Verrocchio, Master of Leonardo

1. Why this exhibition?

2. Practical information

2.1 Opening hours
2.2 Ticket prices
2.3 Other important information and tips

3. The exhibition

3.1 Verrocchio between Desiderio and Leonardo: the Female Portraits
3.2 Verrocchio between Desiderio and Leonardo: the Ancient Heroes and The David
3.3 Verrocchio and His Followers: the Madonnas, between Sculpture and Painting
3.4 Verrocchio as Fresco Painter
3.5 The School of Verrocchio as Painter, between Ghirlandaio and Perugino
3.6 Verrocchio and Rome
3.7 The Master of Space: the Winged Boy with Dolphin and Other Sculpture
3.8 Verrocchio in Pistoia: the Forteguerri Cenotaph and the Piazza Madonna and Lorenzo di Credi
3.9 From Verrocchio to Leonardo: the Folding of Drapery Immersed in Light

1. Why this exhibition?

  • From 9th March to 14th July 2019, Palazzo Strozzi celebrates Andrea del Verrocchio, an emblematic artist of the Florentine Renaissance, in a major exhibition showcasing over 120 paintings, sculptures and drawings from the world’s leading museums and collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of New York, the Musée du Louvre in Paris, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Gallerie degli Uffizi in Florence. It’s a rare opportunity to see so many fantastic masterpieces brought together from all over the world for comparison and comprehensive appreciation.
  • The exhibition, with a special section at the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, brings together for the first time Verrocchio’s celebrated masterpieces and outstanding works by the best-known artists associated with his workshop in the second half of the 15th century, such as Domenico Ghirlandaio, Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino and Leonardo da Vinci, his most famous pupil, reconstructing Leonardo’s early artistic career and interaction with his master thanks to exceptional loans and unprecedented juxtapositions.
  • The exhibition, curated by two leading experts in the art of the Quattrocento, Francesco Caglioti and Andrea De Marchi, is one of the flagship events in the programme of celebrations marking the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death and is the first retrospective ever devoted to Verrocchio, while also exploring the early years of Leonardo di Vinci’s career and providing an overview of artistic output in Florence from roughly 1460 to 1490, the age of Lorenzo the Magnificent (Lorenzo de’ Medici).

I always knew that Andrea del Verrocchio was Leonardo da Vinci’s master, but I didn’t know that he was also the master of Domenico del Ghirlandaio and Pietro Perugino, the master of Michelangelo and Raphael respectively. We can say that directly and indirectly, Verrocchio influenced Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael, the three most outstanding figures in the Italian High Renaissance art. To be honest, when I first decided to go to Florence and attend the exhibition, my focus was on da Vinci, for example, his studies of hands and human physiognomy. When I was in the exhibition rooms, gradually, my interest in his master Verrocchio, the true protagonist of the show, developed. His fantastic sculptures, paintings and drawings made me wonder why I almost never paid attention to his own artistic talent and creation, which I guess had something to do with the enormous fame of his students, who overshadowed their teacher. This exhibition, featuring sculptures, paintings and drawings by Verrocchio as well as his teacher and students, is very well-organised, with one room dedicated to one theme. In chapter 3, I’ll introduce the themes and exhibits in detail. In the next chapter, I’ll provide you with some practical information and tips based on my own visiting experience.

2. Practical information

2.1 Opening hours

The exhibition is on from 9th March to 14th July 2019, and it is open:

  • daily including holidays: 10:00 – 20:00
  • Thursdays: 10:00 – 23:00

2.2 Ticket prices

  • Full price: € 13
  • Reduced price (people who are over 65 years old, people who are under 26 years old (inclusive), etc.): € 10
  • Reduced price (Museo Nazionale del Bargello ticket holders): € 9
  • Reduced price (young people who are between 6 and 18 years old; Thursdays from 18:00 for all people who are under 26 years old (inclusive), etc.): € 4
  • 2×1 Trenitalia ticket (two tickets for the price of one for all holders of CartaFreccia with Frecce tickets to Florence (issued no more than five days before date of visit) or regional season tickets): € 13
  • Family ticket (for all families comprising one or two adults and at least one child aged between 6 and 18 (max. 6 people)): € 24
  • Open date ticket (ticket valid for one admission at the date and time as you like): € 15
  • Free admission: Friends of Palazzo Strozzi, children up to 5 years old, visitors with disabilities and their companions, group leaders, teachers with classes, journalists with professional id, tour guides, Firenzecard holders, ICOM (International Council of Museums) members.
  • For more information about reduced and free admission please click here.

All kinds of tickets can be purchased online and on site. Online ticket purchasing allows you to choose a day and a time slot, and the ticket is only valid on the chosen day and guarantees priority access at the selected time slot. Tickets can also be purchased directly at the ticket office, but at busy times, the queue can be long and you might need to wait for some time. I visited the exhibition on a Sunday morning (at around 10:00) and didn’t need to wait at all.

