The text below is the excerpt of the book Leonardo Da Vinci – Artist, Painter of the Renaissance (ASIN: B082KK47C4), written by Eugène Müntz, published by Parkstone International.
There is no name more illustrious in the annals of art and of science than that of Leonardo da Vinci. Yet this pre-eminent genius still lacks a biography that shall make him known in all his infinite variety. The great majority of his drawings has never been reproduced. No critic has even attempted to catalogue and classify these masterpieces of taste and sentiment. It was to this part of my task that I first applied myself. Among other results, I now offer the public the first descriptive and critical catalogue of the incomparable collection of drawings at Windsor Castle, belonging to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.
Among the many previous volumes dedicated to Leonardo, students will seek in vain for details as to the genesis of his pictures, and the process through which each of them passed from primordial sketch to final touch. Leonardo, as is conclusively shown by my research, achieved perfection only by dint of infinite labour. It was because the groundwork was laid with such minute care, with such a consuming desire for perfection, that the Virgin of the Rocks (p. 166), the Mona Lisa (see Vol. II, p. 163), and the St Anne are so full of life and eloquence.
Above all, a summary and analysis was required of the scientific, literary, and artistic manuscripts, the complete publication of which was first begun in our own generation by students such as Richter, Charles Ravaisson-Mollien, Beltrami, Ludwig, Sabachnikoff and Rouveyre, and the members of the Roman Academy of the “Lincei”.
Thanks to a methodical examination of these monographs on the master, I think I have been able to penetrate more profoundly than my predecessors into the inner life of my hero. I may call the special attention of my readers to the chapters dealing with Leonardo’s attitude towards the occult sciences, his importance in the field of literature, his religious beliefs and moral principles, his studies of antique models – studies hitherto disputed, as will be seen. I have further endeavoured to reconstitute the society in which the master lived and worked, especially the court of Lodovico il Moro in Milan, that interesting and suggestive centre, to which the supreme evolution of the Italian Renaissance may be referred.
A long course of reading has enabled me to show a new significance in more than one picture and drawing, to point out the true application of more than one manuscript note. I do not, indeed, flatter myself that I have been able to solve all problems. An enterprise such as this to which I have devoted myself demands the collaboration of a whole generation of students. Individual effort could not suffice. At least I may claim to have discussed opinions I cannot share with moderation and with courtesy, and this should give me some title to the indulgence of my readers.
In Leonardo da Vinci we have the perfect embodiment of the modern intellect, the highest expression of the marriage of art and science: the thinker, the poet, the wizard whose fascination is unrivalled. Studying his art, in its incomparable variety, we find in his very caprices, to use Edgar Quinet’s happy phrase with a slight modification, “the laws of the Italian Renaissance, and the geometry of universal beauty”.
It is true, unhappily, that setting aside his few completed works – the Virgin of the Rocks, the Last Supper (p. 194-195), the Saint Anne, and the Mona Lisa – Leonardo’s achievements as painter and sculptor are mainly presented to us in marvellous fragments. It is to his drawings we must turn to understand all the tenderness of his heart, all the wealth of his imagination. To his drawings therefore, we must first call attention.
Two periods of human life seem to have specially fixed Leonardo’s attention: adolescence and old age; childhood and maturity had less interest for him. He has left us a whole series of adolescent types, some dreamy, some ardent. The pleasant duty remains to me of thanking the numerous friends and correspondents who have been good enough to help me in the course of my long and laborious investigations. They are too many to mention here individually, but I have been careful to record my indebtedness to them, as far as possible, in the body of the volume…
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