Images de page
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

withdrew from a contract he had already entered on, at the mere mention of his name. What Michelangelo and Raphael would have been had he not preceded them

(Angelo by twenty-three and Raphael by thirty-one years) it is idle to speculate. Certain it is they were indebted to him, notably Raphael, who, while the divine element is all his own, first climbed to fame on the shoulders of the mighty Florentine. Later, at Da Vinci's shrine, the flame of his genius was lit, which burned the conventional strings of mere talent that his teacher Perugino had woven round him. Even at the height of his fame, the Da Vinci spell was upon him, not only in the nature background and pyramidal composition of his pastoral Madonnas, but even in the Transfiguration,' for what are the disciples therein but still more idealized forms of the “ Last Supper 'group ? Perhaps I should state again that the divine element in Raphael is all his own. The dependence of Michelangelo, as time rolls on, ceases to be felt; their lines of development lay far apart, chiefly because Angelo boldly championed sculpture (and do we not see the hand of the sculptor in all his paintings ?), while Leonardo, in his History of Painting, as ardently upheld the superiority of its rainbow sister. Still, for all the divergence, the question remains, would Angelo of himself have fully mastered those laws of linear and aerial perspective

which his fame in the Sistine Chapel chiefly rests ?

But to return to the ‘Last Supper.' We know from drawings in the Windsor Library that the artist first intended portraying the institution of the Blessed Eucharist, but later he changed to the Betrayal. He seizes the dramatic moment when Christ says, “One of you is about to betray Me.' It was certainly a daring undertaking to give pictorial representation to the effect of that statement on twelve men of different character and temperament—'a ray with twelve reflections,' as it has been aptly called. The quiet of the room (and no furniture in this painted room to distract the attention) is as suddenly and violently disturbed as if a stone were flung into a placid sheet of water. And the agitation is further heightened by contrast with the calm of that beautiful glimpse of


1 I must not be understood as disparaging Perugino, but merely as saying that his gift was only talent as compared with the genius of his great pupil.

landscape, with the inevitable streak of water, which we see through three pierced openings in the wall, and

, which, in addition to the moral effect of contrast, gives a delightful background, the central opening serving as a halo for the person of the Redeemer. What a happy combination of the ideal and natural! And how easily a less gifted brain or less cunning hand would have spoiled all by overdoing this background, of which (in Shaksperean phrase) a little more than a little would be by much too much. Unlike Giotto, who used a round table, Leonardo, with more art, has represented a long one, over which the cloth is well drawn to the front so as largely to conceal the feet, for the artist's aim is to concentrate all attention on the faces, the busts, and the action. But here a difficulty arose : the long white cloth would be monotonous, and would be calculated to hold the eye from getting well into the picture, for the same reason that a stretch of water across the immediate foreground of a landscape is to be avoided. Let us note the cleverness of technique. Against monotony, the cloth is well creased into squares, and, of course, there is room for variety in the way these catch the light; also it has well-defined patterns running through it at each end; and, for fear of any suspicion of a too studied effect, see the apparent negligence of the two realistic knots. Against the holding effect, the eye is attracted well into the picture by the glinting of light from the many plates and bowls and glasses; we see the rolls of bread; the fruits, too, are there, apples and pears, with

. green leaves still adhering to the stems; and-touch of nature again-Judas has ominously upset the saltcellar. These all seem but trifling details, but they are contributing to realism and to technique.

And now for the drawing and arrangement of the figures-composition, as it is called. In the first place, we might remark that composition gave artists much trouble. Of course it is now all quite easy, at least in theory, and any student of art can quote the seven recognized forms. But we should not forget that these had to be wrung from nature by the slow process of observation, and then crystallized into form, as grammar from language; in which process, Leonardo did more then any other artist before

1 They are : the triangle, the scales, the cross, the radii, the circle, the rectangle, and the line of curvature.

or since, the 'Last Supper' being, perhaps, the world's masterpiece in composition. No other picture gives such variety in unity, the Greek idea of beauty-not that he went to the Greeks for his ideas; on the contrary, he always insisted strongly that an artist should go only to nature, for, otherwise, nature becomes to him not a mother but a grandmother.

In this picture we see the balancing of effect with effect, of action with action, in such rhythmical harmony that, notwithstanding all the agitation of face and gesture, the tout ensemble has the simplicity and self-containedness of a piece of sculpture-nay even, it is frequently so treated. The party has broken up into four groups, separate but still linked, and the Saviour is in the centre in detached majesty, the central window, as I have already said, serving as a halo around Him. Where will he put Judas ? His predecessors, Andrea del Castagno for instance, placed him away from the others, at the opposite side of the table, as a kind of black sheep. But Leonardo, with more genius and deeper dramatic vein, adheres to the Scriptural narrative and places him with the others. This arrangement enables him to have the four-fold grouping; and it is still more important in its moral effect, for the agitation is heightened by the fact that the traitor is amongst them and unknown. Yet, on careful examination, we see that Judas, though with them, is not of them, for, behold ! Peter, on leaning over to whisper to John, shoulders him off, so that Judas is made to lean away across the table, resting, however, with ease and naturalness on his right arm, and, of course, firmly gripping the purse.

