The world, perhaps, contains no other example of a genius so
universal as Leonardo's, so creative, so incapable of self-
contentment, so athirst for the infinite, so naturally refined, so
far in advance of his own and subsequent ages. His pictures express
incredible sensibility and mental power; they overflow with
unexpressed ideas and emotions. Alongside of his portraits
Michelangelo's personages are simply heroic athletes; Raphael's
virgins are only placid children whose souls are still asleep. His
beings feel and think through every line and trait of their
physiognomy. Time is necessary to enter into communion with them;
not that their sentiment is too slightly marked, for, on the
contrary, it emerges from the whole investiture; but it is too
subtle, too complicated, too far above and beyond the ordinary, too
dreamlike and inexplicable.
--Taine in "A Journey Through Italy"
There is a little book by George B. Rose, entitled, "Renaissance
Masters," which is quite worth your while to read. I carried a copy,
for company, in the side-pocket of my coat for a week, and just
peeped into it at odd times. I remember that I thought so little of
the volume that I read it with a lead-pencil and marked it all up
and down and over, and filled the fly-leaves with random thoughts,
and disfigured the margins with a few foolish sketches.
Then one fine day White Pigeon came out to the Roycroft Shop from
Buffalo, as she was passing through. She came on the two-o'clock
train and went away on the four-o'clock, and her visit was like a
window flung open to the azure.
White Pigeon remained at East Aurora only two hours--"not long
enough" she said, "to knock the gold and emerald off the butterfly's
White Pigeon saw the little book I have mentioned, on my table in
the tower-room. She picked it up and turned the leaves aimlessly;
then she opened her Boston bag and slipped the book inside, saying
as she did so:
"You do not mind?"
And I said, "Certainly not!"
Then she added, "I like to follow in the pathway you have blazed."
That closed the matter so far as the little book was concerned.
Save, perhaps, that after I had walked to the station with White
Pigeon and she had boarded the car, she stepped out upon the rear
platform, and as I stood there at the station watching the train
disappear around the curve, White Pigeon reached into the Boston
bag, took out the little book and held it up.
That was the last time I saw White Pigeon. She was looking well and
strong, and her step, I noticed, was firm and sure, and she carried
the crown of her head high and her chin in. It made me carry my chin
in, too, just by force of example, I suppose--so easily are we
influenced. When you walk with some folks you slouch along, but
others there be who make you feel an upward lift and skyey
gravitation--it is very curious!
Yet I do really believe White Pigeon is forty, or awfully close to
it. There are silver streaks among her brown braids, and surely the
peachblow has long gone from her cheek. Then she was awfully tanned
--and that little mole on her forehead, and its mate on her chin,
stand out more than ever, like the freckles on the face of
Alcibiades Roycroft when he has taken on his August russet.
I think White Pigeon must be near forty! That is the second book she
has stolen from me; the other was Max Muller's "Memories"--it was at
the Louvre in Paris, August the Fourteenth, Eighteen Hundred Ninety-
five, as we sat on a bench, silent before the "Mona Lisa" of
This book, "Renaissance Masters," I didn't care much for, anyway. I
got no information from it, yet it gave me a sort o' glow--that is
all--like that lecture which I heard in my boyhood by Wendell
There is only one thing in the book I remember, but that stands out
as clearly as the little mole on White Pigeon's forehead. The author
said that Leonardo da Vinci invented more useful appliances than any
other man who ever lived, except our own Edison.
I know Edison: he is a most lovable man (because he is himself),
very deaf--and glad of it, he says, because it saves him from
hearing a lot of things he doesn't wish to hear. "It is like this,"
he once said to me: "deafness gives you a needed isolation; reduces
your sensitiveness so things do not disturb or distract; allows you
to concentrate and focus on a thought until you run it down--see?"
Edison is a great Philistine--reads everything I write--has a
complete file of the little brownie magazine; and some of the
"Little Journeys" I saw he had interlined and marked. I think Edison
is one of the greatest men I ever met--he appreciates Good Things.
