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Francesco Melzi



Born at Milan, about 1490; died 1568. He was a mysterious personage. He was a friend of Leonardo da Vinci, and Vasari tells us that he was a Milanese nobleman, an exceedingly handsome young man, and that he possessed the principal part of the anatomical drawings of Leonardo. He inherited Leonardo's manuscripts, instruments, books, and drawings; he furnished both Vasari and Lomazzo with notes on the master's life, and to him we are indebted for the preservation of the wonderful collection of the artist's writings. Whether he was a painter, however, we are unable to state. There is not an actual authentic work by him that can be mentioned; Vasari does not say a word about his artistic talent. Lomazzo compliments Melzi in extravagant language, as a wonderful miniature painter, and it was suggested in 1523, in a letter from Bendedei, the ambassador at Milan, to his master Alfonso, Duke of Ferrara, that Melzi was a skilful painter; but the letter only implies that he painted as an amateur or as a dilettante. He has, however, by some writers been exalted into the position of being Leonardo's favourite and best pupil, most eminent and most skilful, and a picture of Vertumnus and Pomona in the Berlin Gallery, a Madonna at Bergamo, another Madonna at Vaprio, and two portraits at Isola Bella have been attributed to him, but all of them without definite authority. He is spoken of as Il Conte, and is mentioned more than once in letters written in France, dealing with Leonardo, as the master's friend, and once as a miniaturist, but in all probability he was merely a skilful amateur, devoted to Leonardo, and perhaps a clever draughtsman, who practised painting occasionally as an amusement.

LOMAZZO, Trallato dell' Arte della Pittura (Milan, l584) IDEM, Grotteschi (Milan, 1587); DOLCE, Dialogo della Pittura (Venice, 1557; Florence, 1735); AMORETTI, Memorie di Leonardo da Vinci (Milan, 1804); MORELLI, Italian Masters in German Galleries (London, 1883); BURCKHARDT, The Cicerone.

GEORGE CHARLES WILLIAMSON.








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