Leonardo claimed he would follow a method used in ancient Rome and spelled out by Pliny — a mixture of linseed oil, as well as a system of fire pots that would dry the paint before it ran.
He had painted his Last Supper on the wall this way, but he still wasn’t satisfied with the formulas or the methods. He had heard that the paint was already showing signs of deterioration, and he was determined to get it right this time.
Leonardo didn’t care whether his painting lasted a thousand years the way Michelangelo did. He cared about getting the science right. Others could follow his lead to the perfect medium.
Michelangelo thought Leonardo was out to best him. Leonardo always laid out a project more spectacular than the last, and often he succeeded. He never showed any doubt either.
“What do you think of this use of oils, Francesco?” Michelangelo asked Granacci.
“I’m glad it’s you, not me.”
“Do you think we can paint in oils too?”
“I have no idea how he’s going to do it. Or whether it will work. Every painter I’ve talked to is doubtful. They’re betting against him, Michelangelo. I think you need to stop worrying about Leonardo and simply paint. Your work will be great on its own. It always is.”
Michelangelo thanked his friend, but he had grave doubts. It wouldn’t be good enough to paint something well if it could not match Leonardo’s scene on the opposite wall. The comparison would always be made. This was the downside of his idea of painting next to Leonardo.
At night he dreamed his father was looking down at him, saying, “I knew you would fail.” Every morning he couldn’t shake off his gloom. The battle of the Great Hall no longer seemed very great at all.
Next: A Moment of Truth (1)
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RIP – Thank you, Steve Jobs! You were the Leonardo of our age.