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An artist's manuscript notes can hardly be expected to contain any thing more than incidental references to those masterpieces of his work of which the fame, sounded in the writings of his contemporaries, has left a glorious echo to posterity. We need not therefore be surprised to find that the texts here reproduced do not afford us such comprehensive information as we could wish. On the other hand, the sketches and studies prepared by Leonardo for the two grandest compositions he ever executed: The Fresco of the Last Supper in the Refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie at Milan, and the Cartoon of the Battle of Anghiari, for the Palazzo della Signoria at Florence--have been preserved; and, though far from complete, are so much more numerous than the manuscript notes, that we are justified in asserting that in value and interest they amply compensate for the meagerness of the written suggestions.
The notes for the composition of the Last Supper, which are given under nos. 665 and 666 occur in a MS. at South Kensington, II2, written in the years 1494-1495. This MS. sketch was noted down not more than three or four years before the painting was executed, which justifies the inference that at the time when it was written the painter had not made up his mind definitely even as to the general scheme of the work; and from this we may also conclude that the drawings of apostles' heads at Windsor, in red chalk, must be ascribed to a later date. They are studies for the head of St. Matthew, the fourth figure on Christ's left hand--see Pl. XLVII, the sketch (in black chalk) for the head of St. Philip, the third figure on the left hand--see Pl. XLVIII, for St. Peter's right arm--see Pl. XLIX, and for the expressive head of Judas which has unfortunately somewhat suffered by subsequent restoration of outlines,--see Pl. L. According to a tradition, as unfounded as it is improbable, Leonardo made use of the head of Padre Bandelli, the prior of the convent, as the prototype of his Judas; this however has already been contradicted by Amoretti "Memorie storiche" cap. XIV. The study of the head of a criminal on Pl. LI has, it seems to me, a better claim to be regarded as one of the preparatory sketches for the head of Judas. The
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Windsor collection contains two old copies of the head of St. Simon, the figure to the extreme left of Christ, both of about equal merit (they are marked as Nos. 21 and 36)--the second was reproduced on Pl. VIII of the Grosvenor Gallery Publication in 1878. There is also at Windsor a drawing in black chalk of folded hands (marked with the old No. 212; No. LXI of the Grosvenor Gallery Publication) which I believe to be a copy of the hands of St. John, by some unknown pupil. A reproduction of the excellent drawings of heads of Apostles in the possession of H. R. H. the Grand Duchess of Weimar would have been out of my province in this work, and, with regard to them, I must confine myself to pointing out that the difference in style does not allow of our placing the Weimar drawings in the same category as those here reproduced. The mode of grouping in the Weimar drawings is of itself sufficient to indicate that they were not executed before the picture was painted, but, on the contrary, afterwards, and it is, on the face of it, incredible that so great a master should thus have copied from his own work.
The drawing of Christ's head, in the Brera palace at Milan was perhaps originally the work of Leonardo's hand; it has unfortunately been entirely retouched and re-drawn, so that no decisive opinion can be formed as to its genuineness.
The red chalk drawing reproduced on Pl. XLVI is in the Accademia at Venice; it was probably made before the text, Nos. 664 and 665, was written.
The two pen and ink sketches on Pl. XLV seem to belong to an even earlier date; the more finished drawing of the two, on the right hand, represents Christ with only St. John and Judas and a third disciple whose action is precisely that described in No. 666, Pl. 4. It is hardly necessary to observe that the other sketches on this page and the lines of text below the circle (containing the solution of a geometrical problem) have no reference to the picture of the Last Supper. With this figure of Christ may be compared a similar pen and ink drawing reproduced on page 297 below on the left hand; the original is in the Louvre. On this page again the rest of the sketches have no direct bearing on the composition of the Last Supper, not even, as it seems to me, the group of four men at the bottom to the right hand--who are listening to a fifth, in their midst addressing them. Moreover the writing on this page (an explanation of a disk shaped instrument) is certainly not in the same style as we find constantly used by Leonardo after the year 1489.
It may be incidentally remarked that no sketches are known for the portrait of "Mona Lisa", nor do the MS. notes ever allude to it, though according to Vasari the master had it in hand for fully four years.
Leonardo's cartoon for the picture of the battle of Anghiari has shared the fate of the rival work, Michaelangelo's "Bathers summoned to Battle". Both have been lost in some wholly inexplicable manner. I cannot here enter into the remarkable history of this work; I can only give an account of what has been preserved to us of Leonardo's scheme and preparations for executing it. The extent of the material in studies and drawings was till now quite unknown. Their publication here may give some adequate idea of the grandeur of this famous work. The text given as No. 669 contains a description of the particulars of the battle, but for the reasons given in the note to this text, I must abandon the idea of taking this passage as the basis of my attempt to reconstruct the picture as the artist conceived and executed it.
