Leonardo’s Milanese pupils

Leonardo Da Vinci. A master’s vision on ideal beauty inside Codex Urbinas and his Milanese students

 

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Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: Beautiful Women in Renaissance portraiture
Poems of women’s beauty in Renaissance portraiture
Chapter 3: Leonardo’s beauty in Codex Urbinas
Chapter 4: Leonardo and his pupils in Milan 1483-1499
Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio: Portrait of a Lady in the Clothes of St. Lucy (c. 1500)
Andrea Solario: The Lute Player (c. 1510)
Chapter 5: Conclusion
Bibliography
Appendix
List of Figures
Figures

Chapter 1: Introduction

Leonardo da Vinci, an artist, created a few female portraits after his arrival in the Sforza court of Milan around 1483. A mature woman through his eyes was one who possessed contemporary ideals of female virtue and chastity. In his portraits however, it was not only the creation of a beautiful female, but also most importantly, the creation of spoken character. These compiled notes and theories of pronounced beauty were written in his Codex Urbinas at the start of his career at the Sforza court, and the start of his first workshop. [1: Luke Syson, Larry Keith, and Johanna Stephenson, Leonardo Da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan, London 2011, pp. 104- 106.]

This paper will examine the dialogue between Leonardo’s Codex Urbinas and paintings of his Milanese pupils under his first line of apprenticeship in Milan between 1483 and 1499. The question arises to what extent the treatise of Leonardo’s Codex Urbinas -with respect to beauty in woman portraits- can be traced back to his pupils. The specific objectives in this paper are divided into four steps. First, this essay will describe the short context of women portraiture during the Renaissance.

This historical context will bring about the clove of change that Leonardo brought to the appearance of women in portraiture and to the era of Renaissance portraiture. Second, the purpose of Codex Urbinas will be emphasized plus an outline of an ideal woman portrait of what Leonardo considered to be beautiful. Thirdly, this essay will examine an elegant sample of two woman portraits, each designed by two individual Milanese artists in their first period in Milan. The artists that will be discussed in this paper are namely Giovanni Antonio Blotraffio (c. 1466/1467– 1516) and Andrea Solario (1460–1524). These students are of particular importance to us because they were active around the same time together, and because Boltraffio was under Leonardo’s personal apprenticeship, while Solario served indirectly.

These artists will expound on the foundations of the Codex Urbinas articulately, and relate their works, in order to understand the legendry ‘ideal beauty’ through the eyes of Leonardo. Lastly, this paper will consolidate these theories of evidence to form an overall conclusion. Based on historiographical notes presented by contemporary historians, Internet sources and translations of the Codex Urbinas these objectives will be described.

Various scholars have addressed the formulae’s of Leonardesque art in their pupils, but have written very little very little with reference to his written word of Codex Urbinas hence, as stated by Marani, this topic of comparison, “…requires further investigation”.[2: Pietro C. Marani ‘The question of Leonardo’s Bottega: Practices and the Transmission of Leonardo’s ideas on art and painting’, in: David Alan Brown, Giulio Bora, and Marco Carimati, The Legacy of Leonardo: Painters in Lombardy 1490- 1530, Milan 1998, p. 27. ]

Chapter 2: Beautiful Women in Renaissance portraiture

There are numerous factors pertinent to the subject of women’s beauty in Renaissance portraiture. To understand more about the function of women in the Renaissance, the writings of lyrical poems shall be mentioned. In Italy, these expressive poems became more plausible in the sixteenth century, especially with the illusion of representing personalities introduced by Leonardo.He used the lyrical poems to guide his work, as evidenced through his work Lady with an Ermine. [3: Paola, Tinagli, Women in Italian Renaissance Art: Gender, Representation, and Identity, Manchester 1997, pp. 85- 104. ]

Poems of women’s beauty in Renaissance portraiture

Lyrical Poems of women portraits were famous in the second half of fifteenth-century Florentine republic. The Sforza court was no exception to this art, especially in the context of representations of their courtly women. These women often had the nubile adolescence periods, where key moments of their life cycle such as marriage, childbirth and widowhood were portrayed.

The profile portrait, which only showed the left side of the sitter, was favored by both men and women, and echoed types that derived from ancient coins and medals.

The origins of these portraits were derived from poetry of writings by Petrach, with a sonnet on Simone Martini’s portrait of Laura. He sings that no other painter can overpower the beauty of his beloved Laura, who exhales beauty through the soul of her body. These songs were idealizing the portrayal of women, one that held the elements of chastity, virtue and honor towards their husbands. Their external beauty was beloved by men, which were again, represented by their love for inner virtue.

