These three famous drawings date from the years prior to Leonardo’s departure for Milan (1482); three sheets with different subjects, but all proclaiming him an innovational precursor of future trends.
Innovative is the view of a landscape appearing on folio 8P from the Uffizi. Although the strong influence of Northern painting on the Florentine artists of the day can still be seen, the great distance that separates this landscape drawing from coeval (and subsequent) ones is immediately apparent. Dated August 5, 1473, the drawing bears witness to Leonardo’s early concern with directly imitating nature. It probably depicts the castle of Montevettolini on its rocky spur and the hill of Monsummano opposite it, with the Fucecchio marshes drifting into the distance between the two heights. A landscape taken from life, then; where the most amazing aspect is the throbbing pulse of life that the artist, years in advance of others, manages to instill in the view of a landscape, lyrically evoking the effect of wind blowing over the cliffs and waving fronds.
In December 1478 Leonardo began to paint – in his own words – "two Our Ladies". The subject was one of the most frequently used, and Verrocchio’s workshop produced many versions of the Virgin and Child of highest poetic expression. In the drawing where a girl-like Madonna holds a restless child in her arms, the artist remains faithful to the expressive line of his master and his circle, but imposes on the figures (portrayed with a new naturalism) gestures that are the mirror of the soul. He instills in them, in fact, the "motion" and the "breath" that are the salient features of Leonardo’s art and that were to prove determinant for the birth of the "modern manner".
This "manner" is even more emphatically heralded in the preparatory drawing for the Adoration of the Magi (1481), where, despite the small size of the support, those characteristics of dynamism, pathos and variety which represent the cornerstones of a figurative language that was to come to the forefront some twenty years later, are expressed with ease (and to the highest degree).