Leonardo da Vinci - Self-portrait
Leonardo da Vinci (?) - Madonna dei fusi
The Burano Bridge, represented in the Madonna dei fusi (up) and in the Gioconda (down)
Leonardo da Vinci - Gioconda or Monna Lisa (Louvre)
The Isleworth Mona Lisa - (color reproductions not found)
The Prado Museum Gioconda
Leonardo da Vinci - Ginevra Benci
Leonardo da Vinci - The Virgin of the rocks - version in Paris (up) and London (down)
Leonardo da Vinci - Saint Anne, Virgin and child and Saint John
Leonardo da Vinci - Saint John the Baptist
Leonardo da Vinci - Madonna of the carnation
Leonardo da Vinci - Portrait of a musician - compared with the angel from the Virgin of the rocks (shown below)
"Reading", 126-66 cm.
Leonardo da Vinci - Lady with an ermine
by G. Fernández - theartwolf.com
There is no artist more legendary than Leonardo. In the whole History of Art, no other name has created more discussions, debates and studies than the genius born in Vinci in 1452. Painter, sculptor, architect, scientific and investigator, the figure of Leonardo has generated multiple legends, myths, and rumours about his possible homosexuality, also about his debated membership to a vast numbers of lodges and sects, not to mention the strange stories about his stay in Verrocchio's workshop, or even his allegedly weird relationship with many of his models, forming the Leonardesque Mythology in which the huge success of “The da Vinci Code” is only the most recent example.
But beyond the "quick" mythology of the best-sellers, the artistic oeuvre of Leonardo offers a continuous source of debate to Art critics: in fact, it is believed that two-thirds of his pictorial oeuvre has been lost. That has generated that in the last 150 years multiple critics, promoters, or just Art fakers -eager for attention- have published countless paintings publicized as "a new Leonardo", based on questionable texts and sketches that supposedly support its authenticity. An allegedly found of a new da Vinci's work is always accompanied by a huge repercussion in the Art world, and places the name of the founder in the spotlight of the -no always cautious- Art world.
As you can guess, the immense majority of this founds are only forgettable trash with a complete lack of any historical or artistic rigor. Nevertheless, there are still some serious debates and investigations which are worthy of being commented.
LA MADONNA DEI FUSI - ORIGINAL OR COPY?
One of the most interesting and serious debates in recent years about the authenticity of a work by Leonardo is the one involving the two versions of the original -allegedly lost- of the "Madonna dei fusi", also known as the "Madonna of the reel" or the "Madonna of the yarnwinder". One of them is in the Drumlanrig Castle collection in Scotland (it had been stolen and then recovered) and another one -of an exceptional quality- was previously in the Reford collection of Montreal, until it was recently acquired by an American private collector (there are rumours that talk about a price of over $150 million, which is really hard to believe.) Let's obviate the Ruprecht version in München, which is very different in its composition.
What do we know about the original painting? Basically we have the testimony of a letter sent to Isabel d'Este by Pietro de Novellara in 1501, in which is mentioned "a Virgin sitting as if he wanted to hoist and desired the one and only cross, smiling and holding it, not wanting to give it to his mother, who seems to want to take it" (1). This detailed testimony has long been used as an unquestionable evidence of the no authenticity of the two paintings we are talking about, guessing that the imitators might have abandoned the symbolism of the reel and the spindle, emphasizing the cross and the sacrifice.
Allright, but... why we must believe so firmly the testimony of Novellara? Is he really a reliable source? We know that even Vasari, the great Giorgio Vasari, have commented artworks that he had never seen, causing historical confusions that lasted until our days. Then, why do we have to admit a priori the truth of that document? Why the written documents have always to prevail over the pictorial documents? Can we invert this reasoning and declare "not reliable" the testimony of Novellara with the evidence we have found not in one, but in three pictorial documents?
My goal is not to declare "not reliable" Novellara's testimony, it is only to make an artistic analysis not conditioned by it. Also, it is even possible that Novellara were talking about a first version of this subject, and that Leonardo himself could have subsequently painted a second version (notice that Suida, who ignored Novellara's text, suggested 1506 as the date of execution of the painting) (2) in which he disregarded the symbolism of the reel.
If we ignore this written testimony... what do we have here? Two versions, almost identical in its composition but with notorious differences in the background landscape, and with an evident difference in quality, being the New York version much better -in my opinion- than the Scottish one. Let's make a detailed study of the first version.