I told Edison how this writer, Rose, had compared him with Leonardo.
He smiled and said, "Who is Rose?" Then after a little pause he
continued, "The Great Man is one who has been a long time dead--the
woods are full of wizards, but not many of them know that"; and the
Wizard laughed softly at his own joke.
What kind of a man was Leonardo? Why, he was the same kind of a man
as Edison--only Leonardo was thin and tall, while Edison is stout.
But you and I would be at home with either. Both are classics and
therefore essentially modern. Leonardo studied Nature at first hand
--he took nothing for granted--Nature was his one book. Stuffy,
fussy, indoor professors--men of awful dignity--frighten folks,
cause children to scream, and ladies to gaze in awe; but Leonardo
was simple and unpretentious. He was at home in any society, high or
low, rich or poor, learned or unlearned--and was quite content to be
himself. It's a fine thing to be yourself!
Thackeray once said, "If I had met Shakespeare on the stairs, I know
I should have fainted dead away!" I do not believe Shakespeare's
presence ever made anybody faint. He was so big that he could well
afford to put folks at their ease.
If Leonardo should come to East Aurora, Bertie, Oliver, Lyle and I
would tramp with him across the fields, and he would carry that
leather bag strung across his shoulder, just as he ever did when in
the country. He was a geologist and a botanist, and was always
collecting things (and forgetting where they were).
We would tramp with him, I say, and if the season were right we
would go through orchards, sit under the trees and eat apples. And
Leonardo would talk, as he liked to do, and tell why the side of
fruit that was towards the sun took on a beautiful color first; and
when an apple fell from the tree he would, so to speak, anticipate
Sir Isaac Newton and explain why it fell down and not up.
That leather bag of his, I fear, would get rather heavy before we
got back, and probably Oliver and Lyle would dispute the honor of
carrying it for him.
Leonardo was once engaged by Cesare Borgia to fortify the kingdom of
Romagna. It was a brand-new kingdom, presented to the young man by
Pope Alexander the Sixth. It was really the Pope who ordered
Leonardo to survey the tract and make plans for the fortifications
and canals and all that--so Leonardo didn't like to refuse. Cesare
Borgia had the felicity of being the son of the Pope, but the Pope
used to refer to him as his nephew--it was a habit that Popes once
had. Pope Alexander also had a daughter--by name, Lucrezia Borgia--
sister to Cesare and very much like him, for they took their
diversion in the same way.
Leonardo started in to do the work and make plans for fortifications
that should be impregnable. He looked the ground over thoroughly,
traveling on horseback, and his two servants followed him up in a
cart drawn by a bull, which Leonardo calmly explains was a "side-
Leonardo carried a big sketchbook, and as he made plans for
redoubts, he made notes to the effect that crows fly in flocks
without a leader, and wild ducks have a system and fly V shape, with
a leader that changes off from time to time with the privates. Also,
a waterfall runs the musical gamut, and the water might be separated
so as to play a tune. Also, the leaves turn to gold through
oxidation, and robins pair for life.
Leonardo also wrote at this time on the movements of the clouds, the
broken strata of rocks, the fertilization of flowers, the habits of
bees, and a hundred other themes which fill the library of notebooks
that he left.
Meanwhile, Cesare Borgia was getting a trifle impatient about the
building of his forts. Two years had passed when Cesare and his
father met with an accident not uncommon in those times. The
precious pair had indulged in their Borgian specialty for the
benefit of a certain cardinal, whom they did not warmly admire,
though the plot seems to have been chiefly the work of Cesare. By
mistake they drank the poisoned wine prepared for the cardinal, and
the Pope was cut off amidst a life of usefulness, his son surviving
for a worse fate. Pope Julius the Second coming upon the scene,
speedily dispossessed the Borgias, and the idea of the new kingdom
Leonardo evidently did not go into mourning for the Pope. He had a
bullock-cart loaded with specimens, sketches and notebooks, and he
set to work to sort them out. He was very happy in this employment--
being essentially a man of peace--and while he made forts and
planned siege-guns he was a deal more interested in certain swallows
that made nests and glued the work into a most curious and beautiful
structure, and when the birds were old enough to fly, tore up the
nest, pushing the wee birds out to "swim in the air" or perish.
