“As a kingdom divided among itself is destroyed, so a mind divided among different studies is confused and weakened.” (61)

With these words Leonardo da Vinci sets himself apart from other Renaissance thinkers seeking to explore as much of the surrounding world as possible. However, this bold statement also serves as a direct contradiction to da Vinci’s multifaceted journey through life. Although he is most well known as a great painter, da Vinci experimented in and wrote about a plethora of other fields including zoology, linguistics, anatomy, geology and philosophy. The diary that I used in writing this paper contains thoughts on most of the topics listed above, however its ultimate purpose in being written was to serve as a collection of thoughts to be organized into a coherent philosophy on life. With this wish, expressed by da Vinci in his foreword, firmly in mind, it will be my endeavor to organize, within the specifications of the assignment, some of the ideas presented in this volume. Furthermore, in my reading and analysis of the text I uncovered a fundamental paradox involving the relationship between da Vinci’s moral philosophy on life and the implications of his actual life’s work-- a struggle to reconcile the painter with the scientist. It is my hope to bring this paradox to light and illustrate its effect on his life.


Perhaps da Vinci’s greatest contribution to the development of the intellectual tradition was his system of scientific thought. Da Vinci’s lack of a formal education did not allow him the opportunity to study the texts held in reverence by the intellectual elite. It was this mistreatment that contributed to the relatively sour view of man held by him. Contrary to the reliance on authority propounded by the humanists of his day, da Vinci embraced a different, much ridiculed basis for knowledge--experience. Popular scientific theory held that the only true knowledge was that which originated in and was proven by the mind. Da Vinci upheld followers of this false science, alchemists and necromancers, as the worst possible example of this method’s shortcomings:

“Mental things that have not been derived through the senses are vain, and nothing but harmful truth is born of them…This happens and will happen throughout eternity to the alchemists, who seek to create gold and silver; to those who endeavor to make dead water come alive and create perpetual motion; and to the most stupid, necromancers and magicians.” (26)

Finding the idea that man can essentially create truth to be absurd, da Vinci looked to nature for his purposes. Observation and exploration of the world through the senses was to him the only valid source of truth.

“You who live on dreams take more pleasure in sophistry and in deceptive discussion about grandiose and uncertain things than in reasoning about natural things which, though not so lofty, are certain.” (62)

This disdain for the philosophical arguments held so dear by members of the Platonic Academy is expressed in several other passages throughout the diary, and is carried over to those critics who would condemn da Vinci for his lack of education. These critics are the same scholars who relied upon the works of others and were classified by da Vinci as “animals.” Eventually, this belief in the supremacy of empirically based knowledge would lead to an insistence upon the infallibility of mathematics.

“There is no certainty where one of the mathematical sciences can not be applied or where there is no bond with mathematics.” (29)

In order to prove the validity and superiority of his method, da Vinci relied on repeated experimentation to confirm and reconfirm his theories. It was his belief that the aim of science was to discover the causes of tangible effects in the material world.

“Before I go any further I shall perform an experiment, for my intention is first to cite an experiment and then by reason to demonstrate why it is constrained to work as it does.
This is the rule by which those who speculate on natural effects must proceed. Though nature begins with reason and ends with experiment, we must follow the opposite course; we must (as I said earlier) begin with an experiment and with that investigate the reason.” (27)

Given his fascination with the world around him it should come as little surprise that da Vinci turned his attention toward the Heavens. Using his empirical method, da Vinci took to debunking various theories set forth by his contemporaries. For example, it was a popular thought that moon spots were the result of a transparency in the moon’s surface. When the sun shines on a transparent section the inner depths of the moon would be revealed as spots. Da Vinci claimed that, if this were true, moon spots would continually change in magnitude. However, he noted that “during the full moon the sun would light the transparent part, and since no shadows could be created, the moon would not show us its spots.” We know now these spots to be craters caused by asteroid collisions, and not the result of any transparency. (48)

These deviances from popular theory are minor in comparison to da Vinci’s greatest cosmological insight. From the diary it is easy to ascertain that his observations led to inklings of a heliocentric view of the solar system.

“The earth is not in the middle of the circle of the sun nor in the middle of the world but rather in the middle of its elements…” (47)

Tradition was the most likely reason for da Vinci’s hesitation at publishing these thoughts. With the church’s power over society exerting the constant pressure to conform, he eventually turned back to a geocentric way of thinking.

His understanding of the method of science is amply illustrated in his anatomical studies. Through the dissection of several corpses recorded in the diary we are offered insights into da Vinci’s dedication to his science. The accuracy of these sketches makes them instructive even today. It is in his discussions of anatomy that da Vinci begins to reveal his views on the essence of man.

“ Man differs from the animals only in unnatural ways. He appears to be divine because, where nature stops producing her species, here man begins with the aid of nature to make numberless species from natural things; self-sufficient animals, on the contrary, are not disposed to look for such things since they find them unnecessary.” (52)


Throughout the diary there are scattered references made to God, however these do not seem to be as sincere as they sound. Despite the presence of several places which denote the high authority of God, the evidence seems to point to a view of nature as being the true source of all that can be considered divine. There are several passages in which nature is described as having creative powers; powers usually assigned to a supernatural deity.

