His other work here—No. 1252—in the grave brown frame, was to have been Leonardo’s greatest picture in oil, so Vasari says: larger, in fact, than any known picture at that time. Being very indistinct, it is, curiously enough, best as the light begins to fail and the beautiful wistful faces emerge from the gloom. In their presence one recalls Leonardo’s remark in one of his notebooks that faces are most interesting beneath a troubled sky. “You should make your portrait,” he adds, “at the hour of the fall of the evening when it is cloudy or misty, for the light then is perfect.” In the background one can discern the prancing horses of the Magi’s suite; a staircase with figures ascending and descending; the rocks and trees of Tuscany; and looking at it one cannot but ponder upon the fatality which seems to have pursued this divine and magical genius, ordaining that almost everything that he put forth should be either destroyed or unfinished: his work in the Castello at Milan, which might otherwise be an eighth wonder of the world, perished; his “Last Supper” at Milan perishing; his colossal equestrian statue of Francesco Sforza broken to pieces; his sculpture lost; his Palazzo Vecchio battle cartoon perished; this picture only a sketch. Even after long years the evil fate still persists, for in 1911 his “Gioconda” was stolen from the Louvre by madman or knave.
Among the other pictures in this room is the rather hot “Adoration of the Magi,” by Cosimo Rosselli (1439-1507), over the Leonardo “Annunciation,” a glowing scene of colour and animation: this Cosimo being the Cosimo from whom Piero di Cosimo took his name, and an associate of Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Perugino, and Luca Signorelli on the Sixtine Chapel frescoes. On the left wall is Uccello’s battle piece, No. 52, very like that in our National Gallery: rich and glorious as decoration, but quite bearing out Vasari’s statement that Uccello could not draw horses. Uccello was a most laborious student of animal life and so absorbed in the mysteries of perspective that he preferred them to bed; but he does not seem to have been able to unite them. He was a perpetual butt of Donatello. It is told of him that having a commission to paint a fresco for the Mercato Vecchio he kept the progress of the work a secret and allowed no one to see it. At last, when it was finished, he drew aside the sheet for Donatello, who was buying fruit, to admire. “Ah, Paolo,” said the sculptor reproachfully, “now that you ought to be covering it up, you uncover it.”
There remain a superb nude study of Venus by Lorenzo di Credi, No. 3452—one of the pictures which escaped Savonarola’s bonfire of vanities, and No. 1305, a Virgin and Child with various Saints by Domenico Veneziano (1400-1461), who taught Gentile da Fabriano, the teacher of Jacopo Bellini. This picture is a complete contrast to the Uccello: for that is all tapestry, richness, and belligerence, and this is so pale and gentle, with its lovely light green, a rare colour in this gallery.