I made some notes about Leonardo's bird observations in the back of
that "Renaissance" book that White Pigeon appropriated. I can not
recall just what they were--I think I'll hunt White Pigeon up the
next time I am in Paris, and get the book back.
When that painstaking biographer, Arsene Houssaye, was endeavoring
to fix the date of Leonardo da Vinci's birth, he interviewed a
certain bishop, who waived the matter thus: "Surely what difference
does it make, since he had no business to be born at all?"--a very
Milesian-like reply. Houssaye is too sensible a man to waste words
with the spiritually obese, and so merely answered in the language
of Terence, "I am a man and nothing that is human is alien to me!"
The gentle Erasmus when a boy was once taunted by a schoolfellow
with having "no name." And Erasmus replied, "Then, I'll make one for
myself." And he did.
No record of Leonardo's birth exists, but the year is fixed upon in
a very curious way. Caterina, his mother, was married one year after
his birth. The date of this marriage is proven, and the fact that
the son of Piero da Vinci was then a year old is also shown. As the
marriage occurred in Fourteen Hundred Fifty-three, we simply go back
one year and say that Leonardo da Vinci was born in Fourteen Hundred
Most accounts say that Caterina was a servant in the Da Vinci
family, but a later and seemingly more authentic writer informs us
that she was a governess and a teacher of needlework. That her
kinsmen hastened her marriage with the peasant, Vacca Accattabriga,
seems quite certain: they sought to establish her in a respectable
position. And so she acquiesced, and avoided society's displeasure,
very much as Lord Bacon escaped disgrace by leaving "Hamlet" upon
This child of Caterina's found a warm welcome in the noble family of
his father. From his babyhood he seems to have had the power of
winning hearts--he came fresh from God and brought love with him. We
even hear a little rustle of dissent from grandmother and aunts when
his father, Piero da Vinci, married, and started housekeeping as did
Benjamin Franklin "with a wife and a bouncing boy."
The charm of the child is again revealed in the fact that his
stepmother treated him as her own babe, and lavished her love upon
him even from her very wedding morn.
Perhaps the compliment should go to her, as well as to the child,
for the woman whose heart goes out to another woman's babe is surely
good quality. And this was the only taste of motherhood that this
brave woman knew, for she passed out in a few months.
Fate decreed that Leonardo should have successively four
stepmothers, and should live with all of them in happiness and
harmony, for he always made his father's house his own.
Leonardo was the idol of his father and all these stepmothers. He
had ten half-brothers, who alternately boasted of his kinship and
flouted him. Yet nothing could seriously disturb the serenity of his
mind. When his father died, without a will, the brothers sought to
dispossess Leonardo of his rights, and we hear of a lawsuit, which
was finally compromised. Yet note the magnanimity of Leonardo--in
his will he leaves bequests to these brothers who had sought to undo
Of the life of the mother after her marriage we know nothing. There
is a vague reference in Vasari's book to her "large family and
growing cares," but whether she knew of her son's career, we can not
say. Leonardo never mentions her, yet one writer has attempted to
show that the rare beauty of that mysterious face shown in so many
of Leonardo's pictures was modeled from the face of his mother.
No love-story comes to us in Leonardo's own life--he never married.
Ventura suggests that "on account of his birth, he was indifferent
to the divine institution of marriage." But this is pure conjecture.
