would
alwavs stav there, at times for an hour or
two, contemplating, comparing, criticizing
his work." A product of long and deep re-
flection it certainlv was, structurallv, in or-
der to be the vase holding so much erup-
tive spontaneity. Thus it mirrors Lionar-
do's own self: mathematical, scientific, cal-
culative, yet a very volcano seething within
up from his underworld.

The head of Christ has been the center of
much discussion, and of great difference of
opinion. Two of Lionardo's earliest biog-
raphers, Vasari and Lomazzo, report that



he never finished it. Perhaps lie did not
to his satisfaction, for he never could in any-
thing fnlly please himself with himself. Still
it shows sufficient completeness, especially
in the best copies (for instance the one in
the Brera at Milan) to challenge judgment.
Deepest sorrow it fairly irradiates, evident-
ly at the evil deed of one of his disciples,
pity for him but no hate or revenge. Per-
haps too we have the right to see in this sor-
rowful face a typical, universal sympathy
with the sinner whom he cannot transform,
and whose tragedy he foresees. Resigna-
tion too casts down his whole visage quite
overwhelmingly; there is no exaltation in
the affliction, no triumphant look upward
from the sorrow-laden eyes. It seems a res-
ignation to Fate rather than to the Will of
God. There is no descent from above, as is
so marked in the old painters, and the dis-
ciples bear little impress of the supernal
radiance; hardly are they connected with
the upper world in look, or act, or attitude.
The artist has humanized the old Christian
Mythus, so that it is scarcely religious any
longer, though certainly not irreligious. Its
outer form is indeed there, but its inner
meaning — how changed!

The lamentable history of the picture
from its very birth cannot here be given; it


has tragically passed through all the sor-
rows of three centuries and more ; its fate is
as piteous as the face of its Christ, and it
looks so at present. But wo must push on.
Scarcely was the work done (if it was ever
completely done), when down come the
French upon Milan, winning the battle of
Novara (1500), taking possession of the
city, capturing the shifty Duke Ludovico,
and holding him prisoner for the rest of his
life — some eight years. Thus the Powers
hand back to him a taste of his own. Lio-
nardo takes flight from Milan the same year,
and after various wanderings turns up
again in Florence (1502-3) seemingly with
the design of permanent residence. He is
now fifty years old, it is surely time to set-
tle down and to realize fully his genius. He
finds his city in possession of self-govern-
ment, the Medici having been expelled
though still plotting to be restored. But
what must have aroused his ambition and
perchance his rivalry, was that a new school
of Art had begun to flower in that creative
fermenting Florentine community, and the
new artist had appeared with his gigantic
challenge. Well, here he is — Michel Angelo,
the young David himself, with his colossal
statue of the young David preparing to meet
his huge enemy, Goliath.


III. Here, we shall begin the last stretch of
Lionardo's devious ramble of a life lasting
some seventeen years (1502-19). He had
passed twenty of his best years at Milan in
the service of a little despot, npon whom he
coined at departure the melancholy epi-
gram: "The Duke has lost his state, his
property, his liberty; nothing he undertook
is completed." These words jotted down l)y
him on the cover of a manuscript, must have
twisted back sullenly into his own soul.

But now he is at Florence again and at
work, possibly with new resolutions. On
January 25th, 1503, he is one of the artists
chosen to select the best site for Michel An-
gelo's David; the next year the gigantic
statue was dedicated with a great public
demonstration. The whole city saw in the
work a mighty representation of its spirit
at that time. The event must have roused
Lionardo to compete with the young artist
not much more than half as old as himself.
Indeed, their rivalry becomes a part of the
city's interest, and the government resolves
to pit one against the other in two civic
works of Art. During 1503 the Gonfalon-
iere (Governor) Soderini resolved to stir
patriotism by means of Art, then probably
the most effective stimulus for its excitation
among the people. The Hall of the Great