It's not risky to say that this is the best of all the works declared to be by Leonardo's workshop. It's a small (50.2 - 36.4 cm.) canvas, originally a panel. The drawing, especially in the face of the Madonna, is highly beautiful; the color is harmonious, with an evident mastery of the sfumatto, although it is possible that the work could have been repainted several times. The face and the hand of the Madonna immediately remind us of the "Saint Anne, the Virgin and the child" in the National Gallery of London, and even of the second version of the "Virgin of the rocks" in the same museum. But the most striking element of the painting is the background, so similar to those in the Gioconda. At this point, I would like to recommend a very interesting study made by Marco Versiero in occasion of the exhibition of the "Madonna dei fusi" in Arezzo, Italy, from July to November of 2000 (3)
So, can we now definitely prove the authenticity of the New York version? No, not at all, but it can be used as a gate to the investigation of a period in Leonardo's oeuvre -the first decade of the 16th Century- in which only a pictorial document is known: the Gioconda. By the way, let's comment a few things about that work.
THE 1001 GIOCONDAS
If there is something more shocking than releasing the discovering of a new Leonardo is release the discovering of a new version of The Leonardo, in other words, the Gioconda or Monna Lisa. In the last 150 years, dozens of visionaries -often called critics- have suggested, in many cases with a huge publicity, the existence of other version of the Gioconda, or even denying the authenticity of the Louvre version and proclaiming that they know the whereabout of "the one and only" Monna Lisa, which is utterly ridiculous, because the Parisian maiden add to her unquestionable and unmistakable quality an extensive and undeniable historical documentation, since it was acquired by Napoleon I, or even before.
For example, perhaps you know the case of the so-called "Isleworth Monna Lisa", published as the authentic Gioconda by H. Pulitzer in 1966 in his study "Where is the Monna Lisa?" noticing its high quality and the presence of two columns in the extremes of the canvas (hard to see in the Louvre version) that allegedly confirmed it as the authentic Monna Lisa. The work, which have an unknown provenance until its found in an English private collection, was logically rejected by the critic. Having been copied in multiple occasions, the existence of a high-quality copy (for example, the one in the Luchner collection, or another one in the Tours Museum) is not a guaranty of its attribution to Leonardo.
This is not the only case. Even a very respected historian as Antonio Manuel Campoy, in his 1970 monograph about the Prado Museum, dared to suggest the authenticity of the 'Prado Gioconda'(perhaps Italian, late 16th century) with a passionate and illogical discourse: "Those who declare the authenticity of the Louvre Gioconda over this one in the Prado, do they have a solid basis? If it is about historical notices, these fit to any argument you want to defend (??) If it is about the technique, the truth is that the Louvre Gioconda shows very few of Leonardo's hand (????)." (4) This (so-called) argumentation, built on two blatant lies, can only be excused if we understand the love that Campoy feels to The Prado Museum, and his evident desire of "enriching" its collections with a work by the Italian master.
We could prolong this chapter to the infinite, mentioning one thousand Giocondas that one thousand visionaries have tried to introduce in Leonardo's oeuvre, and we can suggest as a joke -or perhaps not as a joke- that the only versions of the Gioconda never proposed as "authentic" are the "moustache Giocondas" by Dali and Duchamp. There are a lot of mysteries around the Gioconda, but its authenticity is not one of them: there is only one Gioconda, and it is in the Paris, behind a thick glass that almost prevents its contemplation.
THE DISCUSSED CATALOGUE
Due to the constant debates about the authenticity of Leonardo's works, the catalogue of works by the master remains in permanent fluctuation, adding new works that are rejected a few years later, and removing others that are later readmitted by some sectors of the critic. Let's comment here the works universally admitted as authentic.
1. INDISPUTABLE WORKS BY THE MASTER
"Portrait of a woman (Ginevra Benci)"
Washington , National Gallery
Although that in late 19th and early 20th century some discordant voices were heard (5) now nobody doubt of the authorship of this little jewel, appropriately called "cossa belissima (very beautiful thing)" by Vasari. First masterwork by Leonardo
Roma, Pinacoteca Vaticana
Nobody have ever doubted of this unfinished work
"The adoration of the magi"
As the above, unquestionable
"The Virgin of the rocks"
Paris , Louvre
Unquestionable work by Leonardo, with abundant documentation
"The Virgin of the rocks"
London , National Gallery
The attribution of Leonardo, unquestionable in the 19th and early 20 th century, was questioned in the late 20th century due to the stylistic differences with the Louvre version. Nevertheless, recent in-depth studies of the work (6) have proved the authorship of Leonardo. The work was probably unfortunately repainted, and it is even possible that the two wings of the triptych were painted by a pupil, but the central panel is free of any doubts.