  • If you show your ticket to this exhibition at the ticket office of the Museo del Bargello, you will be entitled to a discount on the price of admission (€ 6 instead of € 9).
  • All bookings must be made at least 24 hours in advance of visiting time. Reservations are mandatory only for groups and schools.

2.3 Other important information and tips

  • The exhibition is promoted and organised by the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi and the Musei del Bargello in conjunction with the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., which will be hosting the show from 29th September 2019 to 2nd February 2020
  • Photography for personal use is allowed in almost all the exhibition spaces without the use of flash or tripod.
  • Audio guide service is available in the exhibition, and a special version is available for kids.
  • Various guided tours related to the exhibition are available. If you are interested please click here for more information.
  • The exhibition is popular and therefore can be rather crowded from time to time. I suggest leaving 1.5 – 2 hours for your visit.
  • Accessible from the room dedicated to the theme “Verrocchio in Pistoia”, a reading room with books and videos is open for visitors who want to know more about the master and his followers.
  • In a room close to the exit, a detailed record of Verrocchio’s life events is written on the wall, which for me was very interesting.

3. The exhibition

No one shaped Florentine art in the age of Lorenzo the Magnificent more than Verrocchio. Trained as a goldsmith, he discovered a talent for sculpture with Desiderio da Settignano and in Donatello’s workshop. Emerging as the greatest bronze sculptor of his day, he practised drawing and eventually turned to painting. By c. 1470, barely over thirty, he had become a beacon both in his own right and with his lively workshop. He imposed a taste that was–indirectly–to spawn Mannerism. Praised by his contemporaries, he was later accused (with Vasari showing the way) of excessive study as though the search for formal truth damaged the truth of sentiment, yet he intercepted and codified that truth, developing benchmarks such as bust portraits, heroic classicizing heads, figures in movement and a new image of Christ. His legacy was huge, in Umbria and in Rome, thanks to his pupils’ pupils, including even Michelangelo and Raphael.

As a sculptor he accepted bold technical challenges, as in the bronzes for the Orsanmichele–Incredulity of St. Thomas, and the equestrian statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni, which kept him in Venice until his death in 1488. Some question his greatness as a painter because his two largest altarpieces, the Uffizi Baptism of Christ and the Pistoia Madonna di Piazza, were mostly painted by others. But how could Perugino, Leonardo, Ghirlandaio, Bartolomeo della Gatta or Lorenzo di Credi have learnt from him if he had not taught them by example? In c. 1470 he developed a new image of the Madonna and Child, at once solemn yet lively. He gave the loftiest response to the challenge of the Flemish painters, lighting up the shadows, conjuring the transparency of jewels and opening up new horizons in landscapes bathed in sunshine.

The exhibition focuses on the artist but also on the age as a whole, unfolding in chronological order and bringing together the themes and genres he embraced and renewed. The juxtaposition of sculpture and drawings, paintings and statues reveals a master more experimental than most, a truly universal artist.

3.1 Verrocchio between Desiderio and Leonardo: the Female Portraits

Verrocchio was trained in Florence’s goldsmith workshops, but at the age of twenty he found the cornerstone of his art in the use of marble and bronze, a change that took place in Donatello’s workshop although it was Desiderio da Settignano, a little older than Andrea yet already an authority, who taught him to carve in marble. Verrocchio succeeded with skill and sensitivity in capturing the movement of body and soul in his female portrait busts, a classical genre brought up to date by Desiderio while devoting particular attention to the study of expression and emotion, which he and Verrocchio handed down to Leonardo as painter. Verrocchio became Desiderio’s main heir–no longer a mere follower–upon his death in 1464, as we can see if we compare the Frick Young Woman (exhibit 1.2) with the Lady with Flowers (exhibit 1.3). In the former, Verrocchio still feels like a pupil, while in the latter he is a master in his own right, including of Leonardo who drew inspiration from the innovative addition of arms and hands for his drawing on display here and for other masterpieces such as the portrait of Ginevra de’ Benci in the National Gallery in Washington.

Young Woman by Andrea del Verrocchio from the Frick Collection from New York (exhibit 1.2)

This bust reveals Verrocchio’s mastery of marble carving, influenced by Desiderio da Settignano, with whom he trained and whom he seeks here to emulate both in the psychology of his sitter’s facial features and in the meticulously decorated gown. The bust foreshadows the later Lady with Flowers in the same hairstyle, fashionable in Florence in the 15th century.

Lady with Flowers by Andrea del Verrocchio from Museo Nazionale del Bargello (exhibit 1.3)

This bust evokes the ideal of female beauty in the age of Lorenzo the Magnificent, merging aristocratic grace with moral values. The presence of the sitter’s hands is the most innovative aspect of this portrait bust, the first to show the arms. The bust played a central role in Verrocchio’s career and became a focal point for the artists who frequented his workshop.

