He left behind him at Milan a bevy of younger artists who admired him too much to be original. Four of them—Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, Andrea Salaino, Cesare da Sesto, and Marco d’Oggiono—are figured in stone at the base of the patriarchal statue of Leonardo in the Piazza della Scala in Milan. There were others—Andrea Solari, Gaudenzio Ferrari, Bernardino de’ Conti, Francesco Melzi… All had worked in Leonardo’s studio, and learned to imitate his grace of line without reaching his subtlety or depth. Two other painters acknowledged him as their teacher, though we are not sure that they knew him in the flesh. Giovanni Antonio Bazzi, who allowed himself to come down in history under the name of Sodoma, may have met him in Milan or Rome. Bernardino Luini exalted sentiment, but with an engaging straightforwardness that charms away reproach. He chose as his repeated subject the Madonna and her Child; perhaps he rightly saw in this most hackneyed of all pictorial themes the supreme embodiment of life as a stream of births, of love as surmounting death, and of womanly beauty that is never mature except in motherhood. More than any other follower of Leonardo he caught the master’s effeminate delicacy and the tenderness—not the mystery—of the Leonardesque smile; theHoly Family in the Ambrosiana at Milan is a delectable variation on the Master’s Virgin, Child, and St. Anne; and the Sposalizio at Saronno has all the grace of Correggio. He seems never to have doubted, as Leonardo did, the touching story of the peasant maid who bore a god; he softened the lines and colors of his paintings with a simple piety that Leonardo could hardly feel or represent; and the unwilling skeptic who can still respect a lovely and inspiring myth will pause longer, in the Louvre, before Luini’s Sleep of the Infant Jesus and Adoration of the Magi than before Leonardo’s St. John, and will find in them a profounder satisfaction and truth.
With these elegant epigoni the great age of Milan died away. The architects, painters, sculptors, and poets that had made Lodovico’s court surpassingly brilliant had seldom been natives of the city, and many of them sought other pastures when the gentle despot fell. No outstanding talent rose in the ensuing chaos and servitude to take their place; and a generation later the castle and the cathedral were the sole reminders that for a magnificent decade—the last of the fifteenth century—Milan had led the pageant of Italy.