“Nature is venturesome and takes pleasure in forever creating new living forms, for she knows that these increase her earthly substance. She is willing and able to create more than time can destroy; for this reason she has ordained that some animals must serve as food for others.” (63)

Blatant religious allusions therefore become apologia designed to thwart church figures eager to point out a heretic. One such passage where this usage of religious aspirations as a mask for true intentions is illustrated is entitled “The Wisdom of Nature.” It begins:

“Although the human mind makes various inventions and finds various instruments to answer the same purpose, it will never find inventions more beautiful, simple, and economical than those of nature; in her inventions nothing is missing; nothing superfluous…” (64)

It is essential to note here two characteristics usually given to God: the apparent superiority of nature to man and the repetitive description of nature as a creative force. Da Vinci then goes on to list several other redeeming features of nature before stating that “The rest of the definition of the soul I leave to the minds of the monks, fathers of the people, who through inspiration know all secrets.” Keeping in mind da Vinci’s well-documented distaste for revelatory knowledge, the insincerity of this final admission is clear.

Another area in which da Vinci’s conception of the divinity of nature is revealed lies in his writings on painting. It is important to note here that painting was considered at the time to be a low profession worthy of only scant attention by nobility. This prejudice was a result of Plato’s Mimetic Theory of Art, which held that art, as an imperfect imitation of nature, was not a worthy endeavor because of its inability to truly create. Da Vinci, however, saw things differently. In “The Art of Painting” he states that there is a divine element in painting which changes the painter’s mind into a likeness of the divine mind. With this creative power imbued upon the artist it becomes possible to draw “not only the works of nature but also countless other works not made by nature.” (55)

Nature again plays an integral role in the importance assigned to painting. According to da Vinci, whoever despises painting does not appreciate philosophy in nature. Those who despise painting “despise an invention that considers all qualities of forms philosophically and with subtle deliberation: air and landscapes, plants, animals, herbs and flowers girdled by shadow and light.” (55) As a philosophical aid, painting becomes “the granddaughter of nature and the close relative of God.” These parallels drawn between nature and the divine contributed to da Vinci’s revulsion against the growing separation between man and nature.

“The ambitious who are not satisfied with the gift of life or the beauty of the world are forced to do penance: to them this life is torture, and they are denied the use and beauty of this world.” (67)

Da Vinci seems to have viewed this exploitative split from nature as a sign of man’s utter stupidity. As we force ourselves with greater urgency upon this divine element, we lose the perspective of being an organic part of the planet we inhabit. No matter what the human race may invent, they will never surpass the glories of nature. This argument was one of da Vinci’s main criticisms held against the alchemists of his time. In a passage titled “Creativity in Nature and in Man” he raises a challenge against those who would attempt to create gold:

“If foolish greed causes you to make such a mistake, why not go to the mines where nature produces gold and there become her disciple?” (24)

Man’s desire to raise himself above that which has been naturally provided for him serves here as more of a curse than a blessing. A passage on freedom actively questions man’s position in the hierarchy of sentient life. Animals, da Vinci argues, use nature productively and moderately, while humans “praise heaven after they have rashly injured their fatherland and the human race?” (70) In a selection of riddles later in the diary, man becomes a rapist, through tilling of the soil, a misogynist, through thrashing of grain, and a spoiled child who wastes the food given to them. This romantic view of man as a despoiling plague upon the earth contrasts sharply against the faith placed in techne during the High Renaissance.

Man’s careless usage of nature was not the only factor that caused da Vinci to characterize a large percentage of the population as beasts. In his writings on the proper way to live one’s life da Vinci takes on an almost Oriental way of thinking. Aphorisms endorsing mastery over one’s impulses and the avoidance of suffering are nearly Buddhist in nature. (67) Da Vinci comes across as a staunch believer in the idea that men create their own misery for themselves.

“Here pleasure and remorse are shown as twins because they are never separated from each other…They are also grafted on the same body because they have the same basis; the basis of pleasure is suffering with remorse, and the basis of remorse is vain, lascivious pleasure.” (70)

Later riddles written in the form of prophetic visions “foretell” the anxieties that money will bring on human life. Those who pursue it will forever suffer from not attaining their goal, and those who do not have it will suffer for want and distress. (77) Da Vinci attacks in the same section the institution of the church.

