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September 28, 2009 4:29 PM   Subscribe

Are figures in a Florentine altar panel attributed to Italian artist Andrea del Verrocchio actually by Leonardo da Vinci? "The Baptistery figures, if accepted as Leonardo's, would be the only extant sculptures made in the artist's lifetime..." Related ARTNews article, additional Smithsonian Magazine article, National Gallery of Art writeup related to the additional Smithsonian Magazine article, and the High Museum's upcoming Leonardo exhibit.
posted by cog_nate (21 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's interesting that they may be da Vincis, but I pretty much agree with the sentiment at the end of the piece:

There's no more evidence that the "great" are da Vincis and the "good" are del Verrocchios than there is that the "great" are del Verrocchios and to "good" are someone less skilled than del Verrochio, or that the "great" are someone other than da Vinci who was better than del Verrochio and the "good" are del Verrochios. Or any number of other possibilities.
posted by Flunkie at 5:15 PM on September 28, 2009


Sure, the work might look like da Vinci's, but unless there's a childishly simple code "hidden" nearby I won't believe it.
posted by DU at 5:57 PM on September 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


cog_nate, thank you for calling him Leonardo, instead of calling him da Vinci.
posted by The World Famous at 6:00 PM on September 28, 2009


Uh, this is where I own up to my own ignorance. I didn't write out his name properly by design, I just wasn't thinking all that much about it. I'm guessing it's incorrect to call him da Vinci because that isn't his last name but refers to where he was raised. But does calling him da Vinci really rankle some people? Why?
posted by cog_nate at 6:33 PM on September 28, 2009


But does calling him da Vinci really rankle some people?

Yes.

Why?

Because it's like nails on a chalkboard. It's like referring a certain subject of Leonardo's art as "of Nazareth."
posted by The World Famous at 6:55 PM on September 28, 2009


Leonardo worked as an apprentice in Verrocchio's studio, and it was normal for the master to take credit for the work of the apprentice. It's a well known fact that Leonardo regularly produced pieces for Verrocchio that exceeded the master's talent.
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:06 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


"It's a well known fact that Leonardo regularly produced pieces for Verrocchio that exceeded the master's talent."

This is based upon anecdotal reports, and not on provable grounds. It is conjecture. I am well aware of what they teach you in Art History as I have a degree in it, but it is based upon scholarly opinion and not on absolute facts.

What Vasari tells us and what is demonstrably true are two different things. There are a lot of myths and 'cult of personality' type factors involved in this that have lead to fanciful stories. One of these concerns Verrocchio retiring from painting because Leonardo's contribution to the Baptism of Christ picture was so superlative that he didn't want to paint ever again. There is not a scrap of evidence for this story, it's just something Vasari wrote, and Vasari is by no means a source beyond reproach. Gossip, legend and hearsay all jostle with biographical details in his work, so reader beware.

Verrocchio was no slouch. People talk about him as if he was some hack that was far surpassed by his superhuman student. Verrocchio was an astonishingly gifted artist in his own right.

Yes it was common for artists of the time to have large proportions of their work actually completed by their apprentices, and in some cases the stylistic differences are apparent, but there is no absolute way to determine who did what, for the most part. It's a subjective issue.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 7:58 PM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


But does calling him da Vinci really rankle some people?

Hey, this is one of those things like in that AskMe question where people were saying what is a clear tip-off that someone isn't really in their field...
posted by smackfu at 8:00 PM on September 28, 2009


The two figures DO bear a STRONG resemblance to drawings seen elsewhere in da Vinci's sketchbooks!

Imagine being the "master", trying to teach da Vinci all you know - and he's already better than you!
posted by Jinx of the 2nd Law at 8:12 PM on September 28, 2009


"It's a well known fact that Leonardo regularly produced pieces for Verrocchio that exceeded the master's talent."
This is based upon anecdotal reports, and not on provable grounds. It is conjecture.


You need to examine the little dog near the foot in Verrocchio's Tobias and the Angel and the fish in the hand carefully to see evidence of the brushwork that, among all of those working for Verrocchio, is evidently that of Leonardo. There are a number of other well known examples in other works of Verrocchio.
posted by twoleftfeet at 8:14 PM on September 28, 2009


I think you miss my point, somewhat.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 8:29 PM on September 28, 2009


Well, if your point is there is no absolute way to determine who did what, for the most part. It's a subjective issue, then I disagree.

Verrocchio himself was a gifted artist, to be sure, but his handling of animal forms in no ways compares to the skill that we know Leonardo was already exhibiting at the time of say, Tobias and the Angel. We know to a large degree the other members of Verrocchio's studio and none of these had comparable skill. So it's Leonardo.
posted by twoleftfeet at 8:57 PM on September 28, 2009


Here's a bigger Tobias and the Angel. Compare the dog's fur at the lower left with Tobias' hair toward the upper right. That's the difference between Leonardo and Verrocchio. I rest my case.
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:28 PM on September 28, 2009


"there is no absolute way to determine who did what, for the most part. It's a subjective issue."

Not necessarily. Close examination of some of Leonardo's paintings show the difference between left-handed and right-handed brushstrokes. Leonardo was left-handed, therefore the right-handed strokes are demonstrably those of an assistant.

There are also a lot of contemporary reports stating quite clearly that trusted assistants were expected to perform much or all of some paintings, with the studio master adding just enough to justify the price. Contracts were often written up stipulating precisely how much or how little the master was expected to do in the final work.

Like so many other judgements this one is being based on stylistic grounds. I buy the argument. Vasari was good, but he didn't approach things the way Leonardo did.
posted by caution live frogs at 5:34 AM on September 29, 2009


The two figures DO bear a STRONG resemblance to drawings seen elsewhere in da Vinci's sketchbooks!

Possibly he liked the cut of the original artist's jib and so drew a picture of them?

Just a suggestion....
posted by IndigoJones at 6:18 AM on September 29, 2009


It's a good day when I get read an argument about Vasari on Metafilter.
posted by The Whelk at 7:32 AM on September 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


As a left-handed person who switches hands while painting in oils and tempera, I don't think you can use the handedness of brushstrokes as a final determination of who laid them on the canvas.

I've seen Verrocchio's Baptism of Christ, and the angel purported to have been painted by Leonardo da Vinci. I think if you see enough of Leonardo and Verrochio's work in person, then you sort of develop your own instincts on what came from whose hand. I recommend seeing the altarpiece in person and trying to determine for yourself.
posted by annathea at 11:20 AM on September 29, 2009


CRAP I meant Verocchio, not Vasari. Been spending too much time staying up late reading about Leonardo lately thanks to a book from my parents (Flights of the Mind, a Leonardo biography - sucked me in a lot faster than I expected it to, to be honest).
posted by caution live frogs at 1:05 PM on September 29, 2009


There is most likely quite a number of pieces that came out of Verrocchio's studio during Leonardo's apprenticeship that were made by his hands. It was part and parcel with the nature of the training. They may not all be as obvious as the Baptism of the Christ, but it stands to reason that there would be many more than currently attributed.

Of course, short of DNA samples or fingerprints, it's all conjecture - which to me has always been one of the cooler, mysterious aspects of art history.

Let's face it, no one's clamouring for any newly found Warhols.
posted by Hickeystudio at 1:46 PM on September 30, 2009


Let's face it, no one's clamouring for any newly found Warhols.

Of course, you could say that was kinda the point.
posted by The Whelk at 2:44 PM on September 30, 2009


Mona Lisa's smile a mystery no more
posted by homunculus at 5:46 PM on October 21, 2009


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