I may here remind the reader that Leonardo prepared the cartoon in the Sala del Papa of Santa Maria Novella at Florence and worked there from the end of October 1503 till February 1504, and then was busied with the painting in the Sala del Consiglio in the Palazzo della Signoria, till the work was interrupted at the end of May 1506. (See Milanesi's note to Vasari pp. 43--45 Vol. IV ed. 1880.) Vasari, as is well known, describes only one scene or episode of the cartoon--the Battle for the Standard in the foreground of the composition, as it would seem; and this only was ever finished as a mural decoration in the Sala del Consiglio. This portion of the composition is familiar to all from the disfigured copy engraved by Edelinck. Mariette had already very acutely observed that Edelinck must surely have worked from a Flemish copy of the picture. There is in the Louvre a drawing by Rubens (No. 565) which also represents four horsemen fighting round a standard and which agrees with Edelinck's engraving, but the engraving reverses the drawing. An earlier Flemish drawing, such as may have served as the model for both Rubens and Edelinck, is in the Uffizi collection (see Philpots's Photograph, No. 732). It seems to be a work of the second half of the XVIth century, a time when both the picture and the cartoon had already been destroyed. It is apparently the production of a not very skilled hand. Raphael Trichet du Fresne, 1651, mentions that a small picture by Leonardo himself of the Battle of the Standard was then extant in the Tuileries; by this he probably means the painting on panel which is now in the possession of Madame Timbal in Paris, and which has lately been engraved by Haussoullier as a work by Leonardo. The picture, which is very carefully painted, seems to me however to be the work of some unknown Florentine painter, and probably executed within the first ten years of the XVIth century. At the same time, it would seem to be a copy not from Leonardo's cartoon, but from his picture in the Palazzo della Signoria; at any rate this little picture, and the small Flemish drawing in Florence are the oldest finished copies of this episode in the great composition of the Battle of Anghiari.
In his Life of Raphael, Vasari tells us that Raphael copied certain works of Leonardo's during his stay in Florence. Raphael's first visit to Florence lasted from the middle of October 1504 till July 1505, and he revisited it in the summer of 1506. The hasty sketch, now in the possession of the University of Oxford and reproduced on page 337 also represents the Battle of the Standard and seems to have been made during his first stay, and therefore not from the fresco but from the cartoon; for, on the same sheet we also find, besides an old man's head drawn in Leonardo's style, some studies for the figure of St. John the Martyr which Raphael used in 1505 in his great fresco in the Church of San Severo at Perugia.
Of Leonardo's studies for the Battle of Anghiari I must in the first place point to five, on three of which--Pl. LII 2, Pl. LIII, Pl. LVI--we find studies for the episode of the Standard. The standard bearer, who, in the above named copies is seen stooping, holding on to the staff across his shoulder, is immediately recognisable as the left-hand figure in Raphael's sketch, and we find it in a similar attitude in Leonardo's pen and ink drawing in the British Museum--Pl. LII, 2--the lower figure to the right. It is not difficult to identify the same figure in two more complicated groups in the pen and ink drawings, now in the Accademia at Venice--Pl. LIII, and Pl. LIV--where we also find some studies of foot soldiers fighting. On the sheet in the British Museum--Pl. LII, 2--we find, among others, one group of three horses galloping forwards: one
horseman is thrown and protects himself with his buckler against the lance thrusts of two others on horseback, who try to pierce him as they ride past. The same action is repeated, with some variation, in two sketches in pen and ink on a third sheet, in the Accademia at Venice, Pl. LV; a coincidence which suggests the probability of such an incident having actually been represented on the cartoon. We are not, it is true, in a position to declare with any certainty which of these three dissimilar sketches may have been the nearest to the group finally adopted in executing the cartoon.
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With regard, however, to one of the groups of horsemen it is possible to determine with perfect certainty not only which arrangement was preferred, but the position it occupied in the composition. The group of horsemen on Pl. LVII is a drawing in black chalk at Windsor, which is there attributed to Leonardo, but which appears to me to be the work of Cesare da Sesto, and the Commendatore Giov. Morelli supports me in this view. It can hardly be doubted that da Sesto, as a pupil of Leonardo's, made this drawing from his master's cartoon, if we compare it with the copy made by Raphael--here reproduced,
for just above the fighting horseman in Raphael's copy it is possible to detect a horse which is seen from behind, going at a slower pace, with his tail flying out to the right and the same horse may be seen in the very same attitude carrying a dimly sketched rider, in the foreground of Cesare da Sesto's drawing.
