Louis XII. of France, son of the poet Charles of Orleans, was a friend of art and letters, and his viceroy in Milan, Charles d’Amboise, a highly cultured nobleman who greatly admired the genius of Leonardo, exerted his powerful influence with the French king in favor of the painter of ” The Last Supper.”
Early, therefore, in 1507, we find Louis sending this letter, addressed ” To our very dear and close friends, allies, and confederates, the priors, and perpetual Gonfalioniere of the Signory of Florence.”
“Louis, by the grace of God King of France, Duke of Milan, Lord of Genoa, etc. Very dear and close friends : As we have need of Master Leonardo da Vinci, painter to your city of Florence, and intend to make him do something for us with his own hand, and as we shall soon, God helping us, be in Milan, we beg you, as affectionately as we can, to be good enough to allow the said Leonardo to work for us such a time as may enable him to carry out the work we intend him to do. And as soon as you receive these letters (we beg you) write to him, and direct that he shall not leave Milan until we arrive there. While he is awaiting us we shall let him know what it is that we desire him to do, but meanwhile write to him in such fashion that he shall by no means leave the said city before our arrival. I have already urged your ambassador to write to you in the same sense. You will do us a great pleasure in acting as we desire. Dear and close friends, may our Lord have you in his keeping. Written from Blois, the 14th day of January, 1507.
A few months after the date of this missive, Louis XII. made a triumphal entry into Milan, and there seems reason to believe that Leonardo had a share in devising some part of the decorations prepared for the occasion. When, two years later, Louis again entered the capital of Lombardy, it is said that Leonardo was appointed master of the ceremonies.
There is no doubt that much pressure was brought to bear upon the artist to in-duce him to take up his abode in France, but, although some writers incline to assert that he did sojourn there sometime between 1507 and 1510, the balance of testimony is against this supposition.
We know that he undertook certain tasks, both artistic and scientific, for Louis and for his representative, the magnificent Charles d’Amboise. The latter, however, died in 1511 at a comparatively early age, and at the end of the following year the French were forced to abandon Milan. In 1513 Leonardo left that city for Rome in the suite of Giuliano de’ Medici, brother of Pope Leo X., and while sojourning in the Eternal City received several commissions from the Pontiff. Louis XII. died in 1515, and among those who greeted his successor, Francis I., on his entry into Milan as a conqueror after the victory of Marignano, Leonardo appears to have found a place. Nor did the painter ever leave his latest protector.
“Francis I.,” says Müntz, “showed his desire to honor the greatness of the master by bestowing a princely revenue upon him, 700 crowns, about L. 1,400. This fact is attested by Benvenuto Cellini, who boasted, at a later date, that he had been granted a like sum. But let us leave the great gold-smith and writer to speak for himself. After relating that he has acquired a copy of Leonardo’s treatise on the three great arts, he adds that, “as that great man’s genius was as vast as it was varied, and as he had a certain acquaintance with Greek and Latin literature, King Francis, who was violently enamored of his great talents, took so great a delight in hearing him argue, that he only parted from him for a few days in the year, thus preventing him from putting the splendid studies, which he had carried on with so much discipline, to actual use. I must not fail to repeat the words concerning him which I heard from the king’s own lips, when he spoke to me, in the presence of the Cardinal of Ferrara, the Cardinal of Lorraine, and the King of Navarre. He affirmed that never any man had come into the world who knew so much as Leonardo, and that not only in matters of sculpture, painting, and architecture, for, in addition, he was a great philosopher.”
The residence assigned to Leonardo was in the town of Amboise, the cradle of the first colony of artists summoned to France by Charles VIII., and the favorite dwelling-place of Francis I. A great part of the youth of Francis had been spent there; there, soon after his accession, he had celebrated the betrothal of Renee de Montpensier and the Duke of Lorraine; and there three of his own children had been born.
To the great Italian artist was given the little manor-house of Cloux, standing between the castle and the town of Amboise. This manor-house, now known under the name of Clos-Luce, has lately been restored. Anatole de Montaiglon says of it : “Leonardo has leaned on the window-sills of the two stories, his feet have trodden the staircase, his step has passed through all the eight large rooms of which the dwelling is composed ; and in the quiet house, which has not altered, externally at least, since those days, we can imagine we see him yet.” The room in which Leonardo breathed his last is said to be still existing with its raftered ceiling and its huge hearth.