“Many there will be who leave behind the work and sorrow and poverty of life and worldly goods and will go to dwell in rich, stately buildings, alleging that this is the means of becoming the friend of God.” (79)

He proceeds to preach against the sale of indulgences and various other means through which man makes himself miserable. For a summing up of da Vinci’s decidedly pessimistic vision of mankind and their effect upon the earth, I will cease my role as interpreter and let the philosopher speak for himself:

“There will be seen on the earth animals which constantly fight among themselves, inflicting great harm and frequently death on each other. Their enmity will know no bounds; their savage members will fell a great part of the trees in the vast forests of the world; and after they gorge themselves, they will continue to feed on their desire to inflict death and suffering and sorrow and fear and flight on all living creatures. Through their measureless pride they will seek to raise themselves to heaven, but the excessive weight of their members will hold them fast to the earth. Nothing will remain on the earth or under the earth and water that is not pursued, chased down, or destroyed; and it will be chased from country to country. Their bodies will be the grave and passageway of all the living bodies which they have killed.
O world, why do you not open and hurl into the deep clefts of your abysses and caverns and no longer show to heaven such cruel and heartless monsters?” (78)


Clearly, Leonardo da Vinci was a man of many conflicts. In accordance with the burning desire a scientist feels toward uncovering new knowledge, da Vinci followed his adherence to a ridiculed empirical basis for truth to the conception and creation of many inventions. Conversely, his romantic yearning for a closer symbiosis with nature inspired his general philosophy on life and filled his paintings with a poetic concentration on detail. Despite his triumphs, however, da Vinci’s embittered, misanthropic views toward mankind caused him to live like a hermit, and he died thinking of himself as a failure. Perhaps if he could witness the effects of his life’s work on the modern consciousness da Vinci’s negative thoughts could be somehow assuaged.

A short biography of Leonardo da Vinci, in factoid form:

  • Born the 15th of April, 1452 in Anchio, Italy. He died on the 2nd of May, 1519, In Amboise Italy. His friend Vasari writes of an illness before death.
  • He was a bastard. His father was the minor noble Ser Piero, his mother a peasant named Catarina. He was raised by his father.
  • He had 17 half-brothers and half-sisters.
  • At age 15, apprenticed to Andrea del Verrochio in Florance.
  • Some of his paintings (such as one of the angels in The Baptism of Christ) was so finely painted, that the brushstrokes are undetectable, even using modern X-ray techniques. Under X-ray, the angel's face appears blank. Verrochio claimed it was because of Leonardo's skills that he retired from painting (he did, however continue his other activities such as sculpture).
  • In June of 1472, Leonardo was listed in the Red Book of painters of Florence. In it, he is listed by his native name Lionardo.
  • Leonardo was supposedly a very handsome man, strong and quick, and had a good singing voice.
  • He kept to a strict vegetarian diet, with lots of exercise and water.
  • With the help of Niccolo Machiavelli, Leonardo landed a commission to paint the Battle of Anghiari
  • A custom of the time was to have a box in front of the Palazzo Vecchio for anonymous accusitions of a variety of charges. On the 8th of April, 1476, Leonardo and four others were accused of crimes. Leonardo was accused of having a homosexual affair with a model named Jacopo Saltarelli. He was acquitted of the charge, though there is no other mention of Leonardo's sexual orientation.
  • After attaining his pension and title from Francis I, he developed paralisis in his right hand. This did not stop him from teaching and increasing the pages in his notebooks (mostly drawings such as The Deluge).
  • Bill Gates purchased the Codex Leicester, only one of Leonardo's notebooks. Containing some 18 large sheets of paper, the Leicester is typical of Leonardo's tretises.
  • Leonardo finished few of his projects. The few that he did (the Mona Lisa, for example) are very well known, but the ones he didn't faded into history (such as the Sforza Horse)
  • Though some say he used mirror writing to hide his secrets, another popular theory was that Leonard wrote that way because it made it easier while writing with his left hand. While he could use his hands independantly of each other, it is said he was born left-handed.

Sources: How to think like Leonardo da Vinci, "Leonardo da Vinci - Renaissance Man" and a biography site by Martin Kasual

An original e-text - Little Journeys to the Homes of Eminent Artists, by Elbert Hubbard. I took the book, scanned all the pages from a copy of the 1907 edition, OCR'd them, edited out all the noise, formatted it, added links - thus this text is only available on e2. The writeups have been formatted in a manner such that they appear similar to the original. Spellings are sometimes different from those used in contemporary English. Horizontal rules mark page breaks. Numbers aligned to the right are page numbers.

Table of Contents

Part two is the Raphael - Part four is Sandro Botticelli.


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The world, perhaps, contains no other example of a genius so universal as Leonardo's, so creative, so incapable of self -contentment, so athirst for the infinite, so naturally refined, so far in advance of his own and subsequent ages. His pictures express incredible sensibility and mental power; they overflow with unexpressed ideas and emotions. Alongside of his portraits Michael Angelo's personages are simply heroic athletes; Raphael's virgins are only placid children whose souls are still asleep. His beings feel and think through every line and trait of their physiognomy. Time is necessary to enter into communion with them; not that their sentiment is too slightly marked, for, on the contrary, it emerges from the whole investiture; but it is too subtle, too complicated, too far above and beyond the ordinary, too dream-like and inexplicable.

TAINE in A Journey through Italy.

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THERE is a little book by George B Rose, entitled Renaissance Masters, which is quite worth your while to read. I carried a copy, for company in the side pocket of my coat for a week and just peeped into it at odd times. I remember that I thought so little of the volume that I read it with a lead pencil and marked it all up and down and over and filled the fly leaves with random. thoughts and disfigured the margins with a few foolish sketches.

