It remains to consider the pictures themselves.
Less easy to detail are the steps leading up to the conclusions which follow from their study.
A visual impression is tested by comparison of detail,by time, by the light of reflection, and then what remains of it is reconstructed by some unconscious thought-process, and given the vitality, the comparative impenetrability of a conviction! The greater the genius the more he will burst through these trammels of conclusions when the critic has raised his puny fabric, and down the cards tumble! Tentative in case of Leonardo is the grounded inference. Yet surely the Louvre picture bears the unmistakable impress of Leonardo's hand! It is comparatively early work. It is far nearer in date of execution to the Adoration than to any of his later works. Wherever painted, it is Florentine in spirit and in treatment.
1 Given in " Rassegna dArte " for July, 1901.
It reveals Leonardo as still deeply imbued with Verrocchiesque tradition, differing in some greater sense of atmosphere, but occupied for the most part in the endeavour to attain effects which were the common aim of the painters who frequented Verrocchio's bottega. The head of the Madonna is in type and treatment purely Florentine.
It is the most wistful, the most virginal, the tender-est representation in his altarpieces. It is exclusively to the works of the Florentine Quattrocentisti, Botticelli, Lorenzo di Credi, and, in a lesser degree, Perugino and Fra Filippo Lippi, that the mind recurs in the endeavour to parallel the impression its charm produces. The type, as theirs, lives in a world imaged and seen in vision, far removed from the stress of things actual. The light from behind is flooding the grotto with radiance and playing among the ripples of the hair, but the face has no primary suggestion either of sunlight or shadow. Its lineage is with the supreme representations of pure form. In the herbage of the foreground a botanist might identify and give a name to every flower and leaf. Of Florentine artists only Botticelli and Lorenzo di Credi occur as parallels, as having showed the like patient care in the delineation of plants.
The hard outlines of the basaltic rocks recall those in the Baptism in the Accademia. The fissures in the cleft above the head of the Madonna have a distinctness which makes the whole background seem nearer.
Time has caused the flesh tints to darken considerably, and has thus enhanced this archaism of feeling in proportion as the whole seems nearer to one vertical plane.
The grouping is akin to the more intimate conception customary in the tondo and small altarpiece with which the name of Lorenzo di Credi is primarily associated.
The general similarity in composition with that of Perugino's Holy Family in the Museum at Nancy, most marked in the figures of the Madonna and S. John, suggests that the genesis of the picture may be a drawing made when he frequented Verrocchio's studio, where according to Vasari, Perugino was his fellow-pupil. Whether actually as pupil or no Perugino certainly frequented the studio. An old rhyme couples the names of the two students:
Due giovin par d5 etate e par d' amori Leonardo da Vinci eJ 1 Perusino Pier della Pieve ch' & un divin pittoro.
The angel has been extensively repainted. In its present state it is difficult to reconcile the easy, restful pose of head and arms with the angle at which the body is leaning forward. The right foot, indistinct, but in part visible, seems out of drawing, and I doubt if it is Leonardo's work. Just above it grows a tuft of flowers which is seen to continue through the gauze drapery of the angel's sleeve. It is hard to understand the position of the part of the right arm which is not visible.
Plate 32. Studies For The "Battle Of Anghiari"
Alinariphoto - Accademia, Venice
The picture in the National Gallery has not been carried to the same degree of finish as that in the Louvre. There is designedly less elaboration of detail. The herbage is scant and, moreover, rough and uninteresting. The facets of the rock are less sharply defined.
On the other hand the picture seems to possess a greater unity. The air passes through the grotto more freely. The light falls less fitfully, and the effect of its incidence on the kneeling figures is more harmonious and sustained. The result is, on the whole, more reverential. It is for the excellence of its disposition of light and shade that Lomazzo singles out the picture as a supreme example of the artist, the critic's sanity of judgment being shown by his citing the same characteristic in the lo and the Danae of Correggio. Its luminosity is, in fact, its distinguishing quality.
Despite the relative lack of finish as compared with the Louvre picture, the modelling of the heads of the Virgin and the Angel is carried further; it approaches more nearly to the standard set in the " Trattato," " that your light and shade blend without strokes and borders, looking like smoke."
The whole picture shows greater smoothness and facility of touch. The artist seems to have worked more rapidly. It lacks something of the hesitance associated with primary conception. It is a question of degree whether the possession of these qualities must be held to denote it a work by Leonardo himself, or whether the facility of execution is attained by a pupil. I believe the former to be substantially, though not entirely the case. The whole of the composition is Leonardo's.
Where most differing from the Louvre picture, in the figure of the angel, the idealized refinement of the conception, and the delicacy of texture of the sleeve of the arm, seem to me essential proofs of its authenticity.
The execution is apparently in part the work of another hand, and that not of a pupil whose individuality was absorbed in that of Leonardo, but of one who, having learned his art in the earlier school of Milan, changed, his method very little in his association with the greater painter, the result showing most perceptibly in the leaden flesh colouring and the opaqueness of the entourage.