Woman’s Arms and Hands; a Small Man’s Head in Profile by Leonardo da Vinci (from the Royal Collection Trust of the Windsor Castle)

This painting is not exhibited in this exhibition but in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

This may be a preparatory study for the lost part of Ginevra de’ Benci (as you can see in the 2nd picture above). Leonardo envisages two solutions for the right hand: in the more advanced and detailed solution the hand is raised and clutching an object, a detail inspired by the gesture of Verrocchio’s Lady with Flowers.

3.2 Verrocchio between Desiderio and Leonardo: the Ancient Heroes and The David

With The David, Verrocchio created the youthful version of the warrior, which was to prove highly popular as a model of an elegant pose and of adolescent innocence. In the drawing in the centre, Leonardo combines the two themes presented in the room, emulating David’s profile while practising the study of characterised heads which he learnt in Verrocchio’s workshop. Verrocchio, in turn, sought his inspiration in the marble reliefs of heroes and heroines of the ancient world carved by Desiderio da Settignano. Particularly noteworthy here is the pair of famous military captains facing each other, displaying both their military and generational rivalry. The theme was later developed by Leonardo, who revolutionised the mature man type as to pave the way for modern caricature.

A Heroine of Antiquity by Andrea del Verrocchio (from Museo d’Arte Antica, Castello Sforzesco, Milan) & A Heroine of Antiquity by the workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio (from Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

The exhibition offers a unique opportunity to see these two reliefs side by side. The first, an oval, is a youthful work by Verrocchio still under Desiderio’s influence while the second, round-headed, is a derivation of the first. It may depict Alexander’s mother (occasionally shown scantily dressed) or Cleopatra baring her breast for the asp (According to popular belief, Cleopatra committed suicide by allowing an asp (Egyptian cobra) to bite her.).

Scipio Africanus by Andrea del Verrocchio (from Musée du Louvre)

The relief of Scipio, identified by the inscription, is an early example of this kind of effigy carved by Verrocchio. It was designed as one of a pair, the companion piece portraying Scipio’s foe Hannibal, the original of which is now lost but we know of it from a very reliable replica carved by a follower of Verrocchio.

Alexander the Great by Andrea del Verrocchio and Francesco di Simone Ferrucci (from National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.) & Darius III King of the Persians by Della Robbia workshop (from Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon)

These two reliefs were inspired by the lost profiles of Alexander the Great and Darius which Lorenzo the Magnificent sent to King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary. The Macedonian and Persian kings, facing each other, display both military and generational rivalry, amplified by the characterisation that Leonardo was later to developed in his studies of physiognomy.

Heads and Figures in Bust-length, Profile Views; a Nursing Virgin and Child in a Landscape, with the Infant Saint John; Standing Male Nude; Heads of Lions and a Dragon (recto); Heads and Figures in Bust-Length Views, with one Figure in Three-Quarter Length (verso) by Leonardo da Vinci (from the Royal Collection Trust of the Windsor Castle)

On one side of the sheet Leonardo studies the profile of Verrocchio’s David, adding a pyramidal composition with the Virgin Suckling the Christ Child and the Young Saint John the Baptist and small sketches of roaring lions and dragons; on the other, he studies the variety of human physiognomy, juxtaposing idealised images of androgynous youngsters with others of grim old men.

David Victorious by Andrea del Verrocchio (from Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence)

Verrocchio offers us his own version of the biblical hero, who was seen as a symbol of political freedom in 15th and 16th century Florence. The statue, which may have been commissioned by Piero di Cosimo de’ Medici, was later given by his sons Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici to the Florentine Republic to adorn the Palazzo della Signoria.

Nude of a Youth; the Infant Jesus with Hand Raised in Blessing by Francesco di Simone Ferrucci and workshop (from Musée du Louvre)

This nude shows Verrocchio’s David devoid of clothing. The firm, unfaltering hand suggests that it is a copy of a drawing by Verrocchio reproducing the nakedness of Donatello’s David.

3.3 Verrocchio and His Followers: the Madonnas, between Sculpture and Painting

Verrocchio came late to painting, and his first-hand involvement in it was concentrated in the years around 1470, a brief experience yet one which left its mark on many pupils. He developed several compositions of the Madonna and Child, such as the Virgin adoring her son or holding him standing on a window ledge, which were hugely successful. Coeval artists were also dazzled by the clarity of his painting, the precious details of his jewels, his sumptuous costumes and drapery engraved in light and his clear landscapes in the Flemish style, all of which they emulated. Thus Verrocchio’s workshop became the incubator of a new style of painting and attracted the greatest talents including Perugino, Leonardo, Ghirlandaio and many others. In sculpture, the first drawn into his orbit and becoming his faithful echo was his contemporary Francesco di Simone Ferrucci.

Madonna and Child with Two Angels by Fra Filippo Lippi (from Gallerie degli Uffizi, Florence)

The study is related to the famous painting in the Uffizi, though differs from it in the position of the Christ Child’s legs. The painting, immensely popular in the later Quattrocento, served as a source of inspiration for many artists, including the young Botticelli.