We know that his great contemporaries, Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian
and Giorgione, never married; and we know further that there was a
sentiment in the air at that time, that an artist belonged to the
Church, and his life, like that of the priest, was sacred to her
Like Sir William Davenant, Leonardo was always proud of the mystery
that surrounded his birth--it differentiated him from the mass, and
placed him as one set apart. Well might he have used the language
put into the mouth of Edmund in "King Lear." In one of Leonardo's
manuscripts is found an interjected prayer of thankfulness for "the
divinity of my birth, and the angels that have guarded my life and
guided my feet"
This idea of "divinity" is strong in the mind of every great man. He
recognizes his sonship, and claims his divine parentage. The man of
masterly mind is perforce an Egotist. When he speaks he says, "Thus
saith the Lord." If he did not believe in himself, how could he make
others believe in him? Small men are apologetic and give excuses for
being on earth, and reasons for staying here so long, and run and
peek about to find themselves dishonorable graves. Not so the Great
Souls--the fact that they are here is proof that God sent them.
Their actions are regal, their language oracular, their manner
affirmative. Leonardo's mental attitude was sublimely gracious--he
had no grievance or quarrel with his Maker--he accepted life, and
ever found it good. "We are all sons of God and it doth not yet
appear what we shall be."
Philip Gilbert Hamerton, who wrote "The Intellectual Life," names
Leonardo da Vinci as having lived the richest, fullest and best-
rounded life of which we know. Yet while Leonardo lived, there also
lived Shakespeare, Loyola, Cervantes, Columbus, Martin Luther,
Savonarola, Erasmus, Michelangelo, Titian and Raphael. Titans all--
giants in intellect and performance, doing and daring, and working
such wonders as men never worked before: writing plays, without
thought of posterity, that are today the mine from which men work
their poetry; producing comedies that are classic; sailing trackless
seas and discovering continents; tacking proclamations of defiance
on church-doors; hunted and exiled for the right of honest speech;
welcoming fierce flames of fagots; falling upon blocks of marble and
liberating angels; painting pictures that have inspired millions!
But not one touched life at so many points, or reveled so in
existence, or was so captain of his soul as was Leonardo da Vinci.
Vasari calls him the "divinely endowed," "showered with the richest
gifts as by celestial munificence" and speaks of his countenance
thus: "The radiance of his face was so splendidly beautiful that it
brought cheerfulness to the hearts of the most melancholy, and his
presence was such that his lightest word would move the most
obstinate to say 'Yes' or 'No.'"
Bandello, the story-teller who was made a Bishop on account of his
peculiar talent, had the effrontery to put one of his worst stories,
that about the adventures of Fra Lippo Lippi, into the mouth of
Leonardo. This rough-cast tale, somewhat softened down and hand-
polished, served for one of Browning's best-known poems. Had
Bandello allowed Botticelli to tell the tale, it would have been
much more in keeping. Leonardo's days were too full of work to
permit of his indulging in the society of roysterers--his life was
singularly dignified and upright.
When about twenty years old Leonardo was a fellow-student with
Perugino in the bottega of good old Andrea del Verrocchio. It seems
the master painted a group and gave Leonardo the task of drawing in
one figure. Leonardo painted in an angel--an angel whose grace and
subtle beauty stand out, even today, like a ray of light. The story
runs that good old Verrocchio wept on first seeing it--wept
unselfish tears of joy, touched with a very human pathos--his pupil
had far surpassed him, and never again did Verrocchio attempt to
In physical strength Leonardo surpassed all his comrades. "He could
twist horseshoes between his fingers, bend bars of iron across his
knees, disarm every adversary, and in wrestling, running, vaulting
and swimming he had no equals. He was especially fond of horses, and
in the joust often rode animals that had never before been ridden,
winning prizes from the most daring." Brawn is usually purchased at
the expense of brain, but not so in this case. Leonardo was the
courtier and diplomat, and all the finer graces were in his keeping,
even from boyhood. And a recent biographer has made the discovery
that he was called from Florence to the Court of Milan "because he
was such an adept harpist, playing and singing his own
Yet we have the letter written by Leonardo to the Duke of Milan,
wherein he commends himself, and in humility tells of a few things
he can do. This most precious document is now in the Ambrosian
Library at Milan. After naming nine items in the way of constructing
bridges, tunnels, canals, fortifications, the making of cannon, use
of combustibles and explosives--known to him alone--he gets down to
things of peace and says: "I believe I am equaled by no one in
architecture in constructing public and private buildings, and in
conducting water from one place to another. I can execute sculpture,
whether in marble, bronze or terra cotta, and in drawing and
painting I believe I can do as much as any other man, be he who he
may. Further, I could engage to execute the bronze statue in memory
of your honored father. And again, if any of the above-mentioned
things should appear impossible or overstated, I am ready to make
such performance in any place or at any time to prove to you my
power. In humility I thus commend myself to your illustrious house,
and am your servant, Leonardo da Vinci."
