IN the fifth room, called Salle Duchâtel, are a number of important frescoes by Luini, transferred from the Litta Palace. Of all Italian painters Luini, perhaps, shows the influence of Leonardo the most. Yet it is not at all certain that he ever was an actual pupil of the great Tuscan. Indeed, very little is known about Luini except through his works. These are quite sufficient to indicate that he is almost another Da Vinci over again, without Da Vinci’s depth, tragedy, virile power or mysterious fascination. It is the sweetness, the charm, the soft modelling, the entrancing chiaroscuro of Leonardo that Luini repeats so successfully. And though in the main it can properly be called repetition, yet it is not without really distinct personality, and, within certain lines, originality. The tender charm of a Luini Madonna, the grace of expression, of arrangement, of grouping in his frescoes, are all his own even though they became his through long Leonardesque infiltration. His sweetness is rarely cloying, for it is backed up by vigorous, if smooth, modelling, by judicious colour, by skilful lighting. And his tenderness and grace never, in his best works, degenerate into mawkishness and pose. The frescoes from the Litta Palace show him, not as he is known at the Brera, at San Maurizio, at Lugano and Saronna, but they at least give a very good idea of his ability as a decorator. And his ability was of a very high order, if not the highest.
Of these frescoes the most beautiful are the Nativity and the Adoration of the Magi. The first is the interior of a stable with heavy beams cutting the walls into squares. At the left on the ground is the child Jesus, in a very babyish position, his toes kicking up, his forefinger in his mouth. Beside him are two small angels. The one at his head lifts the cloth beneath the baby’s shoulders while the other at his feet grasps a wooden cross with both arms and bends over it, looking intently at the infant. This group is placed directly below the manger, over which the heads of an ox and a donkey appear. Above are two adoring angels, kneeling on clouds, though still within the confines of the building. On the same level with them at the right, a square opening in the wall gives a view of the crest of a hill where three shepherds are observed receiving the ” glad tidings ” from an angel who descends out of the sky. In the fore-ground, at the right of Jesus, kneel Mary, her hands clasped in prayer, and behind her Joseph. Mary is dressed in a violet-toned mantle lined with green, and edged with gold embroidery. Joseph wears a yellow cloak, also edged with gold. Mary has the Leonardesque, type of face, even with something of the subtle, untranslatable smile curving her delicate lips, the same purely lined brows of the Gioconda, – the whole etherealized, and made more spiritual by Luini’s brush. St. Joseph here recalls the Christ type. The long, waving, parted hair and broad brow are very like the conventional head of Christ. It was a curious fancy for an Italian painter to suggest that Christ would have resembled St. Joseph in physical attributes.
In the Adoration; where only the head and shoulders of Joseph appear, and in profile, the likeness to the conventional Christ type is even more noticeable. The scene is again in the stable, showing Mary sitting on a raised bit of flooring, with the child standing on her knee, while he blesses the three kings before him. Joseph looks over the mother’s shoulder. Above, through two oblong openings, is seen a caravan winding down a mountain road. Of the three kings, the one in front, with long gray beard and ermine-trimmed cloak, is kneeling, his vase of precious ointment laid at Mary’s feet. The other two stand behind him, each bearing his gift. The three are sharply differentiated, each well individualized and subtly drawn. Mary, dressed in blue skirt, violet waist and green mantle, is in three-quarters position, her head bent forward, her eyes nearly covered by the heavy, drooped lids. Her face is ideally beautiful and exquisitely painted, the soft, waving hair falling against her neck, and the transparent border to her head-dress displaying Luini’s delicate surety of touch.
In this room is the Virgin and Child Adored by the Donors, the work of the Fleming Hans Memlinc, or Memling, as he is usually called. In the centre of the nave of a church, seated on a stone throne, with embroidered drapery behind her and a canopy over her head, is Mary, holding the infant Jesus across her lap. At the left of the picture, on her right, stands St. James, and kneeling beside him the donor, James Floreins, and his six sons. On the other side St. Dominic presents the donor’s wife, accompanied by her twelve daughters, the second of whom is in the costume of a Dominican nun. Back of the central group stretches the church, and through the arches on each side is a glimpse of the country, with a castle on the left and a farmhouse at the right. The figures of both Mary and the child are exquisitely rendered. The little nude body is unusually correct in outlines and construction and is softly rounded in forms, if rather tightly painted, compared with the style of the far more modern Luini. His expression is both childlike and dreamy, the far-away look in his eyes giving him a certain aloofness that intensifies the real piety so strongly felt throughout the picture. The Madonna, in her red dress and blue cloak, holds the child with a well-expressed pressure of her slender right hand, while with the other she keeps open the Scriptures on which Jesus’s left hand rests. Her blond hair waves softly off her wide forehead and falls in curling masses over her shoulder. Her eyes are looking downward and she seems wrapped in a reverie that makes her quite unconscious of what is going on about her. The soft oval of her face, her long, slender nose and small, but finely curved mouth are all characteristic of Memling. It is the Flemish type, indeed, but painted with the insight, the veneration, the real adoration of this man, who painted, one feels, on his knees. He is only equalled in religious purity and fervour by Fra Angelico. Among all Flemings he is unapproached.
Besides the pictures noted, two by Ingres deserve mention. These, as well as the Memling, were bequeathed to the Louvre by Mme. la Comtesse Duchâtel, in whose honour the room was named. Of these two, La Source is by far the more beautiful. It was not painted till Ingres was seventy-six years old, though he made a sketch for it forty years earlier.
Against the rock at the foot of which is a shallow pool, stands the nude figure of a slender girl, holding on her left shoulder à Greek vase which she has tipped far up, and out of which the water is running into the pool at her feet. Her blond head is bent slightly to the left under the raised right arm, and her weight rests on her left leg, the right drawn back a very little. In the pool her bare feet are reflected. This figure is as beautiful as a Grecian statue of the great Grecian epoch, and is as subtly modelled, as smoothly rounded, its tones as exquisitely graded as any marble from a master’s hand could be. Purity, grace, perfection of line, are here carried to such a height that for the moment it is easy to forget how Titian’s rendering of such a subject would glow with colour, or how the flesh would fairly throb with its pulsing life. In its own way it is a bit of almost absolute perfection, so perfect that even Ingres’s adversaries must acknowledge its masterliness.
The other by Ingres, OEdipus Interrogating the Sphinx, is far less satisfactory. A youth of extraordinarily faultless Greek figure is seen in profile within a grotto which opens at the right, giving a glimpse of sky and clouds, and, lower down, a village. OEdipus is nude save for a sort of mantle-like scarf which is thrown over his right shoulder and falls between his knees. Bending over, with his elbow resting on his knee, he seems to be questioning the so-called Sphinx, a woman-headed sort of griffin. Behind OEdipus, seen through the opening, a man is flying in fright. The young Greek is so carefully drawn, so smoothly modelled, indeed, so tiresomely drawn and modelled, that it cannot arouse the enthusiasm such perfection otherwise might.