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Leonardo da Vinci: Part 3 – His Pupils

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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Self portrait by Leonardo (c. 1512)

Self portrait by Leonardo (c. 1512)

In 1482, Leonardo  da Vinci sent the following letter to Ludovico Maria Sforza, the Duke of Milan, Leonardo. He claimed that he could create all sorts of machines both for the protection of a city and for siege:

“Most Illustrious Lord: Having now sufficiently seen and considered the proofs of all those who count themselves masters and inventors in the instruments of war, and finding that their invention and use does not differ in any respect from those in common practice, I am emboldened… to put myself in communication with your Excellency, in order to acquaint you with my secrets. I can construct bridges which are very light and strong and very portable with which to pursue and defeat an enemy… I can also make a kind of cannon, which is light and easy of transport, with which to hurl small stones like hail… I can noiselessly construct to any prescribed point subterranean passages — either straight or winding — passing if necessary under trenches or a river… I can make armored wagons carrying artillery, which can break through the most serried ranks of the enemy. In time of peace, I believe I can give you as complete satisfaction as anyone else in the construction of buildings, both public and private, and in conducting water from one place to another. I can execute sculpture in bronze, marble or clay. Also, in painting, I can do as much as anyone, whoever he may be. If any of the aforesaid things should seem impossible or impractical to anyone, I offer myself as ready to make a trial of them in your park or in whatever place shall please your Excellency, to whom I commend myself with all possible humility.”

Leonardo then went to Milan and stayed with the de Predis brothers – Giovanni Ambrogio and Evangelista. Ambrogio was a painter, while Evangelista was a gilder and assisted painters in preparing the colours.

Ludovico Sforza employed Leonardo from 1481 to 1499. During this period Leonardo’s most important works of painting were the two versions of Virgin of the Rocks, also known as the Madonna of the Rocks, and the Last Supper.

On April 25, 1483, Prior Bartolomeo Scorlione and the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception approached Leonardo and the Predis brothers Ambrogio and Evangelista, to provide the painted panels for the altarpiece in the church of San Francesco Maggiore in Milan. The contract referred to Leonardo as “Master”.

Because of the scale of works commissioned at the court of Ludovico Sforza was large Leonardo had assistants and pupils in his studio to assist him. Leonardo’s pupils at that time were Marco d’Oggiono, Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, Ambrogio de Predis, Bernardino de’ Conti, Francesco Napoletano, Andrea Solario, and Gian Giacomo Caprotti da Oreno (known as Salaì).

In 1506, Leonard stayed in Milan for the second time. During this time he had relationships with other Milanese artists along with his original pupils. Giovanni Antonio Bazzi (Il Sodoma), Giovanni Francesco Rustici, Giampietrino, Cesare da Sesto and young Francesco Melzi were his pupils. Such artists as Bernardino Lanino, Cesare Magni, Martino Piazza da Lodi and Bernardino Luini are also regarded as members of the circle of Leonardo.

Nativity by various followers of Leonardo da Vinci - Salai, Cesare da Sesto, Fernando Yanez de la Almedina and Anonymous. (Source: Gytismenomyletojas - Wikimedia)

Nativity by various followers of Leonardo da Vinci – Salai, Cesare da Sesto, Fernando Yanez de la Almedina and Anonymous. (Source: Gytismenomyletojas – Wikimedia)

Many writers have emphasized that Leonardo took only handsome boys and youths as his pupils. He was kind and considerate towards them. He cared for them and nursed them himself when they were ill.

As he selected his pupils on account of their beauty rather than their talent, none of them — Cesare da Sesto, Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, Andrea Salaino (Salaì), Francesco Melzi and the others — ever became a prominent artist. Most of them could not make themselves independent of their master. They disappeared after Leonardo’s death without leaving any significant painting to the world of art.

Other painters such as Bernardino Luini and Giovanni Bazzi (Il Sodoma), who by their creations earned the right to call themselves his pupils, were probably not known to Leonardo “personally”.

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To be continued…

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