A slew of new books rethinks the Renaissance in general and Leonardo da Vinci in particular.
Andrea del Verrocchio, “The Baptism of Christ” (1472-75), oil on wood, 177 x 151 cm, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence (image via Web Gallery of Art)
Fans of the Renaissance rarely lack for new reasons to rejoice. If blockbuster exhibitions like the recent Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer at The Met, or last year’s special show of Bellini’s landscapes at The Getty, aren’t making their skin crawl with anxiousness and delight, then it’s the magically rediscovered hand of a much beloved master, in a work long not considered to have been executed by that hand, that quickens their pulse — even when certain such revised attributions seem a bit specious.
Regarding the latter matter, aggravated doubt and dissension are bound to set the heart racing just like dramatically demonstrated conviction, making the debate surrounding last year’s “Salvator Mundi” (ca 1500) revelation-cum-controversy at Christie’s a rather cardio-Formula-One-some affair. If you happen to be one of those captivated onlookers in the auction house’s very Abramovic-ian promotional video gaping, gawking, gazing, or weeping as you behold the so-called “last da Vinci,” then I must excuse myself for chuckling at your expense. This is not because I’m convinced that the whole thing was a hoax, but I am convinced that the painting itself and the supporting evidence offered are not convincing enough to decisively convince us. And to be clear, I find no humor at all in the act of looking at art leading to the shedding of tears. I’ve shed more than a fair share of them doing the same. That Christie’s video, however, is ridiculous.
So my heart raced about “Salvator Mundi” as well, even if I’m not persuaded that the work itself lives up to its billing. I feel rather the same about a more recent attribution by which surely many fans of Renaissance painting have been similarly intrigued, namely that of “A Miracle of Saint Donatus of Arezzo” (1479) which, as reported here in Hyperallergic by Claire Voon, was long considered a work by Lorenzo di Credi, but is now attributed to Leonardo. If this story didn’t cross your radar, it is likely because, since it’s the property of the Worcester Art Museum, it’s not being hyper-promoted by an auction house for the enticement of an extraordinarily art-loving royal, for example, who might just happen to have half a billion dollars to spare.
Leonard da Vinci, detail of angel from Andrea del Verrocchio, “The Baptism of Christ” (1472–75), oil on wood, 177 x 151 cm, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence (image via Web Gallery of Art)
While the justifications for the new attribution in this case are again not entirely convincing, the lesser fanfare of it all does make the scholarly evidence here seem less dubious. That said, what troubles me most about this attribution, truly this one especially, is that I feel that the variously involved parties at the Worcester Art Museum have missed, overlooked, or perhaps underestimated the wonderful opportunity they had to simply grant the work, on the label and everywhere else, both attributions, Lorenzo and Leonardo.
I say this for a number of reasons, and with full awareness that there are plenty of motives to keep attributions to just one name, and to prefer greater masters over lesser ones. I also understand that eventual museum labels might well go into further particulars about who worked on which parts and so forth.
And yet, what Leonardo scholars have known for a long time is that multiple artists worked on most all of the paintings and other works that were produced, like this one, in Andrea del Verrocchio’s studio. With regard to this particular predella panel, the researchers and curators seem to know with considerable certainty that both Leonardo and Lorenzo worked on it at various stages over time.
So why not simply bill it “A Miracle of Saint Donatus of Arezzo”, by Leonardo da Vinci and Lorenzo di Credi?
I realize that such a dual attribution is neither completely novel nor revolutionary, but I find it a bolder and immensely more intriguing way to move forward in cases like these. We already have single attributions, anonymous attributions, attributions to faux names like Il Maestro della Maddalena, and attributions to entire scuole or botteghe, e.g. Scuola Toscana or Studio of Andrea del Verrocchio. There are some multiple-name attributions out there as well, including one to both Verrocchio and Leonardo for “The Baptism of Christ” (1472-75).
The truth is, as many of the studies out there on Verrocchio and Leonardo — not to mention all the studies out there of other artists who directed or apprenticed in similarly star-studded studios — have attested, it’s likely that even more than just a couple of artists played at least some role in the production of significant commissions, even if only at the level of panel preparation, drawing-transfers, imprimatura and maybe some initial color layering. Perugino and Botticelli worked in Verrocchio’s studio as well, so although panel preparation or similarly early painting stages aren’t likely to leave identifiable traces, it’s awfully compelling to imagine that one of those notable apprentices might also have had a hand in the making of, say, “The Baptism of Christ,” or even “A Miracle of Saint Donatus of Arezzo.”……………..