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If a very much rubbed drawing in black chalk at Windsor--Pl. LVI--is, as it appears to be, the reversed impression of an original drawing, it is not difficult to supplement from it the portions drawn by Cesare da Sesto. Nay, it may prove possible to reconstruct the whole of the lost cartoon from the mass of materials we now have at hand which we may regard as the nucleus of the composition. A large pen and ink
drawing by Raphael in the Dresden collection, representing three horsemen fighting, and another, by Cesare da Sesto, in the Uffizi, of light horsemen fighting are a further contribution which will help us to reconstruct it.
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The sketch reproduced on Pl. LV gives a suggestive example of the way in which
foot-soldiers may have been introduced into the cartoon as fighting among the groups of horsemen; and I may here take the opportunity of mentioning that, for reasons which it would be out of place to enlarge upon here, I believe the two genuine drawings by Raphael's hand in his "Venetian sketch-book" as it is called--one of a standard bearer marching towards the left, and one of two foot-soldiers armed with spears and fighting with a horseman--to be undoubtedly copies from the cartoon of the Battle of Anghiari.
Leonardo's two drawings, preserved in the museum at Buda-Pesth and reproduced on pages 338 and 339 are preliminary studies for the heads of fighting warriors. The two heads drawn in black chalk (pg. 338) and the one seen in profile, turned to the left, drawn in red chalk (pg. 339), correspond exactly with those of two horsemen in the scene of the fight round the standard as we see them in Madame Timbal's picture and in the other finished copies. An old copy of the last named drawing by a pupil of Leonardo is in MS. C. A. 187b; 561b (See Saggio, Tav. XXII). Leonardo used to make such finished studies of heads as those, drawn on detached sheets, before beginning his pictures from his drawings--compare the preparatory studies for the fresco of the Last Supper, given on Pl. XLVII and Pl. L. Other drawings of heads, all characterised by the expression of vehement excitement that is appropriate to men fighting, are to be seen at Windsor (No. 44) and at the Accademia at Venice (IV, 13); at the back of one of the drawings at Buda-Pesth there is the bust of a warrior carrying a spear on his left shoulder, holding up the left arm (See Csatakepek a XVI--lk Szazadbol osszeallitotta Pvlszky Karoly). These drawings may have been made for other portions of the cartoon, of which no copies exist, and thus we are unable to identify these preparatory drawings. Finally I may add that a sketch of fighting horse and foot soldiers, formerly in the possession of M. Thiers and published by Charles Blanc in his "Vies des Peintres" can hardly be accepted as genuine. It is not to be found, as I am informed, among the late President's property, and no one appears to know where it now is.
An attempted reconstruction of the Cartoon, which is not only unsuccessful but perfectly unfounded, is to be seen in the lithograph by Bergeret, published in Charles Blanc's "Vies des peintres" and reprinted in "The great Artists. L. da Vinci", p. 80. This misleading pasticcio may now be rejected without hesitation.
There are yet a few original drawings by Leonardo which might be mentioned here as possibly belonging to the cartoon of the Battle; such as the pen and ink sketches on Pl. XXI and on Pl. XXXVIII, No. 3, but we should risk too wide a departure from the domain of ascertained fact.
With regard to the colours and other materials used by Leonardo the reader may be referred to the quotations from the accounts for the picture in question given by Milanesi in his edition of Vasari (Vol. IV, p. 44, note) where we find entries of a similar character to those in Leonardo's note books for the year 1505; S. K. M. 12 (see No. 636).
That Leonardo was employed in designing decorations and other preparations for high festivals, particularly for the court of Milan, we learn not only from the writings of his contemporaries but from his own incidental allusions; for instance in MS. C. l5b (1), l. 9. In the arrangement of the texts referring to this I have placed those first, in which historical personages are named--Nos. 670-674. Among the descriptions of Allegorical subjects two texts lately found at Oxford have been included, Nos. 676 and 677. They are particularly interesting because they are accompanied by large sketches which render the meaning of the texts perfectly clear. It is very intelligible that in other cases, where
there are no illustrative sketches, the notes must necessarily remain obscure or admit of various interpretations. The literature of the time affords ample evidence of the use of such allegorical representations, particularly during the Carnival and in Leonardo's notes we find the Carnival expressly mentioned--Nos. 685 and 704. Vasari in his Life of Pontormo, particularly describes that artist's various undertakings for Carnival festivities. These very graphic descriptions appear to me to throw great light in more ways than one on the meaning of Leonardo's various notes as to allegorical representations and also on mottoes and emblems--Nos. 681-702. In passing judgment on the allegorical sketches and emblems it must not be overlooked that even as pictures they were always accompanied by explanations in words. Several finished drawings of allegorical compositions or figures have been preserved, but as they have no corresponding explanation in the MSS. they had no claim to be reproduced here. The female figure on Pl. XXVI may perhaps be regarded as a study for such an allegorical painting, of which the purport would have been explained by an inscription.