Then one fine day White Pigeon came out to the Roycroft Shop from Buffalo, as she was passing through. She came on the two o'clock train and went away on the four o'clock, and her visit was like a window flung open to the azure.

White Pigeon remained at East Aurora


only two hours, - "not long enough," she said, "to knock the gold and emerald off the butterfly's beautiful wings."

White Pigeon saw the little book I have mentioned, on my table in the towerroom. She picked it up and turned the leaves aimlessly; then she opened her Boston bag and slipped the book inside, saying as she did so, "You do not mind?"

And I said, "Certainly not."

Then she added "I like to follow in the pathway you have blazed."

That closed the matter so far as the little book was concerned. Save, perhaps, that after I had walked to the station with White Pigeon and she had boarded the car, she stepped out upon the rear platform, and as I stood there at the station watching the train disappear around the curve, White Pigeon reached into the Boston bag, took out the little book and held it up.

That was the last time I saw White Pigeon. She was looking well and strong, and her step, I noticed, was firm and sure, and she carried the crown of her head high and her chin in. It made me carry my chin in, too, just by force of example,

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From the engraving by J. Posselwhite, after the painting by Leonardo da Vinci

<Picture of Leonardo da Vinci>

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I suppose, - so easily are we influenced. When you walk with some folks you slouch along, but others there be who make you feel an upward lift and a skyey gravitation - it is very curious!

Yet I do really believe White Pigeon is forty, or awfully close to it. There are silver streaks among her brown braids and surely the peach-blow has long gone from her check. Then she was awfully tanned-and that little mole on her forehead, and its mate on her chin, stand out more than ever, like the freckles on the face of Alcibiades Roycroft when he has taken on his August russet.

I think White Pigeon must be near forty ! That is the second book she has stolen from me; the other was Max Miffler's Memories, - it was at the Louvre in Paris, August 14, 1895, as we sat on a bench, silent before the Mona Lisa of Leonardo.

This book, Renaissance Masters, I didn't care much for, anyway. I got no information from it, yet it gave me a sort 0' glow-that is all-like that lecture which I heard in my boyhood by Wendell Phillips.


There is only one thing in the book I remember, but that stands out as clearly as the little mole on White Pigeon's forehead. The author said that Leonardo da Vinci invented more useful appliances than any man who ever lived, excepting our own Edison.

I know Edison - he is a most lovable man (because he is himself), very deaf and glad of it, he says, because it saves him from hearing a lot of things he doesn't wish to hear. "It is like this," he once said to me, "deafness gives you a needed isolation; reduces your sensitiveness so things do not disturb or distract; allows you to I concentrate and focus on a thought until you run it down - see?"

Edison is a great Philistine - reads everything I write - has a complete file of the little brownie magazine; and some of the "Little Journeys" I saw he had interlined and marked. I think Edison is one of the greatest men I ever met - he appreciates good things.

I told Edison how this writer, Rose, had compared him with Leonardo. He smiled and said, "Who is Rose?" - then after a little pause continued, "The great man


is one who has been a long time dead - the woods are full of wizards, but not many of them know that," and the wizard laughed softly at his own joke.

What kind of a man was Leonardo? Why he was the same kind of a man as Edison - only Leonardo was thin and tall while Edison is stout. But you and I would be at home with either. Both are classics and therefore essentially modem. Leonardo studied nature at first handshe took nothing for granted-nature was his one book. Stuffy, fussy, indoor professors, - men of awful dignity, frighten folks, cause children to scream, and ladies to gaze in awe; but Leonardo was simple and unpretentious. He was at home in any society, high or low, rich or poor, learned or unleamed - and was quite content to be himself. It's a fine thing to be yourself!

Thackeray once said, "If I had met Shakespeare on the stairs, I know I should have fainted dead away!" I do not believe Shakespeare's presence ever made anybody faint. He was so big that he could well afford to put folks at their ease.

If Leonardo should come to East Aurora,


Bertie, Oliver, Lyle, and I would tramp with him across the fields, and he would carry that leather bag strung across his shoulder, just as he did when in the country. He was a geologist and botanist, and was always collecting things (and forgetting where they were).

We would tramp with him I say, and if the season were right, we would go through orchards, sit under the trees, and eat apples. And Leonardo would talk as he liked to do, and tell why the side of fruit that was towards the sun took on a beautiful colour first; and when an apple fell from the tree he would, so to speak, anticipate Sir Isaac Newton and explain why it fell down and not up.

That leather bag of his, I fear, would get rather heavy before we got back, and probably Oliver and Lyle would dispute the honour of carrying it for him.

Leonardo was once engaged by Caesar Borgia to fortify the kingdom of Romagna. It was a brand new kingdom, presented to the young man by Pope Alexander the Sixth. It was really the Pope who ordered Leonardo to survey the tract and make plans for the fortifications and canals


and all that, - so Leonardo didn't like to refuse. Caesar Borgia had the felicity of being the son of the Pope, but the Pope used to refer to him as his nephew - it was a habit that Popes once had. Pope Alexander also had a daughter, by name, Lucrezia Borgia, sister to Caesar and very much like him, for they took their diversion in the same way.

