Bringing Leonardo to light

A sculpture found; a fresco may be within reach

Editorial Staff
April 9, 2009

A terracotta bust found in a private residence in Tuscany may have been made by Leonardo da Vinci. Discovered by chance in 1990, in the attic of a fourteenth-century palazzo in Siena, the sculpture was originally attributed to Andrea del Verrocchio. Art experts now believe that it may be Leonardo's only extant sculpture.

 

 

Leonardo studied sculpture in Verrocchio's workshop between 1469 and 1476 but later dismissed it, considering it inferior to painting.

 

The bust, a sorrowful-looking old man, is thought to depict St. Jerome. The statue has a chipped nose and shows evidence of hasty repairs to its chin and ears.

 

 As part of the terracotta exhibit currently running in Impruneta (Florence), the bust is being shown to the public for the first time, along with terracotta sculptures by Brunelleschi, Ghiberti, Donatello, Michelozzo, Desiderio da Settignano, Verrocchio and Benedetto da Maiano.

 

For more information on the exhibit, see www.impruneta.it

 

The head was discovered by art historian and professor at Perugia University, Giovanni Gentilini, when he was commissioned to make a digital catalogue of the hundreds of works stored in Siena's Palazzo Chigi Saracini.

 

While exploring the vast attics of the palazzo, Gentilini came across the bust. ‘We discovered that various works in chalk and terracotta had been placed there, probably removed from the rooms because they were thought to be of little value or in a bad state of conservation. And on the floor, under a heap of rubbish, we saw the bust', he said.

 

Gentilini believes the bust was probably ‘not an autonomous work, but a model to study, draw and eventually translate into painting or sculpture.' He asserts that there are ‘clear analogies' between the bust and two other works depicting St. Jerome: a tempera of the saint's head conserved in Florence's Galleria Palatina, which has recently been reattributed to Leonardo; and a painting stolen in 1970, depicting St. Jerome and St. Anthony with a crucified Christ, which experts believe was made in Verrocchio's workshop.

 

The possibility that the bust was made by Leonardo is supported by the fact that he often sketched the heads of old men as St. Jerome. For example, Leonardo compiled an inventory of his works in 1482 before moving to Milan, in which he listed ‘certain St. Jeromes' and ‘many heads of old men.'

 

In another development, new evidence has restarted the search for Leonardo's lost fresco at Palazzo Vecchio.

 

A document in an archive of Medici materials may provide evidence in the search for Leonardo da Vinci's fabled long-lost fresco, the Battle of Anghiari. Dated June 14, 1567, the document attests to the delivery of 14,000 bricks to Palazzo Vecchio. Art experts believe that the bricks were ordered by architect Giorgio Vasari and were likely used to construct a wall to protect the fresco. Leonardo's work is believed to be behind the fresco painted by Vasari in  the Salone dei Cinquecento.

 

The search for Leonardo's fabled Battle of Anghiari has been at a stand-still for months, but this recent discovery has opened a new phase of investigation. In June 2009, work will begin again, funded by the state and a group of private organizations.

 

Local artist Antonio De Vito will showcase a replica of the Leonardo's fresco at the upcoming Mostra dell'Artigianato in Florence, which opens April 25. Visitors can watch De Vito work using the same techniques and tools that were used in fresco painting during the Renaissance. To catch De Vito in action, see www.mostraartigianato.it.

 

 

Recommended reading: Finding Leonardo. The case for recovering the battle of Anghiari by Rab Hatfield. Published by The Florentine Press, 2007.

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