I can’t resist one more post about Da Vinci.

I really enjoyed what the kids and I read this morning, long excerpts from Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the Most Eminent Italian Architects, Painters, and Sculptors, which was first published in 1550. (He was four when Leonardo died.) It was one of those sweet poignant moments of homeschool when you know why you are doing it. Liesl laughed and laughed.

The extravagant language he used and the praise he lavished were incredible. So different from today’s biographies. Somehow it was touching to me.

The two things that were most intriguing to me were his description of the realism in the painting of the Last Supper, along with the funny story he told about the Prior harassing Leonardo and complaining to the Duke about him and then what transpires between Leonardo and the Duke and how the Duke ends up laughing. I’m not sure if I should paste that in here or just let you go to it. Oh, bother the length, here it is. …

He also painted in Milan, for the Friars of S. Dominic, at S. Maria dell Grazie, a Last Supper, a most beautiful and marvelous thing; and to the heads of the Apostles he gave such majesty and beauty, that he left the head of Christ unfinished, not believing that he was able to give it that divine air which is essential to the image of Christ. This work, remaining thus all but finished, has ever been held by the Milanese in the greatest veneration, and also by strangers as well; for Leonardo imagined and succeeded in expressing that anxiety which had seized the Apostles in wishing to know who should betray their Master. For which reason in all their faces are seen love, fear, and wrath, or rather, sorrow, at not being able to understand the meaning of Christ; which thing excites no less marvel than the sight, in contrast to it, of obstinacy, hatred, and treachery in Judas; not to mention that every least part of the work displays an incredible diligence, seeing that even in the tablecloth the texture of the stuff is counterfeited in such a manner that linen itself could not seem more real.

It is said that the Prior of that place kept pressing Leonardo, in a most importunate manner, to finish the work; for it seemed strange to him to see Leonardo sometimes stand half a day at a time, lost in contemplation, and he would have like him to go on like the labourers hoeing in his garden, without ever stopping his brush. And not content with this, he complained of it to the Duke, and that so warmly, that he was constrained to send for Leonardo and delicately urged him to work, contriving nevertheless to show him that he was doing all this because of the importunity of the Prior. Leonardo, knowing that the intellect of that Prince was acute and discerning, was pleased to discourse at large with the Duke on the subject, a thing which he had never done with the Prior: and he reasoned much with him about art, and made him understand that men of lofty genius sometimes accomplish the most wh en they work the least, seeking out inventions with the mind, and forming those perfect ideas which the hands afterwards express and reproduce from the images already conceived in the brain. And he added that two heads were still wanting for him to paint; that of Christ, which he did not wish to seek on earth; and he could not think that it was possible to conceive in the imagination that beauty and heavenly grace which should be the mark of God incarnate. Next, there was wanting that of Judas, which was also troubling him, not thinking himself capable of imagining features that should represent the countenance of him who, after so many benefits received, had a mind so cruel as to resolve to betray his Lord, the Creator of the world. However, he would seek out a model for the latter; but if in the end he could not find a better, he should not want that of the importunate and tactless Prior. This thing moved the Duke wondrously to laughter, and he said that Leonardo had a thousand reasons on his side. And so the poor Prior, in confusion, confined himself to urging on the work in the garden, and left Leonardo in peace, who finished only the head of Judas, which seems the very embodiment of treachery and inhumanity; but that of Christ, as has been said, remained unfinished.

The other of the two things that most intrigued me was his description of Leonardo’s confession and repentance on his death bed. I for one, hope and pray that Giorgio Varsari wrote the truth (There is lots of controversy regarding the historical accuracy of the events recorded about Da Vinci’s death, like whether or not the king of France was present, I think he was. The objects to his presence are easily explained.) because it gives me some confidence that we will meet this remarkable man and spend eternity with him after all, paging through his reconstructed notebooks, and looking over his shoulder as he fills up endless pages more, something not too promising just reading his life story and judging him by his own words (although there are moments at which he appears to have faith.) I won’t paste that passage from Vasari in here. See for yourself if you have the time and inclination.

When our papers are done this week, we’ll stop dwelling on one topic so much! 🙂

Mona Mom.

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