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Padre Bandelli Proses to the Duke Ludovico Sforza, dc.
PADRE BANDELLI PROSES TO THE DUKE LUDOVICO SFORZA ABOUT
LEONARDO DA VINCI.
Two steps, your Highness—let me go before,
And let some light down this dark corridor-
Ser Leonardo keeps the only key
To the main entrance here so jealously,
That we must creep in at this secret door
If we his great Cenacolo would see.
The work shows talent—that I must confess;
The heads, too, are expressive, every one;
But, with his idling and fastidiousness,
I fear his picture never will be done.
I pray your Highness' pardon for my zeal-
Were it for sake of us poor Frati here,
Despite the inconvenience we must feel,
Kept out from our refectory now a year
And eight long months (though that, of course, for us
Whose lives to mortify the flesh are vowed,
Even to mention seems ridiculous)
Were it for us alone, we all had bowed ;
But when we see your Highness set at nought,
Who ordered this great picture to be wrought,
We cannot rest content, for well we know
What duty to our gracious prince we owe.
And I, the unworthy prior here—(God knows
How much I feel my own unworthiness,
But He hath power the meanest hand to bless;
And if our convent prospereth in aught,
Not mine, but His, the praise, who all bestows)
But being the prior and the head, and so
Charged to your interests and theirs, I thought
My duty-an unpleasant one, in sooth-
Was simply to acquaint you with the truth,
And pray your Highness with your eyes to see
How things go on in our refectory;
And then your Highness only has to say
Unto this painter—“Sir, no more delay!”
And all is done, for you he must obey.
'Tis twenty months since first upon the wall
This Leonardo smoothed his plaster—then
He spent two months ere he began to scrawl
His figures, which were scarcely outlined, when
Some new fit seized him, and he spoilt them all.
As he began the first month that he came,
So he went on, month after month the same.
At times, when he had worked from morn to night
For weeks and weeks on some apostle's head,
In one hour, as it were from sudden spite,
He'd wipe it out. When I remonstrated,
Saying, “Ser Leonardo, you erase
More than you leave—that's not the way to paint;
Before you finish we shall all be dead ;"
Smiling he turns (he has a pleasant face,
Though he would try the patience of a saint
With all his wilful ways), and calmly said,
“I wiped it out, because it was not right;
I wish it bad been, for your sake, no less
Than for this pious convent's; and indeed,
The simple truth, good Padre, to confess,
I've not the least objection to succeed :
But I must please myself as well as you,
Since I must answer for the work I do."
There was St John's head, that I verily thought
He'd never finish. Twenty times at least
I thought it done, but still he wrought and wrought,
Defaced, remade, until at last he ceased
To work at all—went off and locked the door-
Was gone three days—then came and sat before
The picture full an hour-then calmly rose
And scratched out in a trice the mouth and nose.
This is sheer folly, as it seems to me,
Or worse than folly. Does your Highness pay
A certain sum to him for every day?
If so, the reason's very clear to see.
No? Then his brain is touched, assuredly.
At last, however, as you see, 'tis done-
All but our Lord's head, and the Judas there.
A month ago he finished the St John,
And has not touched it since, that I'm aware;
And now, he neither seems to think or care
About the rest, but wanders up and down
The cloistered gallery in his long dark gown,
Picking the black stones out to step upon,
Or through the garden paces listlessly
With eyes fixed on the ground, hour after hour,
While now and then he stoops and picks a flower,
And smells it, as it were, abstractedly.
What he is doing is a plague to me!
Sometimes he stands before yon orange-pot,
His hands behind him, just as if he saw
Some curious thing upon its leaves, and then,
With a quick glance, as if a sudden thought
Had struck his mind, there, standing on the spot,
He takes a little tablet out to draw,
Then, muttering to himself, walks on agen.
He is the very oddest man of men !
Brother Anselmo tells me that the book
('Twas left by chance upon the bench one day,
And in its leaves our brother got a look)
Is scribbled over with all sorts of things,
Notes about colours, how to mix and lay,
With plans of flying figures, frames for wings,
Caricatures and forts and scaffoldings,
The skeletons of men and beasts and birds,
Engines, and cabalistic signs and words,
Some written backwards, notes of music, lyres,
And wheels with boilers under them and fires,
A sort of lute made of a horse's skull,
Sonnets, and other idle scraps of rhyme,-
Of things like this the book was scribbled full.
I pray your Highness, now, is this the way,
Instead of painting every day all day,
For him to trifle with our precious time?
Ah! there he is now-Would your Highness look
Behind that pillar in the furthest nook,
That is his velvet cap and flowing robe.
See how he pulls his beard, as up and down
He seems to count the stones he treads upon!
"Twould irk the patience of the good man Job
To see him idling thus his time away,
As if our Lord and Judas both were done,
And there was nought to do but muse and stray
Along the cloisters. May I dare to pray
Your Highness would vouchsafe one word to say;
For when I speak he only answers me,
“Padre Bandelli, go and say your mass-
That's what you understand and let me pass ;
I am not idle, though I seem to be."
“ Not idle! then I'm nothing but an ass.”
Thus once I spoke, for he annoyed me so;
At which he answered, smiling, “ Oh no, no !
Padre, you're very wise, as all men know."
I mention this to show what pleasant ways
This painter has, and not that I the praise
Accepted as at all deserved by me.
God save us from vain pride, and help us through
Our daily work in due humility!
Not mine the praise for what I have, for He
Hath given all! So I began anew:
“ Not idle! Well, I know not what you do!
You do not paint our picture, that I see.”