Madonna and Child with Two Angels by Sandro Botticelli (from Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, Napoli)

This composition is inspired by Fra Filippo Lippi’s Madonna in the Uffizi–Botticelli was his pupil–but the figures are mirror images and are set in an enclosed garden. We can not prove that Botticelli frequented Verrocchio’s workshop, but as he was moving out of Lippi’s shadow, he certainly fell under the influence of Verrocchio, the then most fashionable artist in Florence.

Madonna and Child by Andrea del Verrocchio (from Gemäldegalerie, Berlin)

This picture differs from Fra Filippo Lippi’s style in its aristocratic elegance and skilled handling of detail. The use of oil alongside traditional tempera shows that the work experimented with binding agents, modern techniques which attracted the most forward-looking Florentine painters of the day, particularly the Pollaiolo brothers.

Madonna and Child (Madonna of Santa Maria Nuova) by Andrea del Verrocchio (from Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence)

While we do not know whether this Madonna was the model for a marble or bronze sculpture or a work in its own right, it marks the high point of a composition developed by Verrocchio over a decade. The sculpture was a major source of inspiration for Verrocchio’s circle, as we can see from Ferrucci’s Fontebuoni Madonna and from paintings by artists who frequented the workshop, such as Piermatteo d’Amelia, Perugino and Ghirlandaio.

The Virgin and Child by Andrea del Verrocchio (from Gemäldegalerie, Berlin)

In this exhibition you can compare this painting–the prototype of all “window-ledge Madonnas” in both painting and sculpture–with another masterpiece by the same artist, the Volterra Madonna, in which we find the same supreme elegance and clear atmosphere, and with Perugino’s Madonna from the Musée Jacquemart-André, which depends directly on this painting.

The Virgin and Child with Two Angels (Volterra Madonna) by Andrea del Verrocchio (from The National Gallery of Art, London)

Known as the Volterra Madonna after the city where it was bought in the 19th century, this is one of Verrocchio greatest painted masterpieces. Two sumptuous curtains give onto a sweeping landscape, a sharp light picking out every detail, as one angel holds the Christ Child and urges us to adore him as the Virgin is doing, while the other raises his shining eyes to heaven.

This is one of my favourite works in the exhibition, in particular the hands and face of the angel on the left. Throughout most of the 20th century, scholars have agreed that the painting was produced in the workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio. However, they have not been able to agree on whether Verrocchio himself painted any part of it, or if he ever painted at all. Re-examination following a new restoration has confirmed that Verrocchio was indeed involved, and has led to the identification of Lorenzo di Credi as the second hand evident in the painting.

Madonna and Child by Pietro Perugino (from Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris)

The Berlin and Volterra Madonnas are this painting’s forerunners. Perugino copied the Christ Child from the Berlin picture; the brooch and decoration on the chain are very similar; the garland was a widespread variant in Umbria. At the same time, he took his inspiration for the drapery, the rich clothing, the landscape fading into the horizon and the moss-covered rock from the Volterra picture.

Tobias and the Angel by Andrea del Verrocchio (from The National Gallery, London)

This subject was popular in Florence, where the protection of Raphael, the biblical figure who led Tobias to safety through unknown lands, was invoked for merchants’ sons sent to many businesses’ foreign branches. The image was conceived and drawn by Verrocchio but several hands took part in its actual execution: one in Tobias’ head and hands and in the fish, one in the angel’s head and one in the landscape.

According to Oxford art historian Martin Kemp, Leonardo da Vinci, who was a member of Verrocchio’s studio, may have painted some part of this work, most likely the fish. David Alan Brown, of the National Gallery in Washington, attributes the painting of the fluffy little dog to him as well. If so, this would be perhaps the first extant example of a painting with input by Leonardo.

A Young Woman in Bust-Length, Three-Quarter View by Andrea del Verrocchio (from Musée du Louvre)

The fine metalpoint and white lead highlights on orange-red prepared paper allow the artist to impart a suffused sheen to his sitter’s flesh and a sparkle to the ringlets in her hair, with studied artifice and a goldsmith’s skill typical of Verrocchio’s methodical application.

An Angel’s Head by Andrea del Verrocchio (from Gallerie degli Uffizi)

This fragment for the figure of an angel is closely linked to the Tobias and the Angel in the National Gallery in London. The lines are pricked to transfer the drawing onto the surface of the painting using the pouncing method. The cartoon’s poor condition points to the extensive use made of it in Verrocchio’s workshop.

3.4 Verrocchio as Fresco Painter

Saint Jerome with a Holy Martyr (fragment of a Sacred Conversation) by Andrea del Verrocchio, a detached fresco from Chiesa di San Domenico, Pistoia

Illustrating the level of excellence that Verrocchio achieved in the technique, this fresco is the right-hand fragment of a much larger composition in which the Madonna and Child were surrounded by four saints in a semicircle. Verrocchio sought inspiration for his clear light and grandiose architecture in the work of Domenico Veneziano, while the anatomy highlighting furrows and veins and the strong characterisation of the saint’s face foreshadow the physical rendering of mood typical of Leonardo, a workshop assistant at the time.

