Da Vinci (Illustrated)by John Addington Symonds
He was one of those rare phenomena, with whom, by nature loved to combine all conceivable human perfections; his beauty was as graceful as it was dignified, his physical
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One of the highest epochs in painting during the Renaissance was reached by Leonardo da Vinci; born in 1452, in the Castle Vinci, in the neighborhood of Florence, he died in France in 1519.
He was one of those rare phenomena, with whom, by nature loved to combine all conceivable human perfections; his beauty was as graceful as it was dignified, his physical strength was scarcely conceivable, and his mental gifts were of a character more versatile than is scarcely ever combined in the same person. For not merely in sculpture and painting did he appear among the first artists of his time, not merely did he establish the theory of his heart by acute scientific investigations in anatomy and perspective, the results of which he has given in his treatise upon painting, but in many other branches of practical and mechanical science. He was far in advance of the knowledge of his own time.
He studied the laws of geometry, physic, and chemistry; he was active as an engineer and an architect; he built canals, sewers, and fortresses; he invented machines and mechanical works of all kinds, and was besides a zealous cultivator of music and a skillful poet and improvisatore.
The yearning for knowledge led him, throughout his restless life, unremittingly to new studies and inventions; and although he only devoted a small portion of his time and power to painting, the art owes to him especially its perfection and freedom.
Like the other artists of the fifteenth century, he started at first with the natural characteristic conception of life, and carried the art to perfect mastery over form; at the same time, he knew how to combine with this the highest expression of beauty, the deepest power of thought, and the manifestation of the divine. In the artistic carrying out of his ideas, he satisfied himself, however, so little, that after long unwearied labour he left many of his works unfinished, or employed new technical means for their perfect representation, which unfortunately hastened the destruction of his most important works. An unsurpassable care in the most delicate execution, a purity of form, combined with a tender blending of color and a delicious softness of outline, the result of his thorough study of aerial perspective, are peculiar to Leonardo's works.
In expression he united dignity and grandeur with a charm which passes into the sweetest grace, especially in the female heads. The type of his female heads, with their large dark eyes, the somewhat long straight nose, the smiling mouth, and the small tapering chin, has become the common property of all his pupils and imitators; yet in his original works there is a sad dreamy expression "mingled with this sweet smile, evidencing the deep and feeling character of his conception.
As Leonardo early showed decided talent for painting, he was entrusted to Verrocchio, whom he soon so far surpassed that the latter is said to have renounced painting. There is a picture by this master, the Baptism of Christ, still in the academy at Florence; it exhibits an unpleasing adherence to nature, and an almost skeleton-like drawing of the figures. By far the most beautiful figure of the whole is that of an angel, which, according to Vasari's testimony, was executed by Leonardo. Other works belonging to this youthful period have either perished or disappeared: not a trace is left of his two cartoons of Neptune and the Fall of Man, nor of a fantastic monster which he painted on a shield.
Towards the year 1482, Leonardo was summoned to Milan, to the court of Ludovico Sforza, at first in his capacity of musician and improvisatore. But there is still a letter by the artist, drawn up as a memorial, in which he offers his services to the Milanese ruler as an engineer, military architect, architect, sculptor, and painter.
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