Florence continues to celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci with an exhibition of his Master – Andrea del Verrocchio at the Palazzo Strozzi. I must admit I am not a real fan of religious art and totally ignorant of who Verrocchio was so I had left my visit to the exhibition to the last week. I was however beguiled by the gentle serenity of the ‘Madonna’ in the publicity boards around town, her gaze lowered, her hair drawn back beneath a transparent veil so delicately embroidered as was the bodice of her gown, it had to be seen for real. The style was typical of many Renaissance painters that I did know like Filippo Lippi, Sandro Botticelli, Perugino and of course Leonardo da Vinci all of whom painted the Madonna showing enormous tenderness towards her child, an earthly maternal love.
After the exhibition I explored further and discovered that Verrocchio was born in Florence around 1434-37, originally Andrea di Cione, the son of a construction worker in a family where the money was scarce. After his father’s death he had to support his mother and eight brothers and possibly for this reason never married. He became an apprentice goldsmith in the workshop of Giuliano Verrocchio and later took his name. As an artist with his own workshop Andrea del Verrocchio had such illustrious pupils as Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, Domenico del Ghirlandaio and Perugino.
“No one shaped Florentine Art in the age of Lorenzo the Magnificent more than Verrocchio. Trained as a goldsmith, he discovered a bent for sculpture, emerging as the greatest bronze sculpture of his day. He practised drawing and eventually turned to painting. By c 1470, barely over thirty, he had become a beacon in his own right and with his lively workshop.” (Palazzo Strozzi info)
“The bust evokes the ideal of female beauty in the age of Lorenzo the Magnificent, merging aristocratic grace with moral values…..and Leonardo drew inspiration from the innovative addition of arms and hands”
Marble reliefs and bronze statues of heroes and heroines of the classical world were particularly popular with patrons of the time and it was interesting to see the developments in style and expressions and the attention to detail was impressive.
Verrocchio came late to painting yet impressed his fellow artists with his detail on precious jewels, elaborate costumes and drapery bathed in light. His ‘window ledge’ baby Jesus became a new fashion and was copied by many. He studied innovative techniques with Leonardo on the ‘chiaroscuro” effects of light experimenting by painting on fine linen cloth reproducing true drapery soaked in wax or liquid earth modelled on dummies.
In the painting –The Baptism of Christ Vasari tells us “he was assisted by Leonardo da Vinci, his disciple, then quite young, who painted the angels, which was much better than the other parts of the work: and for this reason Verrocchio resolved never again to touch a brush“! Art historians however are not convinced about the legitimacy of the comment as Verrocchio left many works unfinished, being prolific in so many different fields.
He created outdoor sculptures based on classical models, popular in the Renaissance and helped forge the fashion for monumental marble fountains, decorated with bronze statues like The Winged boy with Dolphin. He created metal candelabras, equestrian monuments and his work as a goldsmith could be as varied as the small Dove of the Holy Spirit to the gilded copper ball placed on top of the Brunelleschi Dome.
And as a surprise finale we were introduced to Leonardo Da Vinci’s only known work of sculpture when he was still a young man, perhaps only 20, modeled in his master’s workshop. The Virgin with the Laughing Child. We have all learnt so much about Da Vinci’s master.