Leonardo started in to do the work and make plans for fortifications that would be impregnable. He looked the ground over thoroughly, travelling on horseback, and his two servants followed him in a cart drawn by a bull, which Leonardo calmly explains was a "side-wheeler."

Leonardo carried a big sketch book, and as he made plans for redoubts, he made notes to the effect that crows fly in flocks without a leader, and wild ducks have a system and fly V-shape with a leader that changes off from time to time with the privates. Also a waterfall runs the musical gamut, and the water might be separated so to play a tune. Also the leaves turn to gold through oxidation, and robins pair for life.

Leonardo also wrote at this time on


the movements of the clouds, the broken strata of rocks, the fertilisation of flowers, the habits of bees, and a hundred other themes which fill the library of note books that he left.

Meanwhile Caesar Borgia was getting a trifle impatient about the building of his forts. Two years had passed when Caesar and his father met with an accident not uncommon in those times. The precious pair had indulged in their Borgian specialty for the benefit of a certain cardinal, whom they did not warmly admire, though the plot seems to have been chiefly the work of Caesar. By mistake they drank the poisoned wine prepared for the cardinal, and the Pope was cut off amidst a life of usefulness, his son surviving for a worse fate. Pope Julius II. coming upon the scene, speedily dispossessed the Borgians and the idea of the new kingdom was abandoned.

Leonardo evidently did not go into mourning for the Pope. He had a bullock cart loaded with specimens, sketches, and note books, and set to work to sort them out. He was very happy in this employment - being essentially a man of peace


and while he made forts and planned siege guns he was a deal more interested in certain swallows that made nests and glued the work into a most curious and beautiful structure, then tearing up the nest when the young were old enough to fly and puishing the wee birds out to "swim in the air""or perish.

I made some notes about Leonardo's bird observations in the back of that Renaissance book that White Pigeon appropriated. I cannot recall just what they were - I think I'll hunt White Pigeon up the next time I am in Paris, and get the book back.



WHEN that painstaking biographer, Arsene Houssaye, was endeavouring to fix the date of Leonardo da Vinci's birth he interviewed a certain bishop, who waived the matter thus, "Surely what difference does it make, since he had no business to be born at all?" - a very Milesian-like reply.

Houssaye is too sensible a man to waste words with the spiritually obese, and so merely answered in the language of Terence, "I am a man and nothing that is human is alien to me!"

The gentle Erasmus when a boy, was once taunted by a schoolfellow with having "no name." And Erasmus replied, "Then I'll make one for myself." And he did.

No record of Leonardo's birth exists,


but the year is fixed upon in a very curious way. Caterina, his mother, was married one year after his birth. The date of this marriage is proven and the fact that the son of Piero da Vinci was then a year old is also shown. As the marriage occurred in 1453, we simply go back one year and say that Leonardo da Vinci was born in 1452.

Most accounts say that Caterina was a servant in the da Vinci family, but a later and seemingly more authentic writer informs us that she was a governess and teacher of needle work. That her kinsmen hastened her marriage with the peasant, Vacca Accattabriga, seems quite certain; they sought to establish her in a respectable position. And so she acquiesced, and avoided society's displeasure, very much as Lord Bacon escaped disgrace by leaving "Hamlet" upon Shakespeare's doorstep.

This child of Caterina's found a warm welcome in the noble family of his father, From his babyhood he seems to have had the power of winning hearts-he came fresh from God and brought love with him. We even hear a little rustle of


dissent from grandmothers and aunts when his father, Piero da Vinci married, and started housekeeping as did Benjamin Franklin "with a wife and a bouncing boy."

The charm of the child is again revealed in the fact that his stepmother treated him as her own babe, and lavished her love upon him even from her very wedding morn. Perhaps the compliment should go to her, as well as to the child, for the woman whose heart goes out to another woman's babe is surely good quality. And this was the only taste of motherhood that this brave woman knew, for she passed out in a few months.

Fate decreed that Leonardo should have successively four stepmothers, and should live with all of them in happiness and harmony, for he always made his father's house his own.

Leonardo was the idol of his father and all these stepmothers. He had ten half-brothers who alternately boasted of his kinship, and flouted him. Yet nothing could seriously disturb the serenity of his mind. When his father died, without a will, the brothers sought to dispossess


Leonardo of his rights, and we hear of a lawsuit, which was finally compromised. Yet note the magnanimity of Leonardo in his will he leaves bequests to these brothers who had sought to undo him!

Of the life of the mother after her marriage we know nothing. There is a vague reference in Vasari's book to her "large family and growing cares," but whether she knew of her son's career, we cannot say. Leonardo never mentions her, yet one writer has attempted to show that the rare beauty of that mysterious face shown in so many of Leonardo's pictures was modelled from the face of his mother.

