Friday, 22 February 2013

Verrocchio, Painting and Sculpture.

Andrea del Verrocchio and Leonardo da Vinci, Baptism of Christ, Florence, Uffizi, 1472-5, oil on wood, 177 x 151 cm.

Looking at post-renaissance representations of Leonardo and Verrocchio’s relationship- such as Gigoux’s take on the master-pupil bond- we might assume that the elder master was so distraught at his pupil’s precocity that he abandoned his palette and paintbrush in despair. This impinges on the topic of Verrocchio’s ability as a painter, which has been the subject of some discussion.[1]  A glance at a painted Head of St Jerome seems to confirm that Verrocchio had talent as a painter early in his career, and that he painted studies of “character heads” which undoubtedly influenced the young Leonardo. According to David Alan Brown, Verrocchio only began to learn to paint after the Baptism of Christ, and when he was simultaneously working on the sculpture group, the Incredulity of St Thomas for Orsanmichele. According to this theory Verrocchio only began painting after he was a confirmed sculptor; his interest in sculpture probably dates from about 1461 when he competed with Desiderio and Giuliano da Maiano for a commission at Orvieto. Verrocchio also felt the need to surround himself with pupils who would help him with the demands of the painting, leaving him more time for sculptural projects. 

Andrea del Verrocchio, Head of St Donatus, Private Collection, New York, probably 1470s.
Verrocchio, Putto with a Dolphin, c. 1470, Florence, Palazzo Vecchio, marble, 125 cm.
 While many of Verrocchio’s pupils were adept painters, it was only Leonardo who was the pupil who could work in both painting and sculpture. It may well be the case that Leonardo conceived his ideas about the paragone, the comparison between the arts, in his formative years in his master’s studio. As for Verrocchio, he gained greater recognition as a sculptor; he characterised himself as a “chiseler” in the land office registers of 1470 and 1480, and in his will he is remembered as a “sculptor”. However, in the documents for his admission to another society in 1570, Verrocchio is described as a “painter.” Verrocchio’s painting ability can be seen in the wonderful Head of St Donato (Private Coll., New York) which was probably a study for a marble bust, typical of the sort of works that Verrocchio and his pupils did in the workshop- both sculptural and pictorial. Indeed, Verrocchio was ahead of his time in rejecting the traditional view that a sculpture should have a main point from which it could be viewed; he was an advocate of the multiple viewpoint. An example of Verrocchio putting his multi-view approach into operation can be seen in the Putto with a Dolphin, which describes a twisting, swerving motion. This encourages the spectator to move around the sculpture instead of viewing the marble stationary from a single location. Verrocchio’s use of space in his paintings of Madonnas, e.g. the Berlin Madonna and Child, which with its use of multi-viewpoints, suggests the knowledge of the sculptor too.  Leonardo’s first sculptural projects, made in his youth in Florence, show this multi-view method.

Verrocchio, Madonna and Child, Staatliche Museen, Berlin, 1470, oil on poplar, 76 x 55 cm.

[1]   See Liletta Fornasari, “Andrea del Verrocchio and the Tuscan Workshops: the Renaissance atelier” in Leonardo and Surroundings. Also, Jill Dunkerton and Luke Syson, National Gallery Technical Bulletin, 31, “In Search of Verrocchio the Painter: The Cleaning and Examination of The Virgin with Two Angels.”

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