Friday, July 24, 2009

A Da Vinci Code for Success: Forgiveness

Leonard Da Vinci worked on painting The Last Supper for three years from 1495 to 1498. The painting was commissioned by the Duke Lodovico Sforza for the dining hall of the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, in Milan, Italy. As the painting neared completion there were still two heads which were unfinished: Christ and Judas. Da Vinci had not yet found an acceptable model for Judas. For the image of Christ, he knew he needed inspiration to depict the heavenly divinity of the Master.

Milanese novelist Bandello, who often visited Da Vinci while he worked on The Last Supper related the following, “I have often seen him come very early and watched him mount the scaffolding—because The Last Supper is somewhat high above the floor—and then he would not put down his brush from sunrise till the night set in, yes, he forgot eating and drinking, and painted without ceasing. Then two, three or four days would pass without him doing anything, and yet he spent hours before the picture, lost in contemplation, examining, comparing, and gauging his figures.”

The days of no painting by Da Vinci offended one of the Priors (ruling magistrate), and receiving no answer to his complaint from Da Vinci, this dignitary who was accustomed to see workmen do their daily task, went to the Duke and laid complaints against the idle painter. The Duke called in Da Vinci and admonished him to paint, but told him he only did so to please the Prior. Da Vinci got angry, and knowing that Duke Lodovico was a sensible and intelligent man, he explained to him that great minds accomplish all the more, the less they appear to work, because their intellect invents and shapes the ideals which their hands afterwards delineate and work out. He added that he still wanted two heads for his picture: that of Christ, for which he could not find a model on earth, and that of Judas because he could not devise a countenance to represent the face of him who, after all the benefits he had received, shamefully betrays his Lord, the Creator of the world. Da Vinci then said that he no longer need to look for a model for Judas for he would use the head of the Prior for his model. The Duke smiled and the Prior feared he would be known as the face of the traitor Judas.

Da Vinci proceeded to paint the head of Judas as the Prior who had reported his idleness to the Duke. Once he completed the head of Judas, Da Vinci began to work on the face of the Savior. Da Vinci made several attempts to portray the face of the Master but each attempt let him with feelings of despair. He was unable to receive the inspiration he sought and needed to portray the face of the Redeemer of the World. Da Vinci then wiped off the face of Judas and sought out the Prior to ask for his forgiveness. It is recorded that on the night following his reconciliation with the Prior, Da Vinci saw Christ in a vision. Da Vinci saw the face of Christ more vividly than he ever saw it in his supreme moments of exalted inspiration, and so lasting was the impression that he was able on the next day to paint the face of Christ we see in The Last Supper today.

Adolf Rosenberg, Leonardo Da Vinci, (Bielfeld and Leipzig, Velhagen & Klasing: 1903) p. 68 -70; James Hastings, The Expository Times, Volume XIX, (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark: 1908) p. 427

No comments: