Painting and sculpture
Based on the current state of historical/critical knowledge, the authentic autograph works of Leonardo visible in Tuscany are all concentrated in the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence.
Their number may seem limited, especially considering that they all date from the years of his youth. However, Leonardo showed full mastery and maturity in the art of painting from the very beginning, as demonstrated by the drawing dated "August 5, 1473" and by such a work as the Adoration of the Magi, painted at the age of 31.
These were the years of his collaboration with Verrocchio, from whose shop came works in which the hand of the young Leonardo cannot always be identified with certainty. One of the reasons for this is that all of the drawings done in his first Florentine period, and in any case prior to 1473, have been lost, along with any sculptures or works of applied art that may have existed.
Furthermore, the possible collocation of cartoons recorded in the sources, such as those for the Saint Anne at Santissima Annunziata and for the Battle of Anghiari, is unknown. And lastly we must lament the lack of any autograph manuscripts by Leonardo in Florence, as consequence of the negative opinion of the Councillors who, in 1614, dissuaded Grand Duke Cosimo II de’ Medici from buying them, describing them as «very trivial things» and unworthy «of such a Prince». It was for this reason that Leonardo's codices ended up in Spain, and then from there in numerous other countries.
Galleria degli Uffizi [Uffizi Gallery]
In the Galleria degli Uffizi, Room 15 is dedicated to Leonardo; in it are found the Annunciation, the Baptism and the Adoration of the Magi.
The Annunciation is a panel painting in oil (and tempera), 98x217 cm, dating from around 1471-1474. It entered the Uffizi in 1867, coming from the Sacristy of the Church of San Bartolomeo a Monteoliveto, and was attributed to Domenico Ghirlandaio. Concealed in this work are secrets and pentimenti, already partially revealed by scientific examination. The preliminary approach and the first draft are not entirely attributable to Leonardo, but partially to Verrocchio's assistants as well. For instance, the architectural structure on the right must be attributed to the hand of a collaborator, while Leonardo painted the heads of the angel and the Virgin as well as the landscape in the background, sublime examples of his formal refinement.
Already in this painting, as in the Baptism, Leonardo used his technique of velatura, executed both by applying fine layers of diluted colour and by spreading the paint with his fingertips.
The Baptism is a panel painting in tempera and oil, 180x152 cm, datable between 1470 and 1475. The panel comes from the church of San Salvi where, since 1515, it had been recorded as the work of Verrocchio. But already some years earlier, in 1510, an "angel by Leonardo da Vinci", which, according to Vasari, may be recognised as the angel on the left, was famous. Vasari, in fact, even records how the master, having recognised his pupil's superiority, «never again wanted to touch colours, indignant that a young boy understood them better than he did». In other parts of the painting too, the hand of Leonardo may be recognised, especially in the lovely landscape, a rare example of descriptive precision. Outstanding painters collaborated on this work, one of whom may have been the young Botticelli. There are enormous differences not only between the heads of the two angels but also between the stiff rigidity of the palm tree and the pictorial fluidity of the earth and water in the background landscape, the mirror of a geological fantasy intended as a cosmic synthesis.
The Adoration of the Magi is a painting done in charcoal and white lead (with parts in oil) on a panel of 243x246 cm, dating from 1481-1482. Commissioned of Leonardo by the regular canons of Sant’Agostino for the high altar of the Church of San Donato a Scopeto (of which Ser Piero Da Vinci was notary), it remained unfinished in 1482, when Leonardo moved to Milan. His first Florentine period concluded with this work, "a manifesto of painting as historical tension and apex of the intellectual and figurative inquietude in his humanism". This work has been described as a great dynamic machine, complex in its iconography, its perspective background, and its repertory of psychological and symbolic motions, in which there emerges a latent tension between meditation and transcendent pathos, the continuity of history and rebirth. Originally, it hung in Palazzo Benci; recorded in the 17 th century in the Casino di San Marco among the possessions of Don Antonio de’ Medici and in the Medici Villa of Castello, it entered the Uffizi around 1794.
In this room in the Florentine museum, Leonardo's masterpieces are accompanied by works from the greatest among his contemporaries: Botticelli, Perugino, Filippino Lippi, Lorenzo di Credi, Piero di Cosimo, Antonio and Piero del Pollaiolo.
Noteworthy among the production of workshops and Leonardo's school are the Leda and the Swan (formerly in the Spiridon Collection, acquired by Hermann Göring for Hitler and brought back to Italy after the war) and the Narcissus, attributed to Boltraffio or one of his followers.
