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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
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,”-
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;
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.
Him 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 fulfil
Its orders, and a joyous welcome give.
Oft when the music waits, the room is decked,
And hope looks out from the expectant breast
Vainly we wait to greet the invited guest.
Oft when its presence least our souls expect,
Sudden, unsummoned, there it stands, as Eve
Stood before Adam,—as in twilight sky
The first young star-half joy, half mystery.
The wilful work built by the conscious brain
Is but the humble handicraft of art;
It has its growth in toil, its birth in pain.
The Imagination, silent and apart
Above the Will, beyond the conscious eye,
Fashions in joyous ease and as in play
Its fine creations,—mixing up alway
The real and the ideal, heaven and earth,
Darkness and sunshine; and then, pushing forth
Sudden upon our world of consciousness
Its world of wonder, leaves to us the stress,
By patient art, to copy its pure grace,
And catch the perfect features of its face.
From hand to spirit must the human chain
Be closely linked, and thence to the divine
Stretch up, through feeling its electric line,
To draw heaven down, or all our art is vain.
For in its loftiest mood the soul obeys
A higher power that shapes our thoughts, and sways
Their motions, when by love and strong desire
We are uplifted. From a source unknown
The power descends—with its ethereal fire
Inflames us—not possessing but possessed
We do its bidding ; but we do not own
The grace that in those happy hours is given,
More than its strings the music of the lyre-
More than the shower the rainbow lent by heaven.
Nature and man are only organ-keys-
Mere soundless pipes—despite our vaunted skill-
Till, with its breath, the power above us fill
The stops, and touch us to its harmonies.
Oh Signor Duca, as the woman bears
Her child not in a moment nor a day,
So doth the soul the germ that God doth lay
Within it, with as many pains and cares.
From the whole being it absorbs and draws
Its form and life-on all we are and see
It feeds by subtle sympathetic laws;
Each sense it stirs, it fires each faculty
To hunt the outer world, and thence to seize
Food for assimilation. By degrees
Perfect it grows at last in every part,
And then is born into the world of art.
In facile natures fancies quickly grow,
But such quick fancies have but little root.