No love story comes to us in Leonardo's own life - he never married. Ventura suggests that "on account of his birth, he was indifferent to the divine institution of marriage." But this is pure conjecture. We know that his great contemporaries, Michael Angelo, Raphael, Titian, and Giorgione never married; and we know further that there was a sentiment in the air at that time, that an artist belonged to the Church, and his life, like that of a Priest, was sacred to her service.


Like Sir William Davenant, Leonardo was always proud of the mystery that surrounded his birth - it differentiated him from the mass, and placed him as one set apart. Well might he have used the language put into the mouth of Edmund in King Lear. In one of Leonardo's manuscripts is found an interjected prayer of thankfulness for "the divinity of my birth, and the angels that have guarded my life and guided my feet." This idea of "divinity" is strong in the mind of every great man. He recognises his sonship, and claims his divine parentage. The man of masterly mind is perforce an egotist. When he speaks he says, "Thus saith the Lord." If he did not believe in himself, how could he make others believe in him? Small men are apologetic and give excuses for being on earth, and reasons for staying here so long, and run and peek about to find themselves dishonourable graves. Not so the great souls-the fact that they are here is proof that God sent them. Their actions are regal, their language oracular, their manner affirmative. Leonardo's mental attitude was sublimely gracious


he had no grievance with his Maker-he accepted life, and found it good. "We are all sons of God and it doth not yet appear what we shall be,"



PHILIP GILBERT HAMERTON, who wrote the Intellectual Life, names Leonardo da Vinci as having lived the richest, fullest, and best rounded life of which we know. Yet while Leonardo lived there lived also these: Shakespeare, Cervantes, Columbus, Martin Luther, Savonarola, Loyola, Erasmus, Michael Angelo, Titian, and Raphael. Titans all - giants in intellect and performance, doing and daring, and working such wonders as men never before worked. Writing plays, without thought of posterity, that are to-day the mine from which men work their poetry; producing comedies that are classic; sailing trackless seas and discovering continents; tacking proclamations of defiance on church doors; hunted and exiled for the right of honest


speech; welcoming fierce flames of fagots; falling upon blocks of marble and liberating angels; painting pictures that have inspired millions! But not one touched life at so many points, or revelled so in existence, or was so captain of his soul as was Leonardo da Vinci.

Vasari calls him the "divinely endowed," "showered with the richest gifts as by celestial munificence," and speaks of his countenance thus: "The radiance of his face was so splendidly beautiful that it brought cheerfulness to the hearts of the most melancholy, and his presence was such that his lightest word would move the most obstinate to say 'Yes' or 'No.'"

Bandello, the story teller who was made a Bishop on account of his peculiar talent, had the effrontery to put one of his worst stories, that about the adventures of Fra Lippo Lippi into the mouth of Leonardo. This rough-cast tale, somewhat softened down and hand-polished, served for one of Browning's best known poems. Had Bandello, allowed Botticelli to tell the tale, it would have been much rnore in keeping. Leonardo's days were too full of work to permit of his indulging in the society


of roysterers - his life was singularly dignified and upright.

When about twenty years old Leonardo was a fellow-student with Perugino in the bettega of good old Andrea del Verrocchio. It seems the master painted a group and gave Leonardo the task of drawing in one figure. Leonardo painted in an angelan angel whose grace and subtle beauty stands out, even to-day, like a ray of light. The story runs that good old Verrocchio wept on first seeing it - wept unselfish tears of joy, touched with a very human pathos - his pupil had far surpassed him, and never again did Verrocchio attempt to paint.

In physical strength Leonardo surpassed all of his comrades. "He could twist horseshoes between his fingers, bend bars of iron across his knees, disarm every adversary, and in wrestling, running, vaulting, and swimming he had no equals. He was especially fond of horses, and in the joust often rode animals that had never before been ridden, winning prizes from the most daring."

Brawn is usually purchased at the expense of brain, but not so in this case.


Leonardo was the courtier and diplomat, and all the finer graces were in his keeping, even from boyhood. And a recent biographer has made the discovery that he was called from Florence to the Court of Milan "because he was such an adept harpist, playing and singing his own compositions."

Yet we have the letter written by Leonardo to the Duke of Milan, wherein he commends himself, and in humility tells of a few things he can do. This most precious document is now in the Abrosian Library at Milan. After naming nine items in the way of constructing bridges, tunnels, canals, fortifications, the making of cannon, use of combustibles and explosives -known to him alone-he gets down to things of peace and says:

"I believe I am equalled by no one in architecture in constructing public and private buildings, and in conducting water from one place to another. I can execute sculpture, whether in marble, bronze, or terra cotta, and in drawing and painting I believe I can do as much as any other man, be he who he may. Further, I could engage to execute the bronze statue in memory of your honoured father. And


again, if any of the above mentioned things should appear impossible, or overstated, I am ready to make such performance in any place or at any time to prove to you my power. In humility I thus commend myself to your illustrious house, and am your servant,


And the strange part of all this is that Leonardo could do all he claimed-or he might, if there were a hundred hours in a day and a man did not grow old.

The things he predicted and planned have mostly been done. He knew the earth was round, and understood the orbits of the planets - Columbus knew no more. His scheme of building a canal from Pisa to Florence and diverting the waters of the Arno, was carried out exactly as he had planned, two hundred years after his death.

