Twelve years younger than Botticelli was Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1520), whose career as a painter commenced in the workshop of Andrea Verrocchio, goldsmith, painter, and sculptor. That so extraordinary a genius should have fixed upon painting for his means of expression rather than any of his other natural gifts is the most telling evidence of the pre-eminence earned for that art by the efforts of those whose works we have been considering. For once we may go all the way with Vasari, and accept his estimate of him as even moderate in comparison with those of modern writers. "The richest gifts," he writes, "are sometimes showered, as by celestial influence, on human creatures, and we see beauty, grace, and talent so united in a single person that whatever the man thus favoured may turn to, his every action is so divine as to leave all other men far behind him, and to prove that he has been specially endowed by the hand of God himself, and has not obtained his pre-eminence by human teaching. This was seen and acknowledged by all men in the case of Leonardo da Vinci, in whom, to say nothing of the beauty of his person, which was such that it could never be sufficiently extolled, there was a grace beyond expression which was manifested without thought or effort in every act and deed, and who besides had so rare a gift of talent and ability that to whatever subject he turned, however difficult, he presently made himself absolute master of it. Extraordinary strength was in him joined with remarkable facility, a mind of regal boldness and magnanimous daring. His gifts were such that his fame extended far and wide, and he was held in the highest estimation not in his own time only, but also and even to a greater extent after his death; and this will continue to be in all succeeding ages. Truly wonderful indeed and divinely gifted was Leonardo."

To his activities in directions other than painting, I need not allude except to say that they account in a great measure for the scarcity of the pictures he has left us, and to emphasise the significance of his having painted at all. To a man of such supreme genius the circumstances in which he found himself, rather than any particular technical facility, determined the course of his career, and in another age and another country he might have been a Pheidias or a Newton, a Shakespeare or a Beethoven.

But if the pictures he has left us are few in number—according to the present estimate not more than a dozen—they are altogether greater than anything else in the realm of painting, and with their marvellous beauty and subtlety have probably had a wider influence, both on painters and on lovers of painting, than those of any other master. They seem to be endowed with a spirit of something beyond painting itself, and in the presence of The Last Supper or the Mona Lisa the babble of conflicting opinions on questions of style, technique, and what not is silenced.

Similarly, in writing of Leonardo's pictures, every one of which is a masterpiece, it seems superfluous to say even a word about what the whole world already knows so well. All that can be usefully added is a little of the tradition, where it is sufficiently authenticated, relating to the circumstances under which they came into existence, and such of the circumstances of his life as concern their production.

When still quite a youth Leonardo was apprenticed to Andrea Verrocchio, and the story goes that it was the marvellous painting of the angel, by the pupil, in the master's Baptism in the Academy at Florence, that induced Verrocchio to abandon painting and devote himself entirely to sculpture. This angel has been attributed to the hand of Leonardo from the earliest times, but can hardly be taken, at any rate in its present condition, as a decided proof of the genius that was to be displayed in manhood. More certain are the S. Jerome in the Vatican, and the Adoration of the Kings in the Uffizi, though neither is carried beyond the earlier stages of "under-painting." A few finished portraits are now assigned with tolerable certainty to his earlier years; but for his famous masterpieces we must jump to the year 1482, when he left Florence and went to Milan, where for the next sixteen years he was intermittently engaged in the execution of the great equestrian statue, which was destroyed by the French mercenaries before it was actually completed.

It appears that he was recommended by Lorenzo de'Medici to Lodovico il Moro, Duke of Milan, probably for the very purpose of executing this statue. However that may be, it is now certain that in 1483 he was commissioned by the Franciscan monks to paint a picture of the Virgin and Child for their church of the Conception, and that between 1491 and 1494 Leonardo and his assistant, Ambrogio di Predis, petitioned the Duke for an arbitration as to price. This was the famous Virgin of the Rocks, now in the Louvre, and the similar, and though not precisely identical, composition in our National Gallery is generally supposed to be a replica, painted by Ambrogio under the supervision of, and possibly with some assistance from, Leonardo himself.

Between 1495 and 1498 Leonardo was engaged on the painting of The Last Supper. In the Forster Library at the Victoria and Albert Museum is a notebook which contains his first memoranda for the wonderful design of this masterpiece. At Windsor are studies for the heads of S. Matthew, S. Philip, and

National Gallery, London

Judas, and for the right arm of S. Peter. That of the head of the Christ in the Brera at Milan has been so much "restored" that it can hardly be regarded as Leonardo's work. Vasari's account of the delays in the completion of the painting is better known, and probably less trustworthy, than one or two notices of about the same date, quoted by Mr H. P. Horne, in translating and commenting on Vasari. In June 1497, when the work had been in progress over two years, Duke Lodovico wrote to his secretary "to urge Leonardo, the Florentine, to finish the work of the Refectory which he has begun, ... and that articles subscribed by his hand shall be executed which shall oblige him to finish the work within the time that shall be agreed upon." Matteo Bandello, in the prologue to one of his Novelle, describes how he saw him actually at work—"Leonardo, as I have more than once seen and observed him, used often to go early in the morning and mount the scaffolding (for The Last Supper is somewhat raised above the ground), and from morning till dusk never lay the brush out of his hand, but, oblivious of both eating and drinking, paint without ceasing. After that, he would remain two, three, or four days without touching it: yet he always stayed there, sometimes for one or two hours, and only contemplated, considered, and criticised, as he examined with himself the figures he had made."