Council in the Palazzo Vecchio was to be
blazoned with huge mural frescoes depicting
scenes taken from Florentine history. Da
Vinci was at work on his cartoon early in
1504, which represented a victory of the
Florentines over the troops of the Milanese
Visconti (1440) — the so-called battle of An-
ghiari. Lionardo's picture consisted of two
groups on horseback engaged in furious
strife for the possession of a standard. La-
ter in the same year (1504), the Gonfalon-
iere engaged Michel Angel o to prepare a
cartoon for the opposite side of the same
Hall. Thus the two greatest Florence-born
painters were to be witnessed for all time
in their artistic contest before the people,
Avho mightily responded. Michel Angelo se-
lected an incident in the campaign with Pisa
when a troop of Florentine soldiers were
surprised while bathing in the river Arno by
the enemy, and were suddenly called by the
trumpet into line of battle. That gave to
Michel Angelo his chance to display a wrig-
gling rout of human nudities in every sort
of muscular contortion as they jerked on
their shirts and scurried into the fight. Both
cartoons when finished were exposed to the
eager eyes of the public; both were much
admired and became, says Cellini, *'the
school of the world." The vote of favor


seemed to lean toward the work of Michel
Ang'elo, which, besides its patriotic rall}^ un-
der trying circumstances, had a spicy ap-
peal to popular humor, so that all Florence
must have gone into a general guffaw at
the sight. Moreover, the Lionardian picture
might be deemed aristocratic with its mount-
ed fighters (cavaliers in the medieval time) ;
the artist loved the horse and had studied
its anatomy with great care, esi)ecially for
the Sforza equestrian statue, while Michel
Angelo seems rather to have shunned the
portraiture of this animal. Moreover, Lio-
nardo's battle-scene was a highly complica-
ted piece of work, if we may judge by a
fragment of it in a drawing supposed to be
by Eubens, which shows Lionardo's reflect-
ive subtlety and fine calculation amid all its
fiercely agitated movements.

Both cartoons have perished, though some
widely scattered remnants of both have been
preserved. Lionardo painted at his fresco,
but never finished it. Several things con-
spired to make his life at Florence burden-
some. His father died in 1504, and his right
of inheritance was challenged in a lawsuit
by his legitimate brothers. The death of a
childless uncle of wealth in 1507 called for
a second lawsuit on the same unhappy
theme. Doubtless also the triumph of a

278 MUSIC a:sd the fixe arts.

young rival, who more than shared his ar-
tistic supremacy, was not exactly palatable.
Then his painting did not prosper, on ac-
count of some peculiar use of his colors.
Then the Government got to prodding him
for his delay, doubtless with good reason.
No wonder we hear that the disgusted Lio-
nardo in 1506 has again set out for MiUm on
invitation of its French masters, his for-
mer patron Ludovico being still their pris-
oner. But what did Lionardo care for poli-
tics, or indeed for any institutions — State,
Family or Church? They had indeed put
him into life's Inferno, from which he kept
fleeing without much success.

Still he had passed some four years at
Florence under the keen stimulation of its
artistic environment. Accordingly, w^e may
place in this period several pictures of un-
certain chronology, but of unique fame, and
of a distinctive character. First in rank
and celebrity is the portrait (so claimed) of
Mona Lisa, the third wife of the Florentine
citizen, Francesco del Giocondo, whom the
lady married in 1495, supposedly at the age
of eighteen. It is said that Lionardo
wrought at this picture four years, and then
left it not fully finished, in his own opinion,
when he quit for Milan. If this be so, Mona
Lisa was thirty and more while this face of


hers was being put into color. Certainly
she looks as if she had known much expe-
rience of life, all of her own and of Lionar-
do's also. Love she has not, and never
had; she cannot love in any soul-sacrificing-
sense with that all-subduing self-possession
of hers, which never lets itself go. Her smilo
is very subtle, and has its enigma, still we
may read in it her consciousness of power
over her struggling victim. She certainly
is double, like every riddle, giving two an-
swers, a yes and a no. The result is that
those who come to her shrine and hearken
to her response divide into two large groups,
each of which finds its own meaning in the
ambiguous oracle. One set 'mid a kind of
ecstasy calls her the universal woman, the
painted Eivig-iveihllclie, the ideal of her sex,
comparable only to the Sistine Madonna.
The other set feels in her the demonic pow-

Online LibraryDenton Jaques SniderMusic and the fine arts; a psychology of aesthetic → online text (page 22 of 32)