Leonardo, the kid Madonna

A few centimeters (exactly 48×37) in size, and we don’t know its recipient, the Madonna Benois is an early, full and independent affirmation of Leonardo’s painting in the moment in which, around twenty-six years old, the young master leaves the workshop of Verrocchio, where he had entered ten years before. Not only the Madonna Benois opens a new and decisive phase in Leonardo’s painting but already it offers itself as an authoritative example to Raphael, who draws inspiration from it for his Carnation’s Madonna now in the collection of the duke of Northumberland at Alnwick Castle…

Verrocchio’s bottega was in full swing in 1478, when Leonardo Da Vinci was about to paint two Madonnas. Leonardo himself kept memory of it in a partly torn paper from the Uffizi’s Cabinet of drawings: “…bre 1478/I started the two Virgin Marys.” This is not a quick note; the writing is very formal, almost a calligraphy test of notary-like writing. Leonardo remembered having started two significant paintings, but not having finished them.

The Madonna Benois is, precisely, an incomplete painting. Leonardo never painted the view from the window in it. So this very Leonardo’s work has been nominated, with all probability, to be one of the two 1478 Madonnas The other “would be” Munich’s Carnation’s Madonna

What unites the Carnation’s Madonna to the Benois is the idea of representing the Virgin in an interior, under the stimulus of the Flemish painters and Filippo Lippi, but we’re looking at two very different interiors So sumptuous, bright and described in detail, is the Carnation’s Madonna one, as it’s dark the Madonna Benois one, where the cloth of honor is transformed into a curtain that hides even more of the environment, of which only a small, but eloquent particular, is a hint.

The exhibition in Fabriano

The exhibition “Leonardo. The Madonna Benois from the collections of the Hermitage” is scheduled at the Pinacoteca Comunale of Fabriano (Ancona) from June 1 to 30. Curated by Carlo Bertelli and Tatiana Kustodieva, the exhibition is sponsored and designed by Maria Francesca Merloni, Unesco Goodwill Ambassador for Creative Cities, in collaboration with the city of Fabriano, the State Hermitage Museum, Hermitage Italia, with the patronage of the ministries for culture and Foreign affairs . The catalog (from which the Carlo Bertelli’s text here anticipated is taken) is published by Il Cigno GG Editions (78 pages, € 25).

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