Vasari's story of the Prior's head serving for that of Judas is related with less colour, but probably more truth, in the Discourses of G. B. Giraldi, who says that when Leonardo had finished the painting with the exception of the head of Judas, the friars complained to the Duke that he had left it in this state for more than a year. Leonardo replied that for more than a year he had gone every morning and evening into the Borghetto, where all the worst sort of people lived, yet he could never find a head sufficiently evil to serve for the likeness of Judas: but he added, "If perchance I shall not find one, I will put there the head of this Father Prior who is now so troublesome to me, which will become him mightily."

In 1500 Leonardo was back again in Florence, and his next important work was the designing, though probably not the actual painting, of the beautiful picture in the Louvre, The Virgin and Child with S. Anne, the commission for which had been given to Filippino Lippi, but resigned by him on Leonardo's return. In 1501 Isabella d'Este wrote to know whether Leonardo was still in Florence, and what he was doing, as she wished him to paint a picture for her in the palace at Mantua, and in the reply of the Vicar-General of the Carmelites we have a valuable account of the artist and his work. "As far as I can gather," he writes, "the life of Leonardo is extremely variable and undetermined. Since his arrival here he has only made a sketch in a cartoon. It represents a Christ as a little child of about a year old, reaching forward out of his mother's arms towards a lamb. The mother, half rising from the lap of S. Anne, catches at the child as though to take it away from the lamb, the animal of sacrifice signifying the Passion. S. Anne, also rising a little from her seat, seems to wish to restrain her daughter from separating the child from the lamb; which perhaps is intended to signify the Church, that would not wish that the Passion of Christ should be hindered. These figures are as large as life, but they are all contained in a small cartoon, since all of them sit or are bent; the figure of the Virgin is somewhat in front of the other, turned towards the left. This sketch is not yet finished. He has not executed any other work, except that his two assistants paint portraits and he, at times, lends a hand to one or another of them. He gives profound study to geometry, and grows most impatient of painting."

The history of this cartoon—as indeed of the Louvre picture—is somewhat obscure, but it is certain that the beautiful cartoon of the same subject in the possession of the Royal Academy is not the one above described.

Lastly, there is the famous—or, may we say, now more famous than ever—portrait of Mona Lisa. "Whoever wishes to know how far art can imitate nature," Vasari writes, "may do so in this head, wherein every detail that could be depicted by the brush has been faithfully reproduced. The eyes have the lustrous brightness and watery sheen that is seen in life, and around them are all those rosy and pearly tints which, like the eyelashes too, can only be rendered by means of the deepest subtlety; the eyebrows also are painted with the closest exactitude, where fuller and where more thinly set, in a manner that could not be more natural. The nose, with its beautiful and delicately roseate nostrils, seems to be alive. The mouth, wonderful in its outline, shows the lips perfectly uniting the rose tints of their colour with that of the face, and the carnation of the cheek appears rather to be flesh and blood than only painted. Looking at the pit of the throat one can hardly believe that one cannot see the beating of the pulse, and in truth it may be said that the whole work is painted in a manner well calculated to make the boldest master tremble.

"Mona Lisa was exceedingly beautiful, and while Leonardo was painting her portrait he kept someone constantly near her to sing or play, to jest or otherwise amuse her, so that she might continue cheerful, and keep away the melancholy that painters are apt to give to their portraits. In this picture there is a smile so pleasing that the sight of it is a thing that appears more divine than human, and it has ever been considered a marvel that it is not actually alive."

It is worth observing that while these rapturous expressions of wonder at the life-like qualities of the portrait may seem somewhat tame and childish in comparison with the appreciation accorded to Leonardo's work in these times—notably that of Walter Pater in this case—they are in reality at the root of all criticism. If Vasari, as I have already pointed out, pitches upon this quality of life-likeness and direct imitation of nature for his particular admiration, it is only because the first and foremost object of the earlier painters was in fact to represent the life; and though in the rarefied atmosphere of modern talk about art these naïve criticisms may seem out of date, it is significant that between Vasari and ourselves there is little, if any, difference of opinion as to which masters were the great ones, and which were not. "Truly divine" is a phrase in which he sums up the impressions created in his mind by the less material qualities of some of the greatest, but before even the greatest could create such an impression they must have learnt the rudiments of the art in the school of nature.