For the commission for the monks of S. Francesco I believe the picture in the National Gallery to have been the original picture executed and placed in the Church, where it remained and where Lomazzo saw it. It was sufficiently the work of Leonardo to be described as such in the petition made by the two artists, the description not however precluding what the association of the two names would suggest and internal evidence confirms, viz., that Ambrogio de Predis assisted Leonardo in the later stages of its composition. Neither the side panels of the angels nor the signed portrait by him in the National Gallery, nor his portraits in Milan, at all favour the supposition of his share in the picture having been other than purely subsidiary.
1 C. A., 315 v.; R., 1344.
2 C. A., 335 v.
A picture in the parochial church at Afifori has recently been put forward in certain Milanese art periodicals as the original of both pictures. It seems to be a good contemporary copy.
It follows the composition of the picture in the National Gallery rather than that in the Louvre in every detail in which the two differ, except in the attitude of the left hand of the Virgin.
A drawing in the Ambrosiana of the child Christ and the head of the angel has a marked similarity with it, and is perhaps a preparatory sketch from the National Gallery picture made by the painter of the Affori copy.
In some details it suggests the hand of Luini-especially in the finer oval of the faces,-the same difference being seen in the Royal Academy Cartoon of S. Anne and the picture in the Ambrosiana which Luini painted from it,-in the lower part of the face being thrown more in shadow by the way the chin recedes, in the height to which the parting of the hair is visible-as in the Madonna at Hertford House,-and in the more simple treatment of the hair massed together. The smaller size of the picture causes the figures to be only half life-size. This also is characteristic of Luini, who obtained his most charming effects with figures in this scale.
The fresco of the Last Supper in the Refectory of S. Maria delle Grazie is the only other existing work of those which he did in Milan in the time of Ludovic Sforza. By far the most rapidly executed of any of his important commissions, it was commenced in 1496 and was practically if not altogether completed by February, 1498.
Matteo Bandello, then a youth aged about seventeen, was a member of this convent, and in the prologue to No. 58 of Part I. of the " Novelle," he has described the artist at work upon the fresco:
" It was his habit from sunrise until dusk never to lay down his brush, but forgetful alike of eating or drinking to paint without intermission. At other times he would let two, three, or four days pass without touching the picture, remaining before it for an hour or two hours of the day, but only in order that he might take counsel with himself by contemplating and examining and judging the figures.
" I have also seen him, as the caprice or whim took him, at mid-day, when the sun was in Leo, set out from the Corte Vecchia, where he was at work on the clay model of the colossal horse, and go straight to Le Grazie, and mounting the scaffolding, take up his brush and give one or two touches to one of the figures, and then abruptly go away again."
The prologue further relates a conversation which took place in the Refectory between Leonardo and Cardinal Gurk, in the course of which Leonardo stated that his salary from the Duke was 2,000 ducats, supplemented by generous daily gifts. The Cardinal retired in astonishment, and Leonardo afterwards told the bystanders the story of Fra Filippo Lippi when taken captive by the Moors gaining his freedom by the use of his art. The story which Bandello repeats, and which Vasari also relates need not detain us, and as Leonardo's salary was not paid its amount is comparatively immaterial. But the description of Leonardo at work, alternating between periods of extreme activity and of contemplation, seems to bear every mark of authenticity, and is professedly the statement of an eye-witness.
Of the anecdotes as to the heads of Christ and Judas as much cannot be said. The story of the Prior's importunity and his two interviews with the Duke, and Leonardo's offer to paint him as Judas, is an addition in Vasari's Second Edition (1568), his source being presumably Giraldi (Discorso, etc., 1553), who was told the story by his father. Vasari adds that the head of Christ was unfinished. The reason of this in the form of Zenale's advice to Leonardo, that it was better so, for he could not surpass the majesty of certain of the Apostle's heads, is given in Lomazzo's "Trattato" (1585), and Zenale's advice somewhat typifies the expanding nature of these anecdotes. Leonardo never reached the perilous height of satisfaction with his work. It was always unfinished. The head of Christ was only more so than the rest, as the subject the more demanded.
The problem of how the composition should be represented had long been present to his mind. At Florence the conception germinated. The formalism of arrangement requisite to represent thirteen figures seated at a table had caused the subject to offer apparently but little scope for the introduction of natural action. It is noticeably absent in the examples by Giotto and his immediate followers. That by Andrea del Castagno in S. Apollonia -gaunt rugged men from the hand of a painter who loved strength above all things and delighted to portray it-has more attempt at vigour of expression, but it is not united by any bond of feeling. The figures furthest away are quite outside the action of the moment. It is the only one of the earlier examples which exercised a perceptible influence upon the work of Leonardo.
If the group of seated figures on the same sheet as the studies for the Adoration in the Louvre be indeed a preparatory study for the Last Supper, then the fact that in this earliest sketch the grouping of the figures is the most dramatic may be in part due to the feeling that Andrea's vigour lost a part of its due impressiveness by reason of its formalism and lack of unity.