In the Uffizi's Cabinet of Drawings and Prints, the following drawings and sketches are found (visible only with special permission or on the occasion of exhibitions):
"Landscape of August 5, 1473" (View of the Valdinevole and the Padule di Fucecchio from Montalbano above Vinci) and "Study of landscape and figures" (on the verso);
"Study of drapery on a seated figure, on canvas, c. 1472-1475;
"Study of drapery on a kneeling figure", on canvas, c. 1472-1475;
"Study of drapery on a standing figure", on canvas, c. 1472-1475;
"Head of a woman" (with some doubts as to whether it is entirely by the hand of Leonardo), c. 1472-1475;
"Profile of a man" and "Profile of a youth" (on the verso), c. 1475-1480;
"Two sketches of heads in profile, memorandum of 1478 and mechanical devices" and "Technological studies" (on the verso) ;
"Study for the background of the Adoration of the Magi", c. 1481;
"Study of figures and mechanical devices with notes" and "Flying machine and other technological studies" (on the verso), c. 1480;
"Study for the Madonna with a Cat" and "Child with a cat" (on the verso), c. 1480;
"Old man and youth", c. 1490-1495.
Some drawings conserved in the Uffizi, which have in the past been improperly attributed to Leonardo, are instead by other masters his contemporaries, such as Verrocchio and Perugino; in other cases, such as that of Venus and Cupid, collaboration between Leonardo and Verrocchio cannot be excluded.
Other drawings are attributable either to the Florentine Leonardesque school or to the Milanese circle, from which came such figures as Marco d’Oggiono and Francesco Napoletano; of special interest is the Struggle between a dragon and a lion and above all the folio, elaborated by a follower, with "Technological studies" attributable also to a Brunelleschi (the riverboat called "Badalone" operating on wind power and the self-propelled carriage).
Other Florentine museums
Other productions of workshops and the Leonardesque school are found in the Galleria Palatina at the Palazzo Pitti, in the Museo Horne and in Palazzo Vecchio (where they illustrate the current problems involved in searching for the great wall painting of the Battle of Anghiari). Among these may be included Rustici's sketches inspired by the warriors in Leonardo's Battle. Nor can it be excluded that Leonardo may have played some part in the bronze sculptural group representing the Preaching of the Baptist above the north door of the Baptistry of San Giovanni, unquestionably Rustici's masterpiece.
In the Museo del Bigallo are notable paintings from Florentine workshops executed within the sphere of the Leonardesque circle, which also included pupils of Verrocchio and Lorenzo di Credi: from Alunno di Benozzo to Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio, from the Master of the Johnson Magdalene to Agnolo di Polo. Study sessions presenting unpublished works and documents pertinent to "Leonardo in Florence" are held here on a regular basis.
In other Florentine museums, palaces and churches are works of fundamental importance for reconstructing the artistic and cultural context of Leonardo's time. In some cases these works date from the time of the master's youth, when he was still collaborating with Verrocchio.
In the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, for instance, are displayed (in the "Hall of Verrocchio and Late Fifteenth Century Sculpture") the David, the Dama col mazzolino and the Resurrection of Christ, works by Verrocchio in which the participation of Leonardo, or an iconography of his, has been suggested. Masterpieces by Donatello, Michelangelo, Sansovino, Benedetto da Maiano, Mino da Fiesole, Pollaiolo, Desiderio da Settignano, Luca and Andrea Della Robbia are also found here.
Other sculptures by Verrocchio are found in Orsanmichele (The Incredulity of St. Thomas) and in the Old Sacristy of San Lorenzo, where he built the Medicean tomb of Piero il Gottoso and his brother Giovanni, with bronze decoration that seems to anticipate the lectern in the Uffizi's Annunciation.
Works of applied art with documentary or iconographical references to Leonardo are found in the Museo degli Argenti (in 1502 he had been the expert consulted by Francesco Gonzaga in regard to some vases made of semiprecious stones and one of agate coming from the collection of Lorenzo de’ Medici) and in the Museo Stibbert (armour decorated with figures of knots and of horsemen recalling Leonardo's studies for equestrian monuments).
Works attributed to Pierino da Vinci
A special case is that of Pierino da Vinci: sculptures attributed to him are found in the Bargello, Palazzo Vecchio, the Palazzo Pitti, the Gardens of Boboli and of Castello.
The Florentine Last Suppers
An original Florentine itinerary that presents the most immediate iconographic and stylistic precedents to the Last Supper painted by Leonardo in Milan (Santa Maria delle Grazie), is the one that unfolds along the city's fifteenth-century Last Suppers, such as those of Andrea del Castagno (Santa Apollonia), Perugino (Fuligno), Domenico Ghirlandaio (San Marco and Ognissanti), and Andrea del Sarto (San Salvi).
Texts by Alessandro Vezzosi, in collaboration with Agnese Sabato
English translation by Catherine Frost
Last update 01/feb/2008