This painting is not exhibited in this exhibition but in the Vatican Museums, Rome

The moment I saw the fresco by Verrocchio, it reminded me of an unfinished painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the Vatican Museums–Saint Jerome in the Wilderness. Similarities of the anatomical details and facial expression of the saint as well as of his loyal companion, the lion, can be found easily between the two pictures.

3.5 The School of Verrocchio as Painter, between Ghirlandaio and Perugino

Perugino, who frequented Verrocchio’s workshop, took his master’s style first to Umbria and then to Rome. The Stories from the Life of Saint Bernardino painted in 1473 (a commission in which he was assisted by the very young Pinturicchio) set the example with their clear, luminous scenes peopled by extremely elegant figures in settings with meticulously studied perspective surrounded by painted frames simulating precious stones.

Domenico del Ghirlandaio also frequented Verrocchio’s workshop, probably between 1470 and 1472, developing a new sweetness inspired both by a study of classical art as in the Ruskin Madonna, and by Flemish painting as in the Louvre Madonna. An alternative to Verrocchio’s style was formed by a monk named Bartolomeo della Gatta, the son of Antonio Dei, a goldsmith in whose workshop Verrocchio had worked as a young man. Expressivness and precious detail sit side by side in the Cortona Assumption, the masterpiece of this solitary artist who left for the region of Arezzo.

Saint Bernardino Cures the Daughter of Giovannantonio Petrazio da Rieti of an Ulcer and Saint Bernardino Restores the Sight of a Blind Man by Pietro Perugino (from Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, Perugia)

These Stories from the Life of Saint Bernardino, plus two more, graced the interior jambs of a niche with a statue of the saint in the oratory dedicated to him in Perugia. The cycle was painted by artists coordinated by the young Perugino, who was responsible for the settings and for the decoration imitating jewels on the frames. He only recently returned from Florence, where he had frequented Verrocchio’s workshop, learning the elegance and the handling of landscape typical of Flemish painting.

In exhibits 5.7e (Saint Bernardino Frees a Prisoner) and 5.7f (Saint Bernardino Restores to Life a Man Found Dead under a Tree), the faces of the figures seen from behind in the foreground are close to those of Perugino’s panels, but we can detect Pintoricchio’s hand in the finer draughtsmanship making the soldiers’ bodies taller and slimmer. Perugino’s stark narrative is enriched here with anecdotal details such as the dog chasing a child and the elegant greyhound.

Saint Joseph by Pietro Perugino (from Gallerie degli Uffizi)

This drawing can be ascribed to Perugino’s youthful phase, an indication being his angular handling of the tunic which shows similarities with the drapery studies produced in Verrocchio’s workshop. Drawing practice played a crucial role in the artistic education of Verrocchio’s pupils, and they turned their hand to techniques still not widely known, such as black chalk.

Madonna and Child by Domenico del Ghirlandaio (from National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.)

The gold ground has been reworked, so we do not know whether it originally showed a landscape or architecture. The Madonna is an elegantly bejewelled lady so close to Verrocchio that Ghirlandaio may have developed the picture, designed for domestic devotion, while still in Verrocchio’s workshop.

The Virgin Adoring the Christ Child (Ruskin Madonna) by Domenico del Ghirlandaio (from National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh)

Purchased in Venice by John Ruskin in 1877, the picture was painted by the young Ghirlandaio while still in Verrocchio’s workshop. The adoration sits boldly in a classical architectural setting, imbuing the painting with allegorical meaning: the destruction of the pagan world is embodied in a ruined building reminiscent of the Basilica of Maxentius in Rome.

Madonna and Child by Domenico del Ghirlandaio (from Musée du Louvre)

The painting testifies to Ghirlandaio’s ties with Verrocchio, with whom he worked for about two years, but it introduces new touches of realism, of Flemish inspiration, in the window and shelves with items on them. Ghirlandaio looks to Verrocchio for his overall composition and precious details, but softens the sharp features of his figures’ profiles and conjures up a warm, domestic mood.

Assumption of the Virgin with Saint Benedict and Saint Scholastica by Bartolomeo della Gatta (from Museo Diocesano di Cortona)

The painting is an early work by this artist, a Camaldolese monk who frequented Verrocchio’s workshop in Florence with the young Leonardo, as we can see from the physiognomical studies of the heads of aging Apostles reminiscent of the head of Saint Jerome in the fresco in the previous room.