To which he said, “A picture is not wrought
By hands alone, good Padre, but by thought.
In the interior life it first must start,
And grow to form and colour in the soul;
There once conceived and rounded to a whole,
The rest is but the handicraft of art.
While I seem idle, then my soul creates;
While I am painting, then my hand translates."
Now this, I say, is nonsense, sheer enough,
Or else a metaphysical excuse
For idleness, and he should not abuse
Your Highness by this sort of canting stuff.
Look at him sauntering there in his long dress-
If he is working, what is idleness?
Not there, your Highness on the other side
Our painter's walking; he you look at now
Is a poor brother, pious, void of pride,
Who there performs a penitential vow.
He, like Ser Leonardo, does not stroll
Idly, but as he walks recites his prayers,
And reads his breviary; and he wears
A haircloth 'neath his serge to save his soul.
Ah! weak is man, he falls in many snares;
And we with prayer must work, would we control
Those idle thoughts where Satan sows his tares.
But, as I was observing, there have passed
Some twenty long and weary months since he
First turned us out of our refectory,
And who knows how much longer this may last ?
Yet if our painter worked there steadily,
I could say nothing; but the work stands still,
While he goes idling round the cloisters' shade.
Pleasant enough for him—but is he paid
For idle dreaming thoughts, or work and skill ?
I crave your pardon ; if I speak amiss,
Your Highness will, I hope, allowance make
That I have spoken for your Highness' sake,
And not that us it inconveniences,
Although it is a scandal to us all
To see this picture half-done on the wall.
A word from your most gracious lips, I feel,
Would greatly quicken Ser Leonardo's zeal,
And we should soon see o'er our daily board,
The Judas finished, and our blessed Lord.
But he approaches, in his hand the book;
Into its pages should your Highness look,
They would amuse you by their strange devices.
Your gracious presence now he recognises;
That smile and bow and lifted cap I see,
Are for his Prince and Patron, not for me.
Note.—There is some difficulty in fixing the exact time during which Leonardo da Vinci was engaged in painting his famous Cenacolo. One date alone seems to be properly established, and this is, that the picture was finished in the latter part of the year 1497, or in the beginning of the year 1498 ; the only question is, when it was begun. Vasari, whose chronology is often very defective, says that Leonardo was brought to Milan after the death of Galeazzo, and the elevation of Ludovico Sforza to the dukedom of Milan, in 1494 ; that, after his arrival, he painted a “ Natività, a tavola," which was sent by the Duke to the Emperor, and then commenced the Cenacolo. L'Amoretti thinks he was engaged on this work several years (varii anni), and Bossi is of opinion that he spent sixteen years on it. This latter supposition is not tenable, for up to the year 1496 his time seems to have been pretty fully occupied on other works. In 1493 he modelled the equestrian statue of Francesco Sforza, a work of great labour and finish. In 1494-95, besides other occupations, he made an “allegoria” for the Duke Ludovico, and painted the portraits of Ludovico il Moro, and his wife and children. In 1496 be made sixty figures for the treatise, ‘De Divina Proportione,' of Fra Luca
Paciolo, and the picture of the Nativity sent to the Emperor. It would, however, seem that he did not go to Milan, as Vasari states, in 1494, but previously, in 1483; but Vasari seems to be correct in stating that the Cenacolo was not begun until after 1494. The opinion of Bossi, that he was engaged sixteen years on the painting, seems to be founded upon the supposition that he was painting on it all the time he was at Milan. This, however, is utterly incorrect, and he must, therefore, be supposed to mean that the picture was in his mind during that period, and that, perhaps, studies of some heads were then made which were afterwards used in it. Within these sixteen years he is known to have painted several important pictures, modelled the equestrian statue of Francesco Sforza, and, besides various works in engineering and mechanics, to have constructed the great canal of the Martesana, which alone is sufficient to immortalise him.
In the notes to the carefully prepared edition of Vasari, published by Felice de Monnier, in 1851, under the editorship of a “ Società de' Amatori delle Belle Arti," there is a chronological view of the life and works of Leonardo appended to Vasari's life, and drawn from Amoretti, Gaye, and other authentic documents, from which it appears that, in 1496, the Cenacolo at Milan was commenced, and in 1498 was finished, giving a period of about two years to the execution of this great work. This statement seems to be the most probable and the best accredited. As Leonardo undoubtedly spent much time in the preparation of the wall, the period actually occupied in the painting seems therefore to have been rather short than long, when the size and exquisite finish of this work are taken into consideration.
LEONARDO DA VINCI POETISES TO THE DUKE IN HIS OWN DEFENCE.
PADRE BANDELLI, then, complains of me
Because, forsooth, I have not drawn a line
Upon the Saviour's head ; perhaps, then, he
Could without trouble paint that head divine.
But think, oh Signor Duca, what should be
The pure perfection of our Saviour's face-
What sorrowing majesty, what noble grace,
At that dread moment when He brake the bread,
And those submissive words of pathos said,
“By one among you I shall be betrayed,”—
And say if ’tis an easy task to find,
Even among the best that walk this earth,
The fitting type of that divinest worth,
That has its image solely in the mind.
Vainly my pencil struggles to express
The sorrowing grandeur of such holiness.
In patient thought, in ever-seeking prayer,
I strive to shape that glorious face within,
But the soul's mirror, dulled and dimmed by sin,
Reflects not yet the perfect image there.
Can the hand do before the soul has wrought ?
Is not our art the servant of our thought?
And Judas, too,—the basest face I see
Will not contain bis utter infamy;