And the strange part of all this is that Leonardo could do all he
claimed--or he might, if there were a hundred hours in a day and man
did not grow old.
The things he predicted and planned have mostly been done. He knew
the earth was round, and understood the orbits of the planets--
Columbus knew no more. His scheme of building a canal from Pisa to
Florence and diverting the waters of the Arno, was carried out
exactly as he had planned, two hundred years after his death. He
knew the expansive quality of steam, the right systems of dredging,
the action of the tides, the proper use of levers, screws and
cranes, and how immense weights could be raised and lowered. He
placed a new foundation under a church that was sinking in the sand
and elevated the whole stone structure several feet. But when Vasari
seriously says he had a plan for moving mountains (aside from
faith), I think we had better step aside and talk of other things.
And all this time that he was working at physics and mathematics, he
was painting and modeling in clay, just for recreation.
Then behold the Duke of Milan, the ascetic and profligate, libertine
and dreamer, hearing of him and sending straightway for Leonardo
because he is "the most accomplished harpist in Italy"!
So Leonardo came and led the dance and the tourney, improvised songs
and planned the fetes and festivals where strange animals turned
into birds and gigantic flowers opened, disclosing beautiful girls.
Yet Leonardo found time to plan the equestrian statue of Francisco
Sporza, the Duke's father, and finding the subject so interesting he
took up the systematic study of the horse, and dived to the depths
of horse anatomy in a way that no living man had done before. He
dissected the horse, articulated the skeletons of different breeds
for comparison, and then wrote a book upon the subject which is a
textbook yet; and meanwhile he let the statue wait. He discovered
that in the horse there are rudimentary muscles, and unused organs--
the "water-stomach" for instance--thus showing that the horse
evolved from a lower form of life--anticipating Darwin by three
The Duke was interested in statues and pictures--what he called
"results"--he didn't care for speculations or theories, and only a
live horse that could run fast interested him. So to keep the peace,
the gracious Leonardo painted portraits of the Duke's mistress,
posing her as the Blessed Virgin, thus winning the royal favor and
getting carte-blanche orders on the Keeper of the Exchequer. As a
result of this Milan period we have the superb portrait, now in the
Louvre, of Lucrezia Crivelli, who was supposed to be the favorite of
But the Duke was a married man, and the good wife must be placated.
She had turned to religion when her lover's love grew cold, just as
women always do; and for her Leonardo painted the "Last Supper" in
the dining-room of the monastery which was under her especial
protection, and where she often dined.
The devout lady found much satisfaction in directing the work, which
was to be rather general and simply decorative. But the heart of
Leonardo warmed to the task and as he worked he planned the most
famous painting in the world. All this time Leonardo had many pupils
in painting and sculpture. Soon he founded the Milan Academy of Art.
At odd times he made designs for the Duke's workers in silver and
gold, drew patterns for the nuns to embroider from, and gave them
and the assembled ladies, invited on the order of the Duke's wife,
lessons in literature and the gentle art of writing poetry.
