Lastly, and most important of all, there is a series of drawings showing the plans and elevations of domed churches. As far as we can tell, these were not intended to be built, but were simply solutions of an architectural problem--the fitting of a dome on to a square base. This was a problem on which the greatest contemporary architects had brought their minds to bear, none more intensively than Bramante, and with Bramante Leonardo was on terms of intimacy.
The drawings in the MS. B probably reflect Bramantesque ideas otherwise unknown to us, projects which found fulfilment later in works of Bramante's disciples, such as Santa Maria della Consolazione at Todi. Leonardo's elevations are not all successful. In some his ingenuity has outrun his sense of proportion. The North Italian tradition which permitted an accumulation of domes and turrets has appealed too strongly to his own horror vacui, and as a result some of his designs recall the worst Milanese architecture or St Antonio at Padua. A few even give the impression of those Russian churches in which every inch is covered with excrescences till the whole sense of scale is lost and a large building looks the size of a pepper-pot.
We feel that Leonardo lacked that native sense of interval, of allowing one space to tell against another, which the simplest Tuscan muratore can give to a farm building, and which remains the essential quality of classical architecture. But then, as I shall often repeat in these lectures, Leonardo's true taste was not classical and could have been more fully displayed a hundred years later, when the Baroque style would have allowed him to indulge his love of curves without loss of unity. The ground plans are done with far more conviction, since they afforded a geometrical puzzle which appealed to him most strongly.
To the end of his life he continued to draw patterns of squares, circles and arcs, trying to exhaust every possible combination rather as an alchemist might try every possible combination of fluids in order to discover the elixir of life; and this passion, disciplined to the service of architecture, produced some plans of great originality. In some the church is thought of as a circular hall for preaching, an idea rarely attempted until a much later date, for example, in the Frauenkirche at Dresden. In others, the cluster of chapels round the central space reminds us of advanced Baroque design like Borromini's earlier drawings for Sant' Agnese.
In studying the architecture and even the painting of the Renaissance, we must always remember that one whole branch of each is almost completely lost to us--the architecture and decoration which was designed for pageants and masquerades. We know from Vasari how many of the greatest artists whose lives he records seem to have given a considerable part of their time to such ephemeral work. It was in these lath and plaster designs that a man could show his invention, his fantasy, unimpeded by cost and the painful process of construction; and we know that Leonardo did such work with pleasure.
Our only series of drawings for masquerade costumes belongs to a later period, but we have written record of several pageants which he ordered with great ingenuity--in particular the Masque of the Paradiso, for which a few notes and sketches survive. These masquerades were performed as a means of glorifying the ruling powers-in this instance, Ludovico, his wife and mistresses--and like all Renaissance ideas of fame, they involved participation in elaborate allegories by which, for a few hours, the individual assumed the immortality of a work of art. Much of Leonardo's time was spent on the invention of allegories and emblems expressive of Ludovico's greatness. This work seems to have appealed to him, for the manuscripts contain many fabulous or allegorical writings.
In MS. H Leonardo has compiled a bestiary, one of his longest pieces of coherent prose, which is partly taken from a popular medieval compilation called the Fiore di Virtù, partly from a similar work, the Acerba, by the so-called Cecco d'Ascoli. Leonardo also quotes from Pliny, but it is significant that although he had before him this relatively scientific source for the life and habits of animals, the greater part of his bestiary is taken from those fanciful medieval writers to whom natural history was only a pretext for moral allegory. Closely allied to this bestiary, and inspired by similar sources, are the fables which are scattered throughout the Codice Atlantico.
Although many of these must be derivative, they have when read as a whole a certain unity expressive of Leonardo's point of view. Almost all are pessimistic. The animals, plants or inanimate objects, who are the heroes of the fables, are no sooner confident of success and security than they are utterly destroyed by some superior and usually unconscious agency. If they avoid one misfortune, they immediately fall victim to a far greater as a result of their previous cunning. We see reflected Leonardo's view of contemporary politics, and indeed of life in general, where nature only allows man to reach some pinnacle of selfesteem in order to deal him a more shattering blow.
The most personal of all these emblematic writings is a series in the Codice Atlantico which Leonardo has entitled "Prophecies". These are in a form which seems to have been popular among the wits of Milan, and we read that Leonardo's prophecies were written in competition with those of Bramante. They consist of descriptions of ordinary every-day happenings, so worded as to sound like appalling catastrophes. Thus "many people by puffing out a breath with too much haste will thereby lose their sight and soon after all consciousness"; to which Leonardo supplies the explanation "of putting out the light when going to bed". Here the intention is solely humorous, and the "prophecy" is really a sort of riddle. But in some instances I believe that Leonardo has taken advantage of this form to express his own convictions.
Many describe acts of cruelty and injustice which sound unbelievable, until the "key" tells us that they refer to animals. "Endless multitudes will have their little children taken from them, ripped open and flayed and most cruelly cut in pieces (of sheep, cows, goats and the like)." "The severest labour will be repaid with hunger and thirst, blows and goadings, curses and great abuse (of asses)." Knowing from contemporary sources Leonardo's love of animals, we can be sure that such "prophecies" as these are not mere jokes, but represent his refusal to take as a matter of course the suffering which man's technical skill has allowed him to inflict on the other animals.
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