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WITH LEONARDO DA VINCI 319
if he declines, you might at least induce him to paint us a little picture of the Madonna, as sweet and holy as his own nature. Will you also beg him to send us another drawing of our portrait, since our illustrious lord has given away the one which he left here? For all of which we shall be no less grateful to you than to Leonardo." Mantua, March 27, 1501.
TheCarmelite Vicar-General replied without delay: "Most illustrious and excellent Lady,—I have just received Your Excellency's letter, and will obey your orders with the utmost speed and diligence. But, from what I hear, Leonardo's manner of life is very changeable and uncertain, so that he seems to live for the day only. Since he has been in Florence, he has only made one sketch—a cartoon of a child Christ, about a year old, almost jumping out of his mother's arms to seize hold of a lamb. The mother is in the act of rising from S. Anna's lap, and holds back the child from the lamb, an innocent creature, which is a symbol of the Passion, while S. Anna, partly rising from her seat, seems anxious to restrain her daughter, which may be a type of the Church, who would not hinder the Passion of Christ. These figures are as large as life, but are drawn on a small cartoon, because they are represented either seated or bending down, and one stands a little in front of the other, towards the left. And this sketch is not yet finished. He has done nothing else, excepting that two of his apprentices are painting portraits to which he sometimes adds a few touches. He is working hard at geometry, and is quite tired of painting. I only write this that Your Excellency may know I have received your letters. I will do your commission, and let you know the result very soon, and may God 320 CARTOON FOR THE SERVI
keep you in His grace.—Your obedient servant, Fr. Petrus Novellara, Carm. Vic-Gen."1 Florence, April 3, 1501.
The letter is of great importance, both as showing Leonardo's absorption in geometrical studies, and giving a description of the famous cartoon which he drew for the Servi friars, and which not only filled all the artists with admiration, but brought crowds of men and women to the convent hall, where this masterpiece was exhibited during two days. "The whole city was stirred," wrote Vasari, "and you might have fancied that you saw a procession on some solemn feast day." And Girolamo da Casio, the Bologna poet, with whom Isabella was in constant correspondence, wrote a sonnet on the cartoon which had moved all Florence to wonder.
Ten days later the Carmelite friar wrote again to tell Isabella the result of his efforts:—
"This Holy Week I have succeeded in learning the painter Leonardo's intentions by means of his pupil, Salai, and some of his other friends, who, to make them more fully known to me, took me to see him on Wednesday in Holy Week. In truth, his mathematical experiments have absorbed his thoughts so entirely that he cannot bear the sight of a paint-brush. But I endeavoured as skilfully as I could to inform him of Your Excellency's wish. Then, finding him well disposed to gratify you, I spoke frankly to him on the subject, and we came to this conclusion: if he can, as he hopes, end his engagement with the King of France without displeasing him by the end of a month at latest, he would rather serve Your Excellency than any other LEONARDO'S MADONNA 321
1 Luzio, / Precettori, App.
person in the world. But, in any case, as soon as he has finished a little picture which he is painting for a certain Kobertet, a favourite of the King of France, he will do your portrait immediately and send it to you. I left two good petitioners with him. The little picture which he is painting is a Madonna, seated as if at work with her spindle, while the Child, with His foot on the basket of spindles, has taken up the winder, and looks attentively on the four rays in the shape of a cross, as if wishing for the cross, and holds it tight, laughing, and refusing to give it to His mother, who tries in vain to take it from Him. This is all I have been able to settle with the master. I preached my sermon yesterday. God grant it may bring forth much fruit, for the hearers were numerous. I commend myself to Your Excellency. —Frater Petrus De Novellara." Florence, April 14, 1501.1
Leonardo's promises, however, remained as usual unfulfilled, and hearing no more of her Madonna, or portrait, in July Isabella wrote to Manfredo de Manfredi, her father's envoy at Florence, begging him to deliver a letter which she had written into the master's own hands.
On the 30th, Manfredi replied:—
"I have given Your Excellency's letter to Leonardo, the Florentine. I delivered it myself into his own hands, telling him that I would take charge of 322 LORENZO DEI MEDICI'S VASES
1 This letter is quoted by M. Muntz, "Leonardo da Vinci," ii 121; but the date of April 10, 1503, which he borrows from Calvi's life of the master, is clearly wrong. D. Richter and Signor Solmi give April 4, 1501, as the correct date; but since Easter Day fell on the 11th of April in that year, Wednesday in Holy Week must have been the 7th, and the letter was probably written on the 14th.
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any letter which he might wish to send in answer, and would see that it was faithfully delivered to you. Leonardo replied that he would send an answer shortly, and hoped to be able to oblige Your Excellency. But, since no letter came, I sent again to ask his intentions, and he replied that all he could say for the moment was that I might send you word that he had begun to do what Your Highness desired. This is all that I have been able to obtain from the said Leonardo."
A few months later, on the 3rd of May 1502, Isabella, hearing that certain vases which had belonged to Lorenzo dei Medici were for sale, wrote to her agent, Francesco Malatesta, desiring him to show these vases to some competent person, "such, for instance, as Leonardo, the painter, who used to live at Milan, and is a friend of ours, if he is in Florence, and consult him as to their beauty and quality." This was a task quite to Leonardo's taste, and he did not hesitate to give the Marchesa the benefit of his opinion on the precious vases.
"I have shown them to Leonardo Vinci, the painter," wrote Malatesta on the 12th of May, "as Your Highness desired. He praises all of them, but especially the crystal vase, which is all of one piece and very fine, and has a silver-gilt stand and cover; and Leonardo says that he never saw a finer thing. The agate one also pleases him, because it is a rare thing and of large size, and is all in one piece, excepting the stand and cover, which are silver-gilt; but it is cracked. That of amethyst, or, as Leonardo calls it, of jasper, is transparent and of variegated colours, and has a massive gold stand, studded with so many pearls and rubies that they PRAISED BY LEONARDO 323
are valued at 150 ducats. This greatly pleased Leonardo, as being something quite new, and exquisite in colour. All four have Lorenzo Medici's name engraved in Roman letters on the body of the vase, and are valued at a very high price: the crystal vase, at 350 ducats; the jasper vase, set with gems, at 240 ducats; the agate vase, at 200 ducats ; and the jasper vase, on a plain silver stand, at 150 ducats."1
At the same time Malatesta enclosed coloured drawings of the four vases, in order that Isabella might make her choice, only regretting that it was impossible for any painter to reproduce the beautiful lustre which charmed the eyes of Leonardo.
The prices of those rare works of art were probably beyond the Marchesa's means in this expensive year, when Lucrezia Borgia's wedding and her visit to Venice had exhausted her treasury, but Leonardo's praises must have filled her with longing to add them to her collection. She had not yet given up all hope of obtaining a picture from the Florentine master, and two years afterwards, when Leonardo was at work on the cartoon of the Battle of Anghiari for the Council Hall in the Palazzo Pubblico, this indefatigable princess once more returned to the charge. This time she wrote a charming letter to Leonardo, which she sent to the merchant Angelo del Tovaglia, whose villa had excited the envy of the Marquis some years before, and who was now engaged in conducting negotiations on her part with Perugino.
"Since we desire exceedingly," she wrote to Angelo on the 14th of May 1504, "to have some work by the hand of Leonardo Vinci, whom we
1 Luzio, Arch. Stor. dell' Arte, i. 181.