Leonardo da Vinci Biography: Milan

The Duke of Milan and his court were not slow to discover that Leonardo's gifts and powers of attraction were by no means all enumerated in his letter, and that they had drawn a prize as valuable for idle hours as for more serious uses.

Each and every Leonardo da Vinci biography, be it by Vasari or others, is mentioning his great popularity with the court, and we can readily believe in the fascination of his personal beauty, in the admiration excited by his feats of horsemanship and muscular strength, and in the pastime afforded to the courtiers by the wonder of his inventions and the fun of his caricatures.

In his double character, also, as artist and mechanician, there was no one to rival him in the invention and direction of those frequent shows and pageants which formed part of the policy of a bad ruler and of a doubtful throne, but which unfortunately left no trace of the genius wasted upon them.

An important work of this period is the Virgin of the Rocks which was commissioned in Milan for the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception.

In 1483, Leonardo began to model the grandiose equestrian statue of Francesco Sforza, and was engaged upon this task for more than ten years. He intended to surpass all the equestrian statues known at the time, especially the more recent creations in Ferrara and Padua, and the one in course of preparation in Venice. The recorded height of the statue was more than seven metres, and there was a huge amount of metal to be used in casting it. He was reading ancient writers, studying classic statuary, and above all closely examining every movement of live horses and every muscle of dead ones. He made a vast number of drawings, exhibiting horses in repose, as if on parade, in the fierce action of the charge, and in various other positions. Many of these drawings are still preserved, especially at Windsor Castle.

No one knows what the design for Francesco's monument was, for after the master had devoted ten years to making the clay model, it was not put into bronze, as the times were not permitting it. Even if the sculpture was intended to tell posterity of the glories of the house of Sforza, Lodovico Moro, ever more and more harassed by the political situation, did not have the means to complete the work. A beautiful little wax model was destroyed; and also the master's book of studies on the anatomy of horses. The actual full size model was destroyed, according to tradition, by the Gascon archers during the siege of Ludovico Moro's city.

As a sculptor Leonardo won great fame; and Jovius and Paciolo, his contemporaries, held that he was better in that department than in painting. Lomazzo writes of the divine expression and adorable grace of the heads which he modeled; and Houssaye, speaking of Leonardo' s head of wax, in the Lille Museum, says, " I know of nothing more beautiful in Greek art." His anatomical studies were long and careful, as regards both men and animals, and gave him a vast fund of knowledge.

While in Milan, Leonardo painted the Last Supper, a masterpiece which stands alone as the keystone of Christian pictorial art. The work was commissioned by Lodovico il Moro for the refectory of the Convent of Dominican friars at Santa Maria delle Grazzie. It was probably begun in 1495 and finished in 1498.

In 1499, Leonardo da Vinci visited Mantua, where he had sketched the portrait of the young princess Isabella d'Este. The work will represent for posterity the climax of aesthetic culture in Italy at the beginning of the High Renaissance.

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