Portraits of such beautiful females were often idealized, making them an opening for their true soul. Beauty was an adornment of personal virtue, one that could bring context to their lives, whilst public virtue was meant for their husbands. The iconographic senses of symbolism for beauty were often portrayed with objects such as transparent glass vessels, enclosed gardens a unicorn or special gems. This however was laid aside, as Leonardo captured the form of beauty in all forms.

He embraced all traits of women in portraits, both historical and personal attributes. This is clearly seen from the details of Lady with an Ermine (ca. 1503, fig. 1), one of the paintings created by the master’s hand at Sforza’s court. Leonardo too, understood these lyrical poems, and observed his own idealization of beauty in his writing of On Painting. [4: Tinagli 1997 (see note 3), p. 89. ] [5: David A. Brown, Vritue and Beauty: Leonardo’s Ginevra D’ Benci and Renaissance portraits of Women, Washington 2001, p. 64. ] [6: Tinagli 1997 (see note 3), p.86] [7: Brown 2001 (see note 5), p. 43. ] [8: Tinagli 1997 (see note 3), p. 29] [9: Tinagli 1997 (see note 3), p. 98. ] [10: Brown 2001 (see note 5), p. 43. ]

Chapter 3: Leonardo’s beauty in Codex Urbinas

The Codex Urbinas is a collection of manuscripts and notes on painting, poetry and sculpture written soon after Leonardo’s arrival in Milan in 1493. It was this particular subject of painting that absorbed him, for he believed that painting was equivalent to the art of science. To him, painting possessed the formulae of all scientific activity because it was empirical and descriptive.

It was a medium that described the union between art and nature, nature being science through the eyes of Leonardo. [11: Martin Clayton, Leonardo Da Vinci: The Divine and the Grotesque, London 2002, p. 101. ] [12: Ernst H. Gombrich, New Light on Old Masters, Chicago, pp. 36- 41. ]

Leonardo considered sight as the most important sense that allowed the vision of beauty to be seen. He writes: “Don’t you see that the eye embraces the beauty of the whole world? […] The eye is the window of the human body, through which the it is the [soul] contemplates and enjoys the beauty of the world”. Therefore for beauty to be ‘seen’, it was not only meant to please the viewer, but it was also meant to speak though the soul of the body- as mentioned earlier in this paper.

In other words, Leonardo writes that the reception of the body is not subject to the soul; rather, the soul needs the body to be able to exist in the world and to enjoy her beauty. Body and soul are interdependent, and cannot function or exist as separate autonomous entries. [13: Martin Kemp, and Pascal Cotte, Leonardo Da Vinci “La Bella Principessa: The Profile portrait of a Milanese Woman, London 2010, p. 175.] [14: Robert Zwijnenberg, ‘St. John the Baptist and the Essence of Painting’, in: Claire J. Farago (ed.), Leonardo Da Vinci and the Ethics of Style, Manchester 2008, pp. 97- 98.]

Among his writings about beautiful paintings, he also taught his students about ‘training of the painter in youth’ in part two of Codex Urbinas. Leonardo does not directly state his personal idea of beauty, he does however write about how to enhance it by certain techniques, advice, exercise, practice and memory. Hence by extracting ideas of Leonardo’s first woman’s portrait, Lady with an Ermine at Sforza’s court, it will be easier to understand Leonardo’s ideal of beauty.

Plus, in correlation with his bottega, Leonardo believed that “Time will destroy the harmony of human beauty in a few years, but this does not occur with such beauty imitated by the painter, because time will long preserve it. And the eye, in keeping with its function, will derive as much true pleasure from depicted beauty as from the living beauty denied to it…”. Two things are important here: first, he explains that the painter is capable of capturing beauty, and secondly, how an artist ought to preserve it. A poet at the Sforza court, Bernardo Bellincioni wrote that Leonardo was not willing to improve beauty, but rather to halt it. Second, Leonardo further advances the idea that the eyes are the organs that take pleasure in looking at beauty. He extended these ideas further to his students.

