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- The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci, Volume 2 - 1/93 -

The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci

Volume 2

Translated by Jean Paul Richter



The notes on Sculpture.

Compared with the mass of manuscript treating of Painting, a very small number of passages bearing on the practice and methods of Sculpture are to be found scattered through the note books; these are here given at the beginning of this section (Nos. 706-709). There is less cause for surprise at finding that the equestrian statue of Francesco Sforza is only incidentally spoken of; for, although Leonardo must have worked at it for a long succession of years, it is not in the nature of the case that it could have given rise to much writing. We may therefore regard it as particularly fortunate that no fewer than thirteen notes in the master's handwriting can be brought together, which seem to throw light on the mysterious history of this famous work. Until now writers on Leonardo were acquainted only with the passages numbered 712, 719, 720, 722 and 723.

In arranging these notes on sculpture I have given the precedence to those which treat of the casting of the monument, not merely because they are the fullest, but more especially with a view to reconstructing the monument, an achievement which really almost lies within our reach by combining and comparing the whole of the materials now brought to light, alike in notes and in sketches.

A good deal of the first two passages, Nos. 710 and 711, which refer to this subject seems obscure and incomprehensible; still, they supplement each other and one contributes in no small degree to the comprehension of the other. A very interesting and instructive commentary on these passages may be found in the fourth chapter of Vasari's Introduzione della Scultura under the title "Come si fanno i modelli per fare di bronzo le figure grandi e picciole, e come le forme per buttarle; come si armino di ferri, e come si gettino di metallo," &c. Among the drawings of models of the moulds for casting we find only one which seems to represent the horse in the act of galloping--No. 713. All the other designs show the horse as pacing quietly and as these studies of the horse are accompanied by copious notes as to the method of casting, the question as to the position of the horse in the model finally selected, seems to be decided by preponderating evidence. "Il cavallo dello Sforza"--C. Boito remarks very appositely in the Saggio on page 26, "doveva sembrare fratello al cavallo del Colleoni. E si direbbe che questo fosse figlio del cavallo del Gattamelata, il quale pare figlio di uno dei quattro cavalli che stavano forse sull' Arco di Nerone in Roma" (now at Venice). The publication of the Saggio also contains the reproduction of a drawing in red chalk, representing a horse walking to the left and supported by a scaffolding, given here on Pl. LXXVI, No. 1. It must remain uncertain whether this represents the model as it stood during the preparations for casting it, or whether--as seems to me highly improbable--this sketch shows the model as it was exhibited in 1493 on the Piazza del Castello in Milan under a triumphal arch, on the occasion of the marriage of the Emperor Maximilian to Bianca Maria Sforza. The only important point here is to prove that strong evidence seems to show that, of the numerous studies for the equestrian statue, only those which represent the horse pacing agree with the schemes of the final plans.

The second group of preparatory sketches, representing the horse as galloping, must therefore be considered separately, a distinction which, in recapitulating the history of the origin of the monument seems justified by the note given under No. 720.

Galeazza Maria Sforza was assassinated in 1476 before his scheme for erecting a monument to his father Francesco Sforza could be carried into effect. In the following year Ludovico il Moro the young aspirant to the throne was exiled to Pisa, and only returned to Milan in 1479 when he was Lord (Governatore) of the State of Milan, in 1480 after the minister Cecco Simonetta had been murdered. It may have been soon after this that Ludovico il Moro announced a competition for an equestrian statue, and it is tolerably certain that Antonio del Pollajuolo took part in it, from this passage in Vasari's Life of this artist: "E si trovo, dopo la morte sua, il disegno e modello che a Lodovico Sforza egli aveva fatto per la statua a cavallo di Francesco Sforza, duca di Milano; il quale disegno e nel nostro Libro, in due modi: in uno egli ha sotto Verona; nell'altro, egli tutto armato, e sopra un basamento pieno di battaglie, fa saltare il cavallo addosso a un armato; ma la cagione perche non mettesse questi disegni in opera, non ho gia potuto sapere." One of Pollajuolo's drawings, as here described, has lately been discovered by Senatore Giovanni Morelli in the Munich Pinacothek. Here the profile of the horseman is a portrait of Francesco Duke of Milan, and under the horse, who is galloping to the left, we see a warrior thrown and lying on the ground; precisely the same idea as we find in some of Leonardo's designs for the monument, as on Pl. LXVI, LXVII, LXVIII, LXIX and LXXII No. 1; and, as it is impossible to explain this remarkable coincidence by supposing that either artist borrowed it from the other, we can only conclude that in the terms of the competition the subject proposed was the Duke on a horse in full gallop, with a fallen foe under its hoofs.