3.6 Verrocchio and Rome

Ancient statuary and classical tradition played a major role in Verrocchio’s artistic education and in his transition from goldsmith’s art to monumental sculpture prompted by the teaching of Donatello and Desiderio. The transition preceded Verrocchio’s most important sojourn in Rome where he was summoned by Pope Sixtus IV, although his commitments in Tuscany prevented him from staying long. He made several silver statues of Apostles for the altar of the Sistine Chapel and although they are now lost, he did leave his mark in the wall frescoes through pupils and followers, particularly Perugino and Ghirlandaio who had trained in his workshop.

A major sculptural episode in Rome was the decoration of the Tornabuoni Chapel in Santa Maria sopra Minerva, a now lost piece of Florence on the Tiber. Francesca Pitti Tornabuoni’s tomb was carved, with Mino da Fiesole, by Francesco di Simone Ferrucci, who may be considered Verrocchio’s “alter ego” in the field of marble sculpture. Also, twenty years thereafter, a Verrocchio follower (possibly Michele Marini da Fiesole, whom Vasari mentions) worked in Rome in marble, terracotta and bronze as the master’s delegate in the papal capital.

Lorenzo di Dietisalvi Neroni by Antonio del Pollaiolo (from Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence)

This is an example of a heroic portrait–fashionable in Florence at the time–of a youth in parade armour. The profile of Nero on the cuirass suggests that the sitter may be a member of the Neroni family, possibly Lorenzo di Dietisalvi. These heroic figures foreshadow those in Pollaiolo’s Battle of the Ten Nudes.

Giuliano di Piero de’ Medici by Andrea del Verrocchio (from National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.)

The bust portrays Lorenzo the Magnificent’s younger brother Giuliano di Piero de’ Medici, who was slain in the Pazzi Conspiracy at the age of twenty-four on 26th April 1478. Verrocchio uses elements from his decorative repertoire such as palm leaves, round plates and a Gorgon’s head for the doublet.

Sleeping Youth by Andrea del Verrocchio (from Skulpturensammlung und Museum für Byzantinische Kunst, Berlin)

The young man may be the biblical figure Abel or Endymion, a mythological character condemned to perpetual sleep in return for eternal youth. It has also been suggested that, being a bozzetto (a small rough clay study), it was simply an exercise in anatomy for the workshop. In his treatise on painting, Leon Battista Alberti encourages drawing from sculptural models and studying nude bodies before painting them clothed.

Venus and Cupid by Andrea del Verrocchio and Leonardo da Vinci (from Gallerie degli Uffizi)

The trapezoid drawing was an initial design for a standard–possibly the banner mentioned among the works that Verrocchio did for the Medici: “a standard with a Spiritello for Giuliano’s joust.” The small study, rich in delicate tonal effects, is attributed to Verrocchio, probably in conjunction with the young Leonardo, whose hand can be identified in the reeds swaying in the wind on the left.

3.7 The Master of Space: the Winged Boy with Dolphin and Other Sculpture

Verrocchio’s dialogue with classical models is most apparent in his creation of outdoor sculpture. He helped to establish the modern standard for monumental fountains comprising a set of concentric basins superimposed on one another like a liturgical candle. He even exported the style of the Medici fountains to the court of King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary. These fountains were topped by figures such as the Winged Boy with Dolphin in which the natural feel of classical sculpture depicting children is associated with a new liveliness that invades the observer’s space.

Verrocchio also displayed immense skill in crafting metal candelabra, as we can see from the candelabrum he made for the Florentine Signoria (exhibit 7.1). Designed for the Audience Chamber in Florence’s Palazzo della Signoria, the candelabrum is Verrocchio’s oldest surviving bronze work. He showed his talent for mastering space both in the Incredulity of Saint Thomas (on display in the exhibition section in the Bargello) and in his equestrian statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni in Venice, illustrated here by a drawing recording a phase of the preliminary technical study and contemporary with Leonardo’s work on the equestrian monument of Francesco Sforza which never came to fruition.

A Little Boy by Desiderio da Settignano (from National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.)

Vasari tells us that Desiderio specialised in women’s and children’s heads, such as this Boy transferred from Washington, D.C. and displayed here alongside the Winged Boy with Dolphin and the Cambridge drawing, both by Verrocchio. In the field of marble sculpture Verrocchio was Desiderio’s best pupil, inheriting his ideal of tender child beauty and going on to develop his own take on it.

Winged Boy with a Dolphin by Andrea del Verrocchio (from Museo di Palazzo Vecchio, Florence)

The Spiritello is listed as one of the works Verrocchio made for the Medici. Vasari asserts that it was commissioned by Lorenzo the Magnificent for the fountain in the Villa of Careggi and moved to Palazzo Vecchio almost a century later. In the putto, a product of his early maturity, Verrocchio addresses the depiction of a figure in space and revisits a subject favoured by classical sculptors to create an image positively bursting with energy.