It is thus no coincidence that the making of the Codex Urbinas was created in his first bottega, since his students needed detailed instructions. [15: Leonardo Da Vinci, Ludwig H. Heydenreich, and Amos Philip McMahon (ed.), Codex urbinas: (Codex Urbinas Latinus 1270), New Jersey 1956, (Fols 11v-12r; McM 42;k/ w 40). ] [16: Syson 2011 (see note 1), p. 104. ] [17: Stefan Weppelmann, ‘Some Thoughts on Likeness in Italian Early Renaissance Portraits’, in: Christiansen, Keith (ed.), Stefan Weppelmann, and Patricia Lee Rubin, The Renaissance Portrait: From Donatello to Bellini, New York 2011, pp. 74- 75. ] [18: Guilio Bora ‘The Leonardesque circle and drawing’, in: David Alan Brown, Giulio Bora, and Marco Carminati, The Legacy of Leonardo: Painters in Lombardy 1490- 1530, Milan 1998, p. 96.]

Before moving on to the next part of this paper, it is important to note that there is a distinction made between direct and indirect pupils of Leonardo. This is created to determine influences that Leonardo’s direct pupils have the Codex Urbinas, as well as indirect contact with Leonardo’s teaching. This provides us with the evidence that personal training, instead of indirect, could possibly reproduce the advice written in Leonardo’s ideal of woman’s beauty.

Chapter 4: Leonardo and his pupils in Milan 1483-1499

Only a handful of students were present in Leonardo’s first workshop. Whether Leonardo’s students received a prior basic training or did an apprenticeship beginning at their adolescence is still unclear. Whatever the case, it is clear that Leonardo was open for apprenticeship. This is evident from a note written by the master himself through Codex Urbinas: “The painter must acquire skill in imitating the works of accomplished masters, and should accustom his hand with the judgment of his teacher …”.

From this extract, Leonardo felt the need to educate his devotees. It was after all a purpose by the Quattrocento period guild the Scuola di San Luca of Milan to advise painters to subscribe and establish helpers for specific commissions. Leonardo did not behave differently from his contemporaries, or the rules of the guild. In fact, his methods of teaching were adequate and selfless. In doing so, Leonardo forbade his students to use a paintbrush until his student would learn the fruitful exercise of presenting exact proportions and images without models in front of them. Imitating the figure, copying them and setting up as a sort ‘type’.

This proved somehow difficult to his students who created same works together, bringing certain homogeneity of style, which Brown calls “group style”. The works provided in the next part of this paper will reference Leonardo’s student’s individual taste. Distinguishing them will be easier, since research on collaborated Leonardo’s works are still in heavy debate among contemporary art historians. The following students, namely Boltraffio and Solario provided portraits that are open for inquiry.

They have been selected because they worked together in Leonardo’s first period in Milan, and because they are the only artists whose works of female portraits have existed. [19: Carmen Bambach, ‘Introduction to Leonardo and his drawings’, in: Carmen Bambach, Rachel Stern, and Alison Manges, Leonardo Da Vinci, Master Draftsman, New York, 2003, p. 49. ] [20: Bambach 2003 (see note 19), p. 8. ] [21: Marani 1998 (see note 2), p. 17.] [22: Francoise Viatte, ‘Early drapery studies’, in: Carmen Bambach, Rachel Stern, and Alison Manges, Leonardo Da Vinci, Master Draftsman, New York, 2003, p. 115.] [23: Larry Keith, ‘In pursuit of perfection, Leonardo’s painting technique’, in: Luke Syson (ed.), Larry Keith, and Johanna Stephenson, Leonardo Da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan, London 2011, p. 73.]

Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio: Portrait of a Lady in the Clothes of St. Lucy (c. 1500)

Giovanni Boltraffio was an artist that paid great tribute to his master, and ceased to recreate his work after Leonardo’s definite departure from Milan in 1513. The young Boltraffio entered Leonardo’s workshop at the age of twenty-four. Art historian Maria Fiorio described Boltraffio’s work as one that demonstrated perfected technical quality, and sieged Leonardo’s heart, and other contemporary students in Leonardo’s workshop. [24: Maria T. Fiorio, ‘Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio’, in: Brown D. Alan, Giulio Bora, and Marco Carimati, The Legacy of Leonardo: Painters in Lombardy 1490- 1530, Milan 1998, p. 135.]

Boltraffio was very successful in the art of portraiture. His talent is shown through the Portrait of a Lady in the Clothes of St. Lucy (c. 1500, fig. 2). Documents have not been able to identify the woman, but from the attire she is wearing, it is possible that she might have carried her saint name ‘Lucy’. Even though her face is unidentifiable, there are signs of influence by Leonardo’s hand. The female sitter is positioned in a three-quarterly pose and is focused closely towards the rim of the frame. Her dark attire is reminiscent of the holy saint of Lucy, and is aligned perfectly around her bare skin, showing her religious beaded necklace, embalmed by a Greek cross.

