Saturday, January 30, 2010
Leonardo and the Sforza Monument
____If someone asked me to name my favorite historical character, there is a good possibility I would choose Leonardo da Vinci, so it is fitting that I begin this blog with him.Leonardo was born on April 15, 1452 in Empoli Italy. Because of early signs of talent and intellect he was sent to Florance as an apprentice to the famous sculptor Andrea del Verrocchio. This began one of the most fascinating lives of any age. My purpose here is to tell about Leonardo's attempt to create one sculpture, The Sforza Monument, not to tell his life story ( tempting but way too involved). Besides, there is a great Biography of Da Vinci, 'Leonardo: The Artist and the Man' by Serge Bramly, which does a much better job than I ever could.
____Leonardo's famous quote "Art is never finished, only abandoned" summarizes a character trait of Dar Vinci's which affected him his entire life. So many,actually most, of his projects were "unfinished". It's apparent that the initial insight,that instant spark of Creative Genius,was what Da Vinci lived for, and the tangible realization of that insight was of little significance. He left quite a trail of unfinished sculptures, painting and engineering projects. His Notebooks- his Wonderful Notebooks-contain pages and pages of imaginary creations which he knew would never be built in his lifetime. Like these creations, the Sforza Monument was never to be completed.
____Leonardo's livelihood depended on commissions obtained from wealthy patrons, usually ruling military families. Around 1489, he took a position at the court of Ludovicoil Moro in Milan. Da Vinci was extremely productive during his time as court artist. The Last supper, his anatomical studies and many portraits were completed during this period. As court artist for Ludovico, in addition to paintings and statues,Leonardo was also responsible for engineering projects and the major form of entertainment-elaborate festivals.How exquisite they must have been! The most famous of these statues depicted Ludovicoil's father, Francesco Sforza.
Francesco was an extremely successful military man, and Ludovicoil, wanting to be associated with these successes, commissioned Leonardo to build the largest project of it's kind in the modern age-a statue of Francesco on horseback, in battle with sword drawn. Many of Da Vinci's preparatory sketches have survived showing different stages and technical difficulties associated with the project. Most of these are in his "Notebooks" which include detailed instructions to himself about it's construction. Using a horse known of as "The Sicilian" as his model, Leonardo worked exclusively from life. Initially Leonardo wanted to depict Francesco on a horse rearing on it's hind legs, but because Ludovicoil's insistence that the statue be tremendous, he had to abandon the idea. (He dropped the project for a short period of time, many believe, to sulk about not getting his way) The final design was a striding horse seven meters in height, a size never before achieved.
____Unfortunately the Bronze statue was never finished, but Da Vinci did create a full size clay model for one of his festivals. The failure to complete this project was no fault of Leonardo's. He put a great deal of time and effort into the casting of the statue, the most difficult task at that time. All of his writing and sketches Leonardo kept in one small notebook. This sketchbook included such things as recipes for alloys, methods of controlling the temperature in the furnaces,adding tin to copper and a broom like device for polishing metal. Leonardo did few things the conventional way. His genius simply would not allow it. While Leonardo was preparing for casting, Charles VIII of France, with the largest army of the day, invaded Italy. Charles was eventually driven from the area, but the complexities of war cost Leonardo his Horse. The Sforza fortune dried up, and all the avilable bronze was used for weapons. When the French troops arrived in 1499,the clay horse was claimed by mercenaries who had little regard for art. The Horse was used as a target for archer's arrows and was virtually destroyed.
____Da Vinci showed no sign of dismay over the abandonment of his equestrian statue or his disassociation with Ludovico. His extensive work in both art and engineering during this period brought him significant acclaim and many commissions. He wrote, "Obstacles cannot crush me. Every obstacle yields to stern resolve. He who is fixed to a star does not change his mind."