Studies of putti by Francesco di Simone Ferrucci and workshop (from Musée du Louvre)

Male Nude in Movement (headless); Three Putti in Equilibrium; Boy at Work; Putto Supporting a Shield
Putto Balanced on a Dolphin Head, four versions of the Christ Child Standing with Hand Raised in Blessing (Two on a Cushion); Bust of a Putto; Seated Madonna with Standing Child

Both sheets have studies of putti balancing on their right leg, probably designed for fountain projects. On the top right corner of the second drawing the figure leans on a stylised element that can be identified as a dolphin’s head.

Several Infants by Andrea del Verrocchio (from Musée du Louvre)

This drawing reveals the rapid pen-and-ink sketch technique with which, thanks also to his sculptor’s sensitivity, Verrocchio succeeded in capturing the energy and movement of children. The Latin text, deciphered on this occasion and attributable to the humanist and playwright Pietro Domizi dal Comandatore, praises the equestrian statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni.

Measured Drawing of a Horse in Profile View by Andrea del Verrocchio (from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

pen and dark brown ink, with ruling, over traces of black chalk, inscribed with notes and measurements in pen and the same brown ink as the drawing, on paper

3.8 Verrocchio in Pistoia: the Forteguerri Cenotaph and the Piazza Madonna and Lorenzo di Credi

After 1475, Verrocchio’s art takes on greater solemnity; his figures are arranged symmetrically, his drapery billows and his faces acquire a new sweetness. This change is reflected in two works for Pistoia: the altarpiece for the Chapel of the Madonna di Piazza built by Bishop Donato de’ Medici, and Cardinal Niccolò Forteguerri’s cenotaph in the Cathedral. The two commissions, assigned between 1474 and 1475, were to drag on for years. The altarpiece was only completed in 1485 – 1486 by his pupil Lorenzo di Credi, to whom he had left his workshop after moving to Venice. The composition, devised by the master with figures in a loggia opening out onto a sweeping landscape, set a standard. This exhibition offers visitors a unique opportunity to see the small canvas with the Head of Saint Donatus next to the Madonna di Piazza and to compare Verrocchio’s studies of linen drapery with Leonardo’s in the next room. The carving of the Forteguerri Cenotaph was delegated to Francesco di Simone Ferrucci, but we can appreciate Verrocchio’s superb, revolutionary scenographic invention in the terracotta bozzetti.

Two Flying Angels by Andrea del Verrocchio and workshop (from Musée du Louvre)

intermediate models for the cenotaph of Cardinal Niccolò Forteguerri in Pistoia Cathedral (?)

The transition from the design stage to the actual work in Florentine workshops in the second half of the 15th century entailed the production of several terracotta models, a practice revealed by these fragments of Cardinal Forteguerri’s cenotaph in Pistoia Cathedral. The elegance, curling hair and wings point to Verrocchio’s inner circle, while the angel on the left with his smiling features may be attributed to Verrocchio in person.

Saint Donatus of Arezzo by Leonardo da Vinci in the workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio (?) (Private collection)

The study of Donato de’ Medici’s features in preparation for the eponymous saint’s head in the Madonna di Piazza goes back to the first design for the work. The artist who produced the small canvas investigates the figure’s mood by studying physical resemblance, a constant in Leonardo’s approach, and the diagonal cross-hatching inclining to the left is also a da Vinci hallmark.

Saint Donatus of Arezzo and Four Male Busts and Heads (recto); Male and Female Busts and Heads (verso) by Andrea del Verrocchio, Lorenzo di Credi (?) and workshop (from National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh)

This drawing was a working tool used in Verrocchio’s workshop. On the front side (recto), a study of the figure of Saint Donatus is accompanied by sketches of heads and busts in silverpoint. The back side (verso), which can be seen on the other side of the wall, has further pen drawings attributable to Verrocchio’s own hand, including the head of a mature man possibly based on a classical model and a profile reflecting Verrocchio’s taste for images of military captains.

Madonna and Child between Saint John the Baptist and Saint Donatus of Arezzo (Madonna di Piazza) by Andrea del Verrocchio and Lorenzo di Credi (from Cattedrale di San Zeno, Pistoia)

This central altarpiece, commissioned from Verrocchio by the executors of Donato de’ Medici, the Bishop of Pistoia who died in 1474, was still unfinished in 1485. Reflectography has confirmed that Verrocchio was responsible for the design and composition, but the jewel-like surfaces are typical of Lorenzo di Credi, who was trying to compete with the Flemish painters in the carpet and landscape.

The central panel from the predella of the Madonna di Piazza–the Annunciation from the Musée du Louvre–was painted by the young Lorenzo di Credi before 1478 while he was still very much under Leonardo’s influence, and indeed it was attributed to Leonardo himself until not so long ago. If you compare it with Leonardo’s Annunciation in the Gallerie degli Uffizi, you will find quite some similarities.