The Prior of the monastery watched the work of the "Last Supper"
with impatient eyes. He had given up the room to the lumbering
scaffolds, hoping to have all cleaned up and tidy in a month, come
Michaelmas. But the month had passed and only blotches of color and
black, curious outlines marred the walls. Once the Prior threatened
to remove the lumber by force and wipe the walls clean, but Leonardo
looked at him and he retreated.
Now he complained to the Duke about the slowness of the task.
Leonardo worked alone, allowing no pupil or helper to touch the
picture. Five good, lively men could do the job in a week--"I could
do it myself, if allowed," the good Prior said. Often Leonardo would
stand with folded arms and survey the work for an hour at a time and
not lift a brush; the Prior had seen it all through the keyhole!
The Duke listened patiently and then summoned Leonardo. The
painter's gracious speech soon convinced the Duke that men of genius
do not work like hired laborers. This painting was to be a
masterpiece, fit monument to a wise and virtuous ruler. So
consummate a performance must not be hastened; besides there was no
one to pose for either the head of Christ or of Judas. The Christ
must be ideal and the face could only be conjured forth from the
painter's own soul, in moments of inspiration. As for Judas, "Why,
if nothing better can be found--and I doubt it much--I believe I
will take as model for Judas our friend the Prior!" And Leonardo
turned to the Prior, who fled and never again showed his face in the
room until the picture was finished.
The Prior's complaint, that Leonardo had too many irons in the fire,
was the universal cry the groundlings raised against him. "He begins
things, but never completes them," they said.
The man of genius conceives things; the man of talent carries them
forward to completion. This the critics did not know. It is too much
to expect the equal balance of genius and talent in one individual.
Leonardo had great talent, but his genius outstripped it, for he
planned what twenty lifetimes could not complete. He was indeed the
endless experimenter--his was in very truth the Experimental Life.
His incentive was self-development--to conceive was enough--common
men could complete. To try many things means Power: to finish a few
God's masterpiece is the human face. A woman's smile may have in it
more sublimity than a sunset; more pathos than a battle-scarred
landscape; more warmth than the sun's bright ray; more love than
words can say.
The human face is the masterpiece of God.
The eyes reveal the soul, the mouth the flesh, the chin stands for
purpose, the nose means will. But over and behind all is that
fleeting Something we call "expression." This Something is not set
or fixed, it is fluid as the ether, changeful as the clouds that
move in mysterious majesty across the surface of a summer sky,
subtle as the sob of rustling leaves--too faint at times for human
ears--elusive as the ripples that play hide-and-seek over the bosom
of a placid lake.
And yet men have caught expression and held it captive. On the walls
of the Louvre hangs the "Mona Lisa" of Leonardo da Vinci. This
picture has been for four hundred years an exasperation and an
inspiration to every portrait-painter who has put brush to palette.
Well does Walter Pater call it, "The Despair of Painters." The
artist was over fifty years of age when he began the work, and he
was four years in completing the task.
Completing, did I say? Leonardo's dying regret was that he had not
completed this picture. And yet we might say of it, as Ruskin said
of Turner's work, "By no conceivable stretch of imagination can we
say where this picture could be bettered or improved upon."
Leonardo did not paint this portrait for the woman who sat for it,
nor for the woman's husband, who we know was not interested in the
matter. The painter made the picture for himself, but succumbing to
temptation, sold it to the King of France for a sum equal to
something over eighty thousand dollars--an enormous amount at that
time to be paid for a single canvas. The picture was not for sale,
which accounts for the tremendous price that it brought.
Unlike so many other works attributed to Leonardo, no doubt exists
as to the authenticity of "La Gioconda." The correspondence relative
to its sale yet exists, and even the voucher proving its payment may
still be seen. Fate and fortune have guarded the "Mona Lisa"; and
neither thief nor vandal, nor impious infidel nor unappreciative
stupidity, nor time itself has done it harm. France bought the
picture; France has always owned and housed it; it still belongs to
We call the "Mona Lisa" a portrait, and we have been told how La
Gioconda sat for the picture, and how the artist invented ways of
amusing her, by stories, recitations, the luring strain of hidden
lutes, and strange flowers and rare pictures brought in as surprises
to animate and cheer.