We next come to consider the members of the party individually. It will be noticed that of the faces seven are in profile, four three-quarters to the front, and only one, besides Our Lord's, is fully turned to us. According to this arrangement, we find not more than two faces in any group drawn in the same way. Of course, Leonardo knew that the party did not sit, but reclined on couches; he had, however, to deviate from this for the sake of art. Now, one

1 Perhaps it might be well to give the names of the different disciples : on Our Lord's right hand (that is, on the left of the spectator) are John, Peter, and Judas (first group), and Andrew, James the Less, and Bartholomew (second group); on the Lord's left (right of spectator) are Thomas, James the Greater (hands outstretched), and Philip (first group), and Matthew, Thaddeus, and Simon (second group).

[ocr errors]

of the most extraordinary things about the personages in this painting, and indeed in all his art, is the subtle and indefinable manner, almost reminding us of the oneness of animality and rationality in the human soul, in which he blends realism with idealism—the former giving strength and vigour and raciness of earth, and the latter transfusing it and suggesting almost the divine. Take, for example, James the Greater and Andrew. They are, to be sure, highly idealized missionaries of the Lord, men who in personality, from even the human point of view, could overawe kings and princes, and yet for all that there is a certain suggestion or nuance of_well for lack of a better word I must whisper uncouthness—which reminds us that they were of late casting nets and baiting hooks. Contrast them, for instance, with Matthew, and note the difference. I could never imagine Andrew throwing out his arms with the graceful ease and artistic abandon of Matthew. James's arms are actually outstretched, but what a difference ! Again, contrast the Andrew of this group with Raphael's, in the Transfiguration. Raphael's is simply a replica of Da Vinci's with the realism dropped. But to return. On the Saviour's right are John, Peter, and Judas. John is the only disciple who is fully faced towards us; and the only one who is calm. His placid countenance wears an expression of sorrowful resignation, for he knows that all this must be. And what a harmony there is between the placid countenance, the slightly tilted head, the relaxed muscles of the outstretched arms, and the locked fingers that gently rest on the table! Love begets likeness, and it seems to me that the artist wished to convey that the Master's spirit had gone into the soul of the disciple whom He loved-at least John is the only one whose attitude and manner can be compared with the Lord's. The requirement of art compelled a departure from the Scriptural account, and the traditional rendering, of John as leaning on Christ's bosom. The Master must have the majesty of isolation, and how naturally it is secured by John's bending to catch Peter's whisper! And there is Peter himself, true to life, with impulsiveness stamped on his bent form and eager, honest face. He has not time even to put down the knife before starting from his place, for see, he holds it nearly behind his back. What a pity we have no true likeness of him, the bronze statue at Rome notwithstanding! but we feel somehow, judging from his character, that he must have looked as the artist has drawn him.

Passing over the slight separation, the caesural pause, as it were, in the pictorial line, we next come to Andrew, James the Less, and Bartholomew. Andrew is splendidly drawn. There is a look of stupefaction on

on the fine open countenance, to which the honest fisherman can give expression only, as already indicated, by throwing up his hands. The action is natural as life itself. James the Less is in profile, the line being one of classic regularity, while the unscissored, wavy locks fall naturally around his neck and throat; and there is deep trouble on his face. Note the touch of realism in the facial resemblance to Our Blessed Lord, as they were cousins. His left hand rests on Peter's shoulder, and this easy, natural action has the effect of linking the two groups.

At the end of the table, Bartholomew has suddenly started up; the action was so sudden that his feet (the only ones fully noticeable, and that for a special reason) are still crossed. Were his firm head to tower above the others, a fault, by the way, into which Andrea del Sarto fell, the line of composition would be interfered with, and he would, in addition, receive undue prominence. To guard against this, the artist has him leaning with both hands on the table. He is looking fiercely at Judas, and is clearly saying to himself, “I have my suspicions, for I never trusted that same man.'

It may be objected, however, that leaning with both hands on the table is not an attitude indicative of emotion ; on the contrary, it is the most expressive attitude known to elocution for the calm enforcement of an argument that speaks for itself. Quite true; but observe, it is necessary for Bartholomew to do so, because his feet are crossed. Thus, the crossed feet tell us of the sudden start, and they explain at the same time his leaning on the table. It is said that the perfection of art is in the concealment of art, and this certainly looks very like the genuine thing. How admirably, too, his firm, forward-inward pose, and, opposite him, Simon's square, venerable figure, with forward-inward gesture, strengthen the two ends, thus contributing much to the sculpturesque all-togetherness of the group, which, in view of its great length, its multiplicity of action, and variety of emotion, is not the least of its many perfections.


« PrécédentContinuer »