The right panel from the predella–the Miracle of Saint Donatus of Arezzo from the Worcester Art Museum–was also painted by Lorenzo di Credi. Also once attributed to Leonardo, we know that this panel was part of the Madonna di Piazza predella because it was cut from the same plank as the Annunciation. The scene depicts a rare miracle of Saint Donatus, who proved the innocence of a tax collector falsely accused of theft. The saint is shown assisting the man in locating the money that his deceased wife had hidden for safekeeping.

Madonna and Child (Madonna della Giuggiola) by Lorenzo di Credi (from Musei Reali Torino)

The Virgin offers the Christ Child a jujube, alluding to his Passion because the legend goes that the Crown of Thorns was interwoven with jujube branches. The pose of the Christ Child’s hands is inspired by Leonardo’s Benois Madonna (State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg).

3.9 From Verrocchio to Leonardo: the Folding of Drapery Immersed in Light

Fra Filippo Lippi was the first to study chiaroscuro effects on isolated pieces of drapery, inspired by sculpture which Leon Battista Alberti urges readers in his “De pictura” (1435) to observe in order to learn to depict the passage of light. In the second half of the 15th century the study of drapery acquired the value of a genre in its own right, and in Verrocchio’s workshop, a laboratory of innovative techniques, he and Leonardo experimented painting on very fine linen cloth reproducing true drapery soaked in wax or liquid earth modelled on dummies. Monochrome surfaces come alive thanks to light, with a sharper borderline in Verrocchio’s cloths and a more nuanced transition in Leonardo’s, but in both cases they achieve a level of abstraction that makes the human figure’s presence superfluous.

Verrocchio’s stern structures are softened in the terracotta Madonna and Child, probably Leonardo’s only known work of sculpture (according to my knowledge, the bronze sculpture Rearing Horse and Mounted Warrior is also attributed to Leonardo, which I saw in the temporary exhibition “Leonardo da Vinci. Drawing the Future” in Turin), modelled when he was still a young lad in his master’s workshop.

grayish black chalk; outline spricked for transfer

Head of a Young Boy by Andrea del Verrocchio (from Kupferstichkabinett der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin)

From left to right:

  • Drapery by Fra Filippo Lippi, study for the figure of Caspar in the Adoration of the Magi in the predella of the Nativity from Santa Margherita in Prato by Fra Diamante (from Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rennes);
  • Drapery by Fra Filippo Lippi, study for the figure of Saint John the Baptist in the Coronation of the Virgin (Pala Maringhi) (from Gallerie degli Uffizi).

From left to right:

  • Drapery for a Seated Figure by Lorenzo di Credi (from Collection Frits Lugt, Paris);
  • Drapery for a Seated Figure in Three-Quarter View by Leonardo da Vinci (from Collection Frits Lugt, Paris);
  • Drapery for a Seated Figure in Nearly Frontal View by Leonardo da Vinci (from Musée du Louvre).

Drapery for a Kneeling Figure in Profile View by Leonardo da Vinci (from Musée du Louvre).

From left to right:

  • Saint Bartholomew by Lorenzo di Credi (from Musée du Louvre);
  • Drapery for a Bearded Figure Standing, Viewed in Profile by Andrea del Verrocchio (from The Estate of Barbara Piasecka Johnson, Princeton (New Jersey)).

From left to right:

  • Drapery for a Standing Figure in Frontal View by Leonardo da Vinci (from Gallerie degli Uffizi);
  • Drapery for a Bearded Figure Standing in Three-Quarter View by Andrea del Verrocchio (from Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rennes).

The Virgin with the Laughing Child by Leonardo da Vinci (from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

This superb Madonna has nothing directly in common with any other Florentine Renaissance sculpture, yet it has much in common with Leonardo’s drawings and paintings, particularly with his youthful work but also with his more mature output (the Louvre Virgin of the Rocks and Virgin and Child with Saint Anne). Having spent a long time with Verrocchio, Leonardo must have learnt to model clay extremely well, “making in his youth, in clay, some heads of women that are smiling” as Vasari reminds us.

My introduction above is largely based on texts written by Francesco Caglioti, Andrea De Marchi, Arturo Galansino and Ludovica Sebregondi (translation Italian/English by Stephen Tobin) on the info boards on site. I have to say this is an amazing exhibition in terms of its well-organized presentation and carefully-chosen masterpieces selected from major museums and art galleries across the world. It gave me such a rare and fantastic opportunity to learn about Verrocchio, the master of Leonardo da Vinci, as well as the artists directly or indirectly related to him such as Desiderio da Settignano, Fra Filippo Lippi, Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino and Domenico del Ghirlandaio, by comparing their representative works displayed next to each other, some of which were originally thousands of kilometres away. All in all, do not miss this flagship event in the programme of celebrations marking the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death, which is also the first comprehensive retrospective ever devoted to the Florentine master, Verrocchio.

Verrocchio, Master of Leonardo was last modified: June 25th, 2019 by Dong

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous says: Reply

    Thank you for posting these images of the works from the Verrocchio-Master of Leonardo exhibition, as I have not seen the works within it posted elsewhere!

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