That Leonardo loved this woman we are sure, and that their
friendship was close and intimate the world has guessed; but the
picture is not her portrait--it is himself whom the artist reveals.
Away back in his youth, when Leonardo was a student with Verrocchio,
he gave us glimpses of this same face. He showed this woman's
mysterious smile in the Madonna, in Saint Anne, Mary Magdalen, and
the outlines of the features are suggested in the Christ and the
Saint John of the "Last Supper." But not until La Gioconda had posed
for him did the consummate beauty and mysterious intellect of this
ideal countenance find expression.
There is in the face all you can read into it, and nothing more. It
gives you what you bring, and nothing else. It is as silent as the
lips of Memnon, as voiceless as the Sphinx. It suggests to you every
joy that you have ever felt, every sorrow you have ever known, every
triumph you have ever experienced.
This woman is beautiful, just as all life is beautiful when we are
in health. She has no quarrel with the world--she loves and she is
loved again. No vain longing fills her heart, no feverish unrest
disturbs her dreams, for her no crouching fear haunts the passing
hours--that ineffable smile which plays around her mouth says
plainly that life is good. And yet the circles about the eyes and
the drooping lids hint of world-weariness, and speak the message of
Koheleth and say, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity."
La Gioconda is infinitely wise, for she has lived. That supreme
poise is only possible to one who knows. All the experiences and
emotions of manifold existence have etched and molded that form and
face until the body has become the perfect instrument of the soul.
Like every piece of intense personality, this picture has power both
to repel and to attract. To this woman nothing is either necessarily
good or bad. She has known strange woodland loves in far-off eons
when the world was young. She is familiar with the nights and days
of Cleopatra, for they were hers--the lavish luxury, the animalism
of a soul on fire, the smoke of curious incense that brought poppy-
like repose, the satiety that sickens--all these were her portion;
the sting of the asp yet lingers in her memory, and the faint scar
from its fangs is upon her white breast, known and wondered at by
Leonardo who loved her. Back of her stretches her life, a
mysterious, purple shadow. Do you not see the palaces turned to
dust, the broken columns, the sunken treasures, the creeping mosses
and the rank ooze of fretted waters that have undermined cities and
turned kingdoms into desert seas? The galleys of Pagan Greece have
swung wide for her on the unforgetting tide, for her soul dwelt in
the body of Helen of Troy, and Pallas Athene has followed her ways
and whispered to her the secrets even of the gods.
Aye! not only was she Helen, but she was Leda, the mother of Helen.
Then she was Saint Anne, mother of Mary; and next she was Mary,
visited by an Angel in a dream, and followed by the Wise Men who had
seen the Star in the East.
The centuries, that are but thoughts, found her a Vestal Virgin in
Pagan Rome when brutes were kings, and lust stalked rampant through
the streets. She was the bride of Christ, and her fair, frail body
was flung to the wild beasts, and torn limb from limb while the
multitude feasted on the sight.
True to the central impulse of her soul the Dark Ages rightly called
her Cecilia, and then Saint Cecilia, mother of sacred music, and
later she ministered to men as Melania, the Nun of Tagaste; next as
that daughter of William the Conqueror, the Sister of Charity who
went throughout Italy, Spain and France and taught the women of the
nunneries how to sew, to weave, to embroider, to illuminate books,
and make beauty, truth and harmony manifest to human eyes. And so
this Lady of the Beautiful Hands stood to Leonardo as the embodiment
of a perpetual life; moving in a constantly ascending scale,
gathering wisdom, graciousness, love, even as he himself in this
life met every experience halfway and counted it joy, knowing that
experience is the germ of power. Life writes its history upon the
face, so that all those who have had a like experience read and
understand. The human face is the masterpiece of God.