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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 had 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 sce, '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 be 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 bis 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 tires,
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 ;
Jor 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 saontering 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. Wasari, 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 (parii 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 he 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 himn.
In the notes to the carefully prepared edition of Vasari, published by Felice de Monnier, in 1851, under the editorship of a " Societá 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 monient 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 ipfamy;
Among the dregs and offal of mankind,
Vainly I seek an utter wretch to find.
He who for thirty silver coins could sell
His Lord, must be the Devil's miracle.
Padre Bandelli thinks it easy is
To find the type of bim who with a kiss
Betrayed his Lord. Well, what I can I'll do ;
And if it please his reverence and you,
For Judas' face I'm willing to paint his.
Padre Bandelli is a sort of man
Joking apart, whose little round of thought
Is like his life, the measure of a span,
He knows and does the duties he is taught -
Prays, preaches, eats, and sleeps in dull content;
Does the day's work, and deems it excellent;
Says he's a sinner, but we're sinners all,
And puts his own sin down to Adam's fall,
Christ, at the last day, others may reject, —
Poor painters, or great dukes with their state cares;
But that, with all his masses, fasts, and prayers,
A convent's prior should not be elect,
Padre Bandelli has not half a doubt
'Twere a strange heaven, indeed, with him left out.
Ilim the imagination does not tease
With hungry cravings, restless impulses;
Him no despairing days the Furies bring,
No torturing doubts, no anxious questioning;
But day by day his ordered time is spent,
In doing over the same things again.
How should he know the artist's inward strain,
His vexing and fastidious discontent?
Art he considers as a sort of trade,
Like laying bricks: If one can lay a yard
In one good hour, how can it be so hard
In two good hours, that two yards should be laid ?
But, Signor Duca, you can apprehend
The artist's soul — how there is ne'er an end
Of climbing fancies, longings, and desires,
That burn within him like consuming fires;
How, beaten to and fro by joy and pain,
He grasps at shadows he can ne'er retain.
How sweet and fair the inward vision gleams!
How dull and base the painted copy seems!
We are like Danaus' daughters — all in vain
We strive to fill our vases. Human art
Through myriad leaks lets out the spirit's part,
And nothing but the earthy dregs remain.
But who can force the spirit to conceive ?
Its lofty empire is above our will:
Trained though we be, we only can fulfill
Its orders, and a joyous welcome give.
Oft when the music waits, the room is decked,