An almost virtually transparent veil is draped on her head, delicately touched by strokes of a soft white brush. Boltraffio showed exceptionally high contrast between the color of Lucy’s face, and that of the background. In Codex Urbinas Leonardo writes: “[….] it does not satisfy the mind of the …viewer in the same way as the proportionality of the very beautiful parts […] which by contrast are conjoined instantaneously, giving me such delight with their divine proportions.” The proportions are indeed quite striking, when divided among an environment that contains a stale pallet of few colors.

The attributes of the eye that Lucy holds on a stem are also mentioned through the words of Codex Urbinas “The hands and the arms must, whenever possible, display […] intention of the mind that moves them” and “ a gesture that moves them”. Lucy displays her inner function literally by holding her eye, and wearing a heavy beaded Greek cross around her neck. Leonardo preferred high values of luminosity, which was achieved by layering glazes of different pigments of color onto his painting. Boltraffio used this soft technique in layering Lucy’s saints ichnographic eye, and her soft, white veil. Leonardo continues to write: “Of the selection of beautiful faces […] Look about for the good parts of many beautiful faces, parts considered beautiful by public opinion, rather than by your own preference. You can deceive yourself by selecting faces that are similar to your own; since it often seems that such similarities please us […].

So choose beautiful faces as I tell you and commit them to memory.” Boltraffio selected Lucy’s skin and face to be the most beautiful, as it weighs heavier along its background. He also chose Lucy to be a representation of a holy beautiful figure, Saint Lucy. With this, Boltraffio also followed Codex Urbinas “of beauty: beauty of the face may be equally fine in different persons, but never in the same form, and should be made different…”.

Likewise, Boltraffio painted Lucy as a representation of a holy figure, and ‘equally fine’ realistic womanly features from the way the shadow curls around her neck, and the precise realistic details around her mouth and nose. [25: Fiorio 1998 (see note 24), p. 142.] [26: McMahon 1956 (see note 15), (McM 28 (CU 14v-15r)).] [27: McMahon 1956 (see note 15), (McM 149 (CU 396. 123v)), How the hands and arms must, in all their actions, display the intention of the mind that moves them. ] [28: McMahon 1956 (see note 15), (McM 150 (CU 109v 398)), The gestures of the figures] [29: Keith 2011 (see note 23), p. 73.] [30: McMahon 1956 (see note 15), (McM 276 (CU 50v -51/ MS A, 27)), Of the selection of beautiful figures.] [31: McMahon 1956 (see note 15) (McM 278 (CU 51v, Libro A, 44)), Of beauty and ugliness. ]

Lucy runs closely alongside Leonardo’s On Painting. Sharing aspects of a darkened background, and neckline of The Lady with an Ermine, Boltraffio was able to omit a more clarified approach with ‘beauty’ through eye contact. In this next section, another artist shall be introduced. From there on, this paper can further deuce the theory of Leonardo’s idea of beauty.

Andrea Solario: The Lute Player (c. 1510)

Andrea Solario arrived in Milan in late fifteenth century. His work remained different in likeness with Leonardo, but by the time he arrived in Milan it was almost unavoidable to withstand the forces of Leonardo’s new High Renaissance style that fumed in Tuscany at the time. Hence Solario quickly blended into the Leonardo prototype, and molded them in a particular way that satisfied his taste. There are only a few pieces created by his hand, but few items that did echo a Leonardo prototype.

In Solario’s Lute Player (c. 1510 fig. 3), for example, the Leonardesque model reappears. This finely dressed, full-bodied lady is positioned onto the center of the work, with a black backdrop behind her. The composition of the painting is divided by the heaviness of the woman and her large lute. The headpiece that she bound around her head is elaborately decorated with full plumps of cloth. Vasari writes that women had “…lovely expressions and hairstyles, which because of their beauty Leonardo da Vinci was always imitating”.

Leonardo had a personal delight in painting and drawing elaborate headdresses, and forms of ornate hairstyles that were common to his memories. [32: Giorgio Vasari, The Lives of the Artists, Florence 1568. Published: Oxford University Press, translated by Julia Conaway Bondanella and Peter E. Bondanella, Oxford 1991, p. 235. ]

Solario’s Lute Player devours herself in heavy fabric, with a long naked neckline that cannot go unnoticed. Codex Urbina’s states: “of grace of the limbs […] if you wish to display attractiveness, you should make it delicate and elongated”. Certainly, the elongated neck does repeat in The Lute Player. The shadows have refused to touch the merge between shoulders and neck, and the necklace drooped around her neck is far too overstretched. Furthermore, The Lute Player is different in regards to the woman’s occupation, but also her size.