"The last supper"
Milano, Convento de Santa Maria
"Saint Anne, the Virgin, the child and Saint John"
London , National Gallery
Another unquestionable work
"Portrait of Isabella d'Este"
Paris , Louvre
Unfinished and in a mediocre state of preservation, however free of any doubts, with the only exception of Goldscheider (1952), who affirms that only the head is by the master
"Portrait of a woman (Gioconda, the Monna Lisa)"
Paris , Louvre
"Head of a girl (La Scapigliata)"
Parma , Galeria Nacionale
Few discordant voices, among them Ricci and Suida (1929). However, the mastery of the drawing and the numerous historical documents make it an unquestionable work
"Saint Anne, the Virgin and child with the lamb"
Paris , Louvre
A never questioned masterwork, although numerous copies are known.
"Saint John the Baptist"
Paris , Louvre
A supreme masterwork, with an astonishing technical perfection, and never discussed in a serious way, although Müller-Walde and Berenson (who later changed his opinion) considered it a work by the workshop.
The total is a dozen of works, and we can add two special cases:
"The baptism of Christ"
Work by Verrocchio (Leonardo's master) but it is firmly believed by most critics that one of the angels and the landscape behind it were painted by Leonardo
Paris , Louvre
A high quality work that shows unbelievable differences in the style between the main figure (also very repainted) and the landscape in the background. The most probable hypothesis, also accepted by most critics, is that we are in front of a work by Leonardo, in collaboration with his workshop. There are, of course, dissident voices that exclude the master from any intervention (Frizzioni, Suida)
2. ACCEPTED BUT DISCUSSED WORKS
- "The Annunciation" (c.1472-75) Florencia, Uffizi
For a long time it had been considered as the first masterwork by da Vinci. However, during the last century the critics were divided. Some of them accepted the full authorship of Leonardo, while others suggested the collaboration of Lorenzo di Credi; and some critics even rejected any intervention by Leonardo da Vinci, attributing the work to Ridolfo Ghirlandaio or even Verrocchio. Personally I reject this last option, and I consider that the hypothesis Leonardo & di Credi is not absurd at all.
- "Virgin of the pomegranate (Dreyfuss Madonna)" (1472-76) Washington , National Gallery
Attribution is doubtful. Perhaps by Lorenzo di Credi
- "Virgin offering a flower to the child (Madonna Benois)" (1475-78) Saint Petersburg , Ermitage
It is a work of a quite mediocre quality, which has been always discussed, being now surprisingly accepted as a genuine Leonardo by many critics (Clark, Berenson, Castelfranco). Personally, I will not bet for that idea
- "The Annunciation" (c.1478) Paris , Louvre
Doubtful, especially when compared with the panel in the Uffizi. Some critics consider it a work in collaboration with the workshop
- " Virgin that gives a carnation to the child (Madonna of the carnation)" (c.1478-80) Munich , Alte Pinakothek
A very discussed work, it has been attributed either to Verrocchio (impossible) or to Leonardo himself, which seems not absurd, given its quality and the existence of many copies of inferior quality
- "Virgin milking the child (Madonna Litta)" (c.1490) Saint Petersburg , Ermitage
A terribly repainted work, weird style, especially when compared with the above. Very discussed. Perhaps a work by the workshop.
- "Portrait of a musician (Franchino Gaffurio?)" (c.1490) Milano, Pinacoteca Ambrosiana
Some critics have noticed some similarities between this man and the Angel in the "Virgen of the rocks", but now the idea is very discussed.
- "Portrait of a woman (Beatrice d'Este?) (c.1490) Milano, Pinacoteca Ambrosiana
Same as the above in style and considerations. Very doubtful
- "Portrait of a woman (Cecilia Gallerani, The Lady with an Ermine)" (1485-90) Cracow , Czartoryski Museum
An extremely beautiful work, mysterious and dark, similar in style to "La Belle Ferronnière", but even better than it. It has been largely and unfortunately repainted, mostly in the left side, which have changed its original aspect and have created numerous discordant voices that consider it as a work by the workshop, and Rosenberg (1898) even considered it "unworthy of the mastery of his workshop" (?). The doubts around the authorship of "La Belle Ferronnière" have also affected to this little jewel. Personally, I have no doubt about its authenticity.
- "Portrait of a lady ( La Belle Ferronnière )" (c.1490-95) Paris , Louvre
The attribution of this panel has been always linked to the work above, reflecting its stylistic similarities. Nevertheless, the already mentioned 'discordant voices' are here more numerous. Probable work by Leonardo.
And "that's all folks". The total is just 24 works by the master, and only half of them are of "unquestionable" authenticity. That means that are still new attributions to appear. In theArtWolf we will keep watching
1. Letter dated April 4th 1501
2 . Suida, "Studi in onore del Verga" , 1931
3 . You can read more at this web.
4 . A .M. Campoy: "El Museo del Prado" Ediciones Giner, 1970
5. Especially Waagen (Die Kunstdenkmaler in Wien, 1866), Suida (1903) and Liphart (1912)
6. Including the recent found by X-rays of an unknown drawing behind the paint