He knew the expansive quality of steam, the right systems of dredging, the action of the tides, the proper use of levers, screws, and cranes, and how immense weights could be raised and lowered. He placed a new foundation under a church


that was sinking in the sand and elevated the whole stone structure several feet. But when Vasari seriously says he had a plan for moving mountains, (aside from faith) I think we would better step aside and talk of other things.

And all this time that he was working at physics and mathematics, he was painting and modelling in clay, just for recreation.

Then behold the Duke of Milan, the ascetic and profligate, libertine and dreamer, hearing of him and sending straightway for Leonardo because he is "the most accomplished harpist in Italy!"

So Leonardo came and led the dance and the tourney, improvised songs, and planned the fetes and festivals where strange animals turned into birds and gigantic flowers opened, disclosing beautiful girls.

Yet Leonardo found time to plan the equestrian statue of Francisco Sporza, the Duke's father, and finding the subject so interesting he took up the systematic study of the horse, and dived to the depths of horse anatomy in a way that no living man had done before. He dissected the horse, articulated the skeletons of different


breeds for comparison, and then wrote a book upon the subject which is a textbook yet; and meanwhile he let the statue wait. He discovered that in the horse there are rudimentary muscles, and unused organs, - the "water stomach" for instance -thus showing that the horse evolved from a lower form of life-anticipating Darwin by three hundred years.

The Duke was interested in statues and pictures-what he called "results" - he did n't care for speculations or theories, and only a live horse that could run fast interested him. So to keep the peace, the gracious Leonardo painted portraits of the Duke's mistress, posing her as the Blessed Virgin, thus winning the royal favour and getting orders on the keeper of the exchequer. As a result of this Milan period we have the superb portrait now in the Louvre, of Lucrezia Crivelli, who was supposed to be the favourite of the Duke.

But the Duke was a married man, and the good wife must be placated. She turned to religion when her lover's love grew cold, just as women always do - and for her - Leonardo painted the Last


Supper in the dining room of the monastery which was under her special protection, and where she often dined.

The devout lady found much satisfaction in directing the work, which was to be rather general and simply decorative. But the heart of Leonardo warmed to the task and as he worked he planned the most famous painting in the world.

All this time Leonardo had many pupils in painting and sculpture. Soon he founded the Milan Academy of Art. At odd times he made designs for the Duke's workers in silver and gold, drew patterns for the nuns to embroider from, and gave them and the assembled ladies, invited on the order of the Duke's wife, lessons in literature and the gentle art of writing poetry.

The Prior of the monastery watched the work of the Last Supper with impatient eyes. He had given up the room to the lumbering scaffolds, hoping to have all cleaned up and tidy in a month, come Michaelmas. But the month had passed and only blotches of color and black, curious outlines marred the walls. Once the Prior threatened to remove the lumber


by force and wipe the walls clean, but Leonardo looked at him and he retreated.

Now he complained to the Duke about the slowness of the task. Leonardo worked alone, allowing no pupil or helper to touch the picture. Five good lively men could do the job in a week - "I could do it myself, if allowed," the good Prior said. Often Leonardo would stand with folded arms and survey the work for an hour at a time and not lift a brush; the Prior had seen it all through the key-hole!

The Duke listened patiently and then summoned Leonardo. The painter's gracious speech soon convinced the Duke that men of genius do not work like hired labourers. This painting was to be a masterpiece, fit monument to a wise and virtuous ruler. So consummate a performance must not be hastened; besides there was no one to pose for either the head of Christ or of Judas. The Christ must be ideal and the face could only be conjured forth from the painter's own soul, in moments of inspiration. As for Judas, " why if nothing better can be found and I doubt it much - I believe I will take as model for Judas our friend the Prior!"


And Leonardo turned to the Prior who fled and never again showed his face in the room until the picture was finished.

The Prior's complaint that Leonardo had too many irons in the fire, was the one universal cry the groundlings raised against him. "He begins things but 'never completes them," they said.

The man of genius conceives things; the man of talent carries them forward to completion. This the critics did not know. It is too much to expect the equal balance genius and talent in one individual. Leonardo had great talent, but his genius outstripped it, for he planned what twenty lifetimes could not complete. He was the experimenter - his was the experimental life. His incentive was self development - to conceive was enough common men could complete. To try many things means Power: to finish a few is Immortality.



THE human face is the masterpiece of God. A woman's smile may have in it more pathos than a battle-scarred landscape; more warmth than the sun's bright rays; more love than words can say.

The human face is the masterpiece of God. The eyes reveal the soul, the mouth the flesh, the chin stands for purpose, the nose means will. But over and behind all is that fleeting something we call "expression." This something is not set or fixed, it is fluid as the ether, changeful as the clouds that move in mysterious majesty across the surface of a summer sky, subtle as the sob of rustling leavestoo faint at times for human ears-elusive as the ripples that play hide and seek over the bosom of a placid lake. And yet


men have caught expression and held it captive.