Leonardo may have been in the competition there and then, but the means for executing the monument do not seem to have been at once forthcoming. It was not perhaps until some years later that Leonardo in a letter to the Duke (No. 719) reminded him of the project for the monument. Then, after he had obeyed a summons to Milan, the plan seems to have been so far modified, perhaps in consequence of a remonstrance on the part of the artist, that a pacing horse was substituted for one galloping, and it may have been at the same time that the colossal dimensions of the statue were first decided on. The designs given on Pl. LXX, LXXI, LXXII, 2 and 3, LXXIII and LXXIV and on pp. 4 and 24, as well as three sketches on Pl. LXIX may be studied with reference to the project in its new form, though it is hardly possible to believe that in either of these we see the design as it was actually carried out. It is probable that in Milan Leonardo worked less on drawings, than in making small models of wax and clay as preparatory to his larger model. Among the drawings enumerated above, one in black chalk, Pl. LXXIII--the upper sketch on the right hand side, reminds us strongly of the antique statue of Marcus Aurelius. If, as it would seem, Leonardo had not until then visited Rome, he might easily have known this statue from drawings by his former master and friend Verrocchio, for Verrocchio had been in Rome for a long time between 1470 and 1480. In 1473 Pope Sixtus IV had this antique equestrian statue restored and placed on a new pedestal in front of the church of San Giovanni in Luterano. Leonardo, although he was painting independently as early as in 1472 is still spoken of as working in Verrocchio's studio in 1477. Two years later the Venetian senate decided on erecting an equestrian statue to Colleoni; and as Verrocchio, to whom the work was entrusted, did not at once move from Florence to Venice--where he died in 1488 before the casting was completed--but on the contrary remained in Florence for some years, perhaps even till 1485, Leonardo probably had the opportunity of seeing all his designs for the equestrian statue at Venice and the red chalk drawing on Pl. LXXIV may be a reminiscence of it.

The pen and ink drawing on Pl. LXXII, No. 3, reminds us of Donatello's statue of Gattamelata at Padua. However it does not appear that Leonardo was ever at Padua before 1499, but we may conclude that he took a special interest in this early bronze statue and the reports he could procure of it, form an incidental remark which is to be found in C. A. 145a; 432a, and which will be given in Vol. II under Ricordi or Memoranda. Among the studies--in the widest sense of the word--made in preparation statue we may include the Anatomy of the Horse which Lomazzo and Vas mention; the most important parts of this work still exist in the Queen's Li Windsor. It was beyond a doubt compiled by Leonardo when at Milan; only interesting records to be found among these designs are reproduced in Nos. 716a but it must be pointed out that out of 40 sheets of studies of the movements of the belonging to that treatise, a horse in full gallop occurs but once.

If we may trust the account given by Paulus Jovius--about l527-- Leonardo's horse was represented as "vehementer incitatus et anhelatus". Jovius had probably seen the model exhibited at Milan; but, need we, in fact, infer from this description that the horse was galloping? Compare Vasari's description of the Gattamelata monument at Padua: "Egli [Donatello] vi ando ben volentieri, e fece il cavallo di bronzo, che e in sulla piazza di Sant Antonio, nel quale si dimostra lo sbuffamento ed il fremito del cavallo, ed il grande animo e la fierezza vivacissimamente espressa dall'arte nella figura che lo cavalca".

These descriptions, it seems to me, would only serve to mark the difference between the work of the middle ages and that of the renaissance.

We learn from a statement of Sabba da Castiglione that, when Milan was taken by the French in 1499, the model sustained some injury; and this informant, who, however is not invariably trustworthy, adds that Leonardo had devoted fully sixteen years to this work (la forma del cavallo, intorno a cui Leonardo avea sedici anni continui consumati). This often-quoted passage has given ground for an assumption, which has no other evidence to support it, that Leonardo had lived in Milan ever since 1483. But I believe it is nearer the truth to suppose that this author's statement alludes to the fact that about sixteen years must have past since the competition in which Leonardo had taken part.

I must in these remarks confine myself strictly to the task in hand and give no more of the history of the Sforza monument than is needed to explain the texts and drawings I have been able to reproduce. In the first place, with regard to the drawings, I may observe that they are all, with the following two exceptions, in the Queen's Library at Windsor Castle; the red chalk drawing on Pl. LXXVI No. 1 is in the MS. C. A. (see No. 7l2) and the fragmentary pen and ink drawing on page 4 is in the Ambrosian Library. The drawings from Windsor on Pl. LXVI have undergone a trifling reduction from the size of the originals.

There can no longer be the slightest doubt that the well-known engraving of several horsemen (Passavant, Le Peintre-Graveur, Vol. V, p. 181, No. 3) is only a copy after original drawings by

The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci, Volume 2 - 1/93

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