Leonardo writes, “Of judges of various beauties of equal excellence in various bodies […] although in different modes there would be different beauties of equal attractiveness, different judges of equal intelligence will judge that there is great difference between one and the other among those they prefer.” With this, Leonardo states that there are different levels of beauty, and with that, different forms of attractiveness. [33: McMahon 1956 (see note 15), (McM 382 (CU 114, MS A 29v)), Of the grace of limbs. ] [34: McMahon 1956 (see note 15), (McM 279 (CU 51v, Libro A 477)), Of judges of various beauties of equal excellence in various bodies.]

Chapter 5: Conclusion

This paper was about an exploration of the relationship between Leonardo da Vinci’s Milanese students and their faithfulness in painting ‘beautiful’ women by means of their master’s Treatise Codex Urbinas. Both students, Boltraffio and Solario acknowledged Leonardo’s vision of beauty in Codex Urbinas. Details of a ‘beautiful’ face were scarcely described in this treatise however, although Boltraffio was personally taught in Leonardo’s workshop, whilst Solario was not, they can still deduct strong Leonardesque similarities. As formulae for Leonardo’s beauty, this paper used Leonardo’s painting The Lady with an Ermine.

The background is black; there are distinct contours of the neckline (see fig. 4), soft smiles and an elegant show of hands expressed in all portraits. Both Boltraffio and Solario’s women show physical body by visually accompanying Codex Urbinas techniques in beauty, and applied divine interactions by crafting their women to speak female virtue, obedience and chastity by applying direct eye contact. Both students learned their master’s work, applied his techniques, and continued to work with Codex Urbinas, but with an attachment-pending mystery coming from their women’s eyes, and their personal adornment of female beauty.

Bibliography

Bambach, Carmen, Rachel Stern, and Alison Manges, Leonardo Da Vinci, Master Draftsman, New York 2003.
Brown, David Alan, Giulio Bora, and Marco Carminati, The Legacy of Leonardo: Painters in Lombardy 1490- 1530, Milan 1998.
Brown, David Alan, Vritue and Beauty: Leonardo’s Ginevra D’ Benci and Renaissance portraits of Women, Washington 2001,
Christiansen, Keith, Stefan Weppelmann, and Patricia Lee Rubin, The Renaissance Portrait: From Donatello to Bellini, New York 2011.
Clayton, Martin, Leonardo Da Vinci: The Divine and the Grotesque, London 2002.
Farago, Claire J., Leonardo Da Vinci and the Ethics of Style, Manchester 2008.
Kemp, Martin, and Pascal Cotte, Leonardo Da Vinci “La Bella Principessa: The Profile portrait of a Milanese Woman, London 2010.
Kemp, Martin, Leonardo Da Vinci: The Marvelous Works of Nature and Man, Cambridge 1981.
Syson, Luke, Larry Keith, and Johanna Stephenson, Leonardo Da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan, London 2011.
Tinagli, Paola, Women in Italian Renaissance Art: Gender, Representation, and Identity, Manchester 1997.
Vasari, Giorgio, The Lives of the Artists, Florence 1568. Published: Oxford University Press, translated Julia Conaway Bondanella and Peter E. Bondanella, Oxford 1991.
Vinci, Leonardo Da, Ludwig H. Heydenreich, and Amos Philip McMahon (ed.), Treatise On Painting: (Codex Urbinas Latinus 1270), New Jersey 1956.

Appendix

List of Figures

Figure 1: Leonardo Da Vinci, Lady with an Ermine, c. 1489-90, Oil on wood panel, 54 x 39cm, Czartoryski Museum, Kraków. File from: santacroceinflorence <https://santacroceinflorence.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/lady-with-an-ermine.jpg>.

Figure 2: Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, Portrait of a Lady as St. Lucy, c. 1500, Oil on panel, 52x 37cm, Museo Thyssen- Bornemisza, Madrid. File from: Web gallery of Art <http://www.wga.hu/art/b/boltraff/ladylucy.jpg>.

Figure 3: Andrea Solario, The Lute Player, c. 1510, Oil on panel, 65 x 52cm, Galleria Nazionale d’ Arte Antica, Rome. File from: Wikimedia <http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/90/Andrea_Solario_-_The_Lute_Player_-_WGA21604.jpg>.

 

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