On the walls of the Louvre hangs the Mona Lisa of Leonardo da Vinci. This picture has been for four hundred years an exasperation and an inspiration to every portrait painter who has put brush to palette. Well does Walter Pater call it, "The Despair of Painters." The artist was over fifty years of age when he, began the work, and he was four years in completing the task.

Completing, did I say? Leonardo's dying regret was that he had not completed this picture. And yet we might say of it, as Ruskin said of Turner's work, "By no conceivable stretch of imagination can we say where this picture could be bettered or improved upon."

Leonardo did not paint this portrait for the woman who sat for it, nor for the woman's husband, who we know was not interested in the matter. The painter made the picture for himself, but succumbing to temptation, sold it to the King of France for a sum equal to something over eighty thousand dollars, - an enormous amount at that time to be paid


for a single canvas. The picture was not for sale, which accounts for the tremendous price that it brought.

Unlike so many other works attributed to Leonardo, no doubt exists as to the authenticity of "La Gioconda" The correspondence relative to its sale yet exists, and even the voucher proving its payment may still be seen. Fate and fortune have guarded the Mona Lisa; and neither thief nor vandal, nor impious infidel, nor unappreciating stupidity, nor time itself has done it harm. France bought the picture; France has always owned and housed it; it still belongs to France.

We call the Mona Lisa a portrait, and we have been told how "La Gioconda" sat for the picture, and how the artist invented ways of amusing her, by stories, recitations, the luring strain of hidden lutes, and strange flowers, and rare pictures brought in as surprises to animate and cheer.

That Leonardo loved this woman we are sure, and that their friendship was close and intimate the world has guessed; but the picture is not her portrait - it is himself whom the artist reveals.


Away back in his youth, when Leonardo was a student with Verrocchio, he gave us glimpses of this same face. He showed this woman's mysterious smile in the Madonna], in St. Anne, Mary Magdalen, and the outlines of the features are suggested in the Christ and the St. John of the Last Supper. But not until "La Gioconda" had posed for him did the consummate beauty and mysterious intellect of this ideal countenance find expression.

There is in the face all you can read into it, and nothing more. It gives you what you bring, and nothing else. It is as silent as the lips of Memnon, as voiceless as the Sphinx. It suggests to you every joy that you have ever felt, every sorrow you have ever known, every triumph you have ever experienced.

This woman is beautiful, just as all life is beautiful when we are in health. She has no quarrel with the world-she loves and she is loved again. No vain longing fills her heart, no feverish unrest disturbs her dreams, for her no crouching fears haunt the passing hours - that ineffable smile - which plays around her mouth says


plainly that life is good. And yet the circles about the eyes and the drooping lids hint of world-weariness, and speak the message of Koheleth and say, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity."

" La Gioconda" is infinitely wise, for she has lived. That supreme poise is only possible to one who knows. All the experiences and emotions of manifold existence have etched and moulded that form and face until the body has become the perfect instrument of soul.

Like every piece of intense personality, this picture has power both to repel and to attract. To this woman nothing is either necessarily good or bad. She has known strange woodland loves in far off æons when the world was young. She is familiar with the nights and days of Cleopatra, for they were hers-the lavish luxury, the animalism of a soul on fire, the smoke of curious incense that brought poppy-like repose, the satiety that sickens-all these were her portion; the sting of the asp yet lingers in her memory, and the faint scar from its fangs is upon her white breast known and wondered at by Leonardo who loved her.


Back of her, stretches her life, a mysterious purple shadow. Do you not see the palaces turned to dust, the broken columns, the sunken treasures, the creeping mosses, and the rank ooze of fretted waters that have undermined cities and turned kingdoms into desert seas? The galleys of pagan Greece have swung wide for her on the unforgetting tide, for her soul dwelt in the body of Helen of Troy, and Pallas Athene has followed her ways and whispered to her even the secrets of the gods. 1. Aye! not only was she Helen, but she was Leda the mother of Helen. Then she was St. Anne, mother of Mary; and next she was Mary, visited by an angel in a dream, and followed by the Wise Men who had seen the Star in the East. The centuries, that are but thoughts, found her a Vestal Virgin in Pagan Rome when brutes were kings, and lust stalked rampant through the streets. She was the bride of Christ and her fair, frail body was flung to the wild beasts, and torn limb from limb while the multitude feasted on the sight.

True to the central impulse of her soul the Dark Ages rightly called her Cecilia,


and then Saint Cecilia, mother of sacred music, and later she ministered to men as Melania, the Nun of Tagaste; next as that daughter of William the Conqueror, the Sister of Charity who went throughout Italy, Spain, and France, and taught the women of the nunneries how to sew, to weave, to embroider, to illuminate books, and make beauty, truth, and harmony manifest to human eyes. And so this Lady of the Beautiful Hands stood to Leonardo as the embodiment of a perpetual life; moving in a constantly ascending scale, gathering wisdom, graciousness, love, even as he himself in this life, met every experience half-way and counted it joy, knowing that experience is the germ of power. Life writes its history upon the face, so that all those who have had a like experience read and understand. The human face is the masterpiece of God.

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