He often received visits from the great personages who frequented the court of Francis I. In the autumn of 1516 the Cardinal of Aragon visited the painter, attended by his retinue. The cardinal’s secretary, Antonio di Beatis, tells us that Leonardo showed the prelate three paintings : a female portrait executed for Giuliano de’ Medici, a young St. John the Baptist, and a Madonna with the Child on the lap of St. Anne. ” Unfortunately,” adds the secretary, “a sort of paralysis, which has affected his right hand, for-bids our expecting more good work from him.”
Leonardo, however, brought his abilities as an engineer to the service of Francis, and we are told of the plan which he made for digging a canal near Romorantin, to be used both for irrigation and navigation, in addition to other works.
The failing condition of his health at this time suggested to the master the advisability of making his last arrangements, and a week before his death a notary of Amboise was sent for, and to him Leonardo dictated his will. The original document is lost, but a copy is in existence. It provides that the body of the testator be interred in the church of St. Florentin at Amboise, also for the celebration of numerous masses, and for certain gifts to the poor of the neighborhood. Leonardo’s friend and pupil, Francesco Melzi, a young Milanese of noble birth, who had accompanied the painter to France, was made sole executor and given certain sums of money and all of the artist’s books, drawings, manuscripts, and instruments. This priceless legacy, thus, luckily, came into the hands of one who rightly appreciated its value to the world, which owes to Melzi the preservation of these precious relics of Leonardo. Other bequests were made to the brothers of the artist and to some old servants.
Vasari says : ” Leonardo, growing old, fell sick for many months, and seeing death draw near, he desired to be carefully instructed concerning the things of our good and holy Christian and Catholic religion, and having made his confession and repented with many tears, he insisted, though he could not stand upright, and had to be supported in the arms of his friends and servants, on leaving his bed to receive the most blessed sacrament. The king, who often went to see him in the most friendly fashion, arrived at this moment ; Leonardo, out of respect, raised himself up in his bed, explained the nature and changes of his illness to him, and told him, further, how much he had offended God and men by not using his talent as he should have done. Just at this moment he was seized with a spasm, the forerunner of death ; the king rose from his seat and took hold of his head to help him, and prove his favor to him, so as to comfort him in his suffering ; but this divine spirit, recognizing that he could never attain a greater honor, expired in the king’s arms, at the age of sixty-seven years, on May 2, 1519″
Much doubt has been cast in later days upon this anecdote, which has been made the subject of several pictures by French artists, but it cannot be said to be absolutely disproved.
“Thus died, full of years and glory, but far from his own land, the mighty genius who had carried the art of painting to its highest perfection, and had penetrated farther into the mysteries of nature than any mortal since the days of Epicurus and Aristotle.”
Leonardo was buried in the cloister of the church of St. Florentin, since entirely demolished.
The life of the distinguished painter of the “Death of Leonardo da Vinci” affords a remarkable instance of perseverance and of industry continued through extreme old age.
For Ingres was eighty-six when death over-took him, in Paris, on January 14, 1867. A pupil of David, during his long stay in Rome, both as a student and as director of the French school there, he was much influenced by the works of Raphael. He became the recognized leader of those who followed the classic school in painting as opposed to the romantic, and at the Universal Exhibition in Paris, in 1855, he was awarded a gold medal, though his chief rival, Delacroix, received a like honor.
The Cathedral of Montauban, his native town, contains Ipgres’s “Vow of Louis XIII. ; ” the Louvre holds his ” Apotheosis of Homer,” his ” Joan of Arc at the Coronation of Charles VII.,” his ” Roger Delivering Angelica,” his ” OEdipus Explaining the Riddle of the Sphinx,” and his “La Source ” (painted at seventy-five), in addition to several portraits, including one of the composer, Cherubini. From a long list of other pictures, we will select for mention these titles : “The Martyrdom of St. Symphorien,” in Autun Cathedral ; “The Sleep of Ossian” and “The Triumph of Romulus,” both in the Quirinal Palace at Rome ; ” Stratonice,” “Francesca da Rimini,” “Raphael and the Fornarina,” “Virgil Reading the AEneid to Augustus and Octavia,” the “Virgin of the Host,” the “Sistine Chapel,” and the ” Odalisque with her Slave.”