LEONARDO DA VINCI FIRST VISIT TO MILAN
About 1482 Leonardo entered the service of Ludovico Sforza, having first written to his future patron a full statement of his various abilities in the following terms:—
“Having, most illustrious lord, seen and pondered over the experiments made by those who pass as masters in the art of inventing instruments of war, and having satisfied myself that they in no way differ from those in general use, I make so bold as to solicit, without prejudice to any one, an opportunity of informing your excellency of some of my own secrets.”
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[PLATE IV.-THE LAST SUPPER Refectory of St. Maria delle Grazie, Milan. About 13 feet 8 ins. h. by 26 ft. 7 ins. w. (4.16 x 8.09)]
He goes on to say that he can construct light bridges which can be transported, that he can make pontoons and scaling ladders, that he can construct cannon and mortars unlike those commonly used, as well as catapults and other engines of war; or if the fight should take place at sea that he can build engines which shall be suitable alike for defence as for attack, while in time of peace he can erect public and private buildings. Moreover, he urges that he can also execute sculpture in marble, bronze, or clay, and, with regard to painting, “can do as well as any one else, no matter who he may be.” In conclusion, he offers to execute the proposed bronze equestrian statue of Francesco Sforza “which shall bring glory and never-ending honour to that illustrious house.”
It was about 1482, the probable date of Leonardo’s migration from Florence to Milan, that he painted the “Vierge aux Rochers,” now in the Louvre (No. 1599). It is an essentially Florentine picture, and although it has no pedigree earlier than 1625, when it was in the Royal Collection at Fontainebleau, it is undoubtedly much earlier and considerably more authentic than the “Virgin of the Rocks,” now in the National Gallery (Plate III.).
He certainly set to work about this time on the projected statue of Francesco Sforza, but probably then made very little progress with it. He may also in that year or the next have painted the lost portrait of Cecilia Gallerani, one of the mistresses of Ludovico Sforza. It has, however, been surmised that that lady’s features are preserved to us in the “Lady with a Weasel,” by Leonardo’s pupil Boltraffio, which is now in the Czartoryski Collection at Cracow.
IN THE EAST
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The absence of any record of Leonardo in Milan, or elsewhere in Italy, between 1483 and 1487 has led critics to the conclusion, based on documentary evidence of a somewhat complicated nature, that he spent those years in the service of the Sultan of Egypt, travelling in Armenia and the East as his engineer.
BACK IN MILAN
In 1487 he was again resident in Milan as general artificer—using that term in its widest sense—to Ludovico. Among his various activities at this period must be mentioned the designs he made for the cupola of the cathedral at Milan, and the scenery he constructed for “Il Paradiso,” which was written by Bernardo Bellincioni on the occasion of the marriage of Gian Galeazzo with Isabella of Aragon. About 1489-1490 he began his celebrated “Treatise on Painting” and recommenced work on the colossal equestrian statue of Francesco Sforza, which was doubtless the greatest of all his achievements as a sculptor. It was, however, never cast in bronze, and was ruthlessly destroyed by the French bowmen in April 1500, on their occupation of Milan after the defeat of Ludovico at the battle of Novara. This is all the more regrettable as no single authentic piece of sculpture has come down to us from Leonardo’s hand, and we can only judge of his power in this direction from his drawings, and the enthusiastic praise of his contemporaries.