A Short History of Italian Painting

By Alice Van Vechten Brown; William Rankin | Go to book overview

LEONARDO DA VINCI1
1452-1519

WITH Leonardo da Vinci we are introduced to the first great master of the High Renaissance. Fully trained in the old school, he both accepted quattrocento conventions and broke from them into 16th-century freedom. It is difficult to analyse in a word the quality which has placed Leonardo among the supreme masters. His art-product was small as compared to other Italian artists. He left no monumental architecture and no finished work of sculpture. There remain six authentic paintings, two of them unfinished,2 numerous drawings of all kinds showing marvellous invention, and voluminous written notes of his artistic and scientific theories, and finally there remains the record of the spell he cast over his contemporaries. As a mere painter there are many Florentines to delight us more. He never learned to paint supremely well. His mind was too active for the palette. No great artist ever left so many evidences of experiment, or so many signs of other enthralling interests. He is the courtier, the philosopher, the scientist. His drawings of plant life are botanical, those of the earth are geologic. His mathematical theories anticipated the discoveries of modern scientists. He was busy with aviation and theories of hydraulics. Years passed busied with sculpture and architecture, of which only sketches remain. Yet at important stages of his career painting was his chief interest, and though his other occupations limited the amount of his art-work, they also introduced into it an element of experience and intellectual power that is rare among artists, and which makes him the first culminating genius of Italian humanism, and the first modern painter.

____________________
1
See Seidlitz, monograph. Geymüller is an authority on Leonardo and school. See also Gronau, Leonardo. Horne notes, Leonardo da Vinci, are dependable and critically just. Vasari's Life is in general confirmed by other evidence. Consult also Bode.
2
The four completed are Mona Lisa, Louvre; Virgin of the Rocks, Louvre; which are the two most perfect examples; the Last Supper (fresco), Milan, and the early Annunciation, Louvre.

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