IT is impracticable to discuss or weigh the arguments and evidence advanced by critics who have sought either to establish or to refute the attribution of the very many works which have at one time or another been ascribed to Verrocchio. The number of those which have escaped controversy is small; in fact, only such works as are proved by documentary evidence to have been produced by the master can be accepted as unquestionably his.
Besides the nine examples illustrated in the plates of this issue of MASTERS IN ART, and those others which have been referred to in the biographical notice, the following should receive mention.
Of his early goldsmith work nothing now remains, and our knowledge is limited to a few descriptions by Vasari, mainly of clasps for priestly vestments.
His work as a painter, also, is veiled in uncertainty. The `Baptism,’ now in the Academy at Florence, is the only picture which can with reasonable certainty be accepted as his; although the `Annunciation’ in the Uffizi Gallery has been claimed for him with what would seem convincing arguments.
Julia Cartwright thus sums up the evidence in regard to Verrocchio’s remaining work as a painter:
“Another group of pictures in which Mr. Berenson and other critics recognize Verrocchio’s hand are the three profile-portraits of young Florentine women, which are respectively in the Poldi-Pezzoli Museum at Milan, the Berlin Gallery, and the Uffizi. These famous busts, with the same fair hair elaborately coiled and plaited, the same square bodice of rich brocade, and the same clear-cut features, painted in pale tints in flat relief against deep blue sky, are plainly the work of a sculptor, and bear a strong likeness to Andrea’s own carved busts in the Bargello. They belong, we feel, to the same class of work as those which Vasari describes when he speaks of Verrocchio’s drawings of women-heads, distinguished by a beautiful style and arrangement of the hair, which Leonardo da Vinci often imitated, because of their rare beauty. A picture of another class, the fine portrait of a Florentine lady with rippling hair and refined features, which still bears Leonardo’s name, in the Liechtenstein Gallery at Vienna, can with more certainty be ascribed to Andrea’s hand, and may possibly represent Lucrezia Donati, the Queen of Lorenzo’s Tournament. But little as remains to us of Andrea’s painted work, and doubtful as is the attribution of these few pictures, it is at least certain that he was the master of two of the greatest masters of the next generationthe Umbrian Perugino and the Florentine Leonardo. In these busts and statues, which wear so life-like and speaking an expression, in these admirably drawn heads and delicately rounded cheeks, with full eyes and curly locks, in the bronze Christ of Or San Michele and the lovely angel of the Uffizi, we have the germ of Leonardo’s art. Here, dimly foreshadowed in the master’s creations, we find al-ready that power of expression and exquisite grace which is the secret of the scholar’s indefinable charm.”
In sculpture apparently Verrocchio’s earliest work now extant is a painted terra-cotta relief recently brought to light in the Villa Careggi, representing the `Resurrection;’ and the statuette of a sleeping youth, in the Berlin Museum, attributed to him is probably of about the same date. There is also a small stucco relief in the South Kensington Museum, called the `Genius of Discord,’ which bears strong evidence of Verrocchio’s hand and is probably of early date. It is officially catalogued as belonging to the school of Leonardo.
Vasari records that early in his career Verrocchio was employed by Sextus Iv. to decorate his private chapel in the Vatican with silver statuettes of the apostles, and other goldsmith work, but nothing corroborates the statement. According to Vasari, also, Verrocchio was employed in making the realistic votive figures or miracoli of wax, which were clothed in actual stuffs, and were placed about the churches and in other places. In 1401 the Church of Or San Michele was so encumbered by these images that the Signoria issued a decree forbidding any further addition, excepting of the chief personages of the state. The interior of the church must have been like a collection of waxworks.
In addition to the female portraits already mentioned, there is in the collection of M. Dreyfus in Paris a marble bust of a young girl, which has been called a portrait of Medea Colleoni, and in the collection of M. Edmond Foulc in Paris is another beautiful terra-cotta bust of a lady. The attribution in each of these cases rests upon the internal evidence of the works themselves.
The model for the tomb of Niccolo Forteguerri in the Cathedral at Pistoja was made by Verrocchio in 1474, but the monument as it exists at present shows no trace of his execution, and probably but little of his original design. In the South Kensington Museum is a model claimed to be a study for this tomb; but its authenticity is open to serious doubt. A terra-cotta fragment in the Louvre, representing an angel, is also claimed as a study for this tomb, and bears stronger evidence of authenticity.
The earlier critics have agreed in referring the marble relief now in the National Museum in Florence and known as `The Death of Lucrezia Pitti Tornabuoni’ to Verrocchio; but it is a work so trivial and vulgar in sentiment and so feeble in execution that it has been boldly discredited by Miss Cruttwell, the latest authority upon Verrocchio. It seems impossible to accept this as the work of “the most conscientious, the most preoccupied with the truth, the most realistic, of the masters of the fifteenth century,” as M. Reymond calls Verrocchio. And continuing, the same author says, “His love of precision in form, his perfection of technique, are never-failing features of his art, the qualities that he possesses to a higher degree than any other Florentine.”
A terra-cotta relief in the Berlin Museum, representing the `Entombment,’ which is a work as fine and noble as the Tornabuoni relief is weak and vulgar, can with much greater reason be attributed to Verrocchio.
The`Madonna and Saints ‘in the Duomo at Pistoja, attributed to Leonardo, to Lorenzo di Credi, and more recently, in part at least, to Verrocchio, was given to him to execute about 1477, and remained for years unfinished. It was probably completed by one of his assistants.
During the preparation of the Colleoni model Verrocchio is said to have made a number of studies for the horse; but before this time, it is claimed by many of the critics, and notably by Miss Cruttwell, he made a horse’s head in bronze for Lorenzo de’ Medici which was given by the latter, in 1471, to the Count of Maddaloni, and is now in the Naples Museum. This head was considered by the Maddaloni family, as late as the sixteenth century, to be by Donatello, but the weight of evidence seems to point clearly to Verrocchio as the real author.
There are, in addition to the works above mentioned, others which have either been lost or are still unidentified, besides a long list attributed to Verrocchio by various critics. This list, however, is too long to enumerate.
MAUD CRUTTWELL, ‘VERROCCHIO’
VERROCCHIO is perhaps the least known and appreciated of the great masters of the fifteenth century. The, supreme excellence of those works which are proved by documentary evidence to be authentic is disregarded as the standard of judgment as to quality and style, and a quantity of inferior sculpture and painting is attributed to him for which his feeble imitators are responsible. No Quattrocento artist, with the exception of Donatello, exercised so strong or so prolonged an influence on Florentine art; but unfortunately the greater part of those so influenced were impressed only by certain daring innovations, and were incapable of understanding his true aims and ideals. These aims were first and foremost scientific; his ideals, to present with absolute truth the human form in its fullest perfection, not only of physical strength (as was the case with Andrea del Castagno and Antonio Pollajuolo, the chiefs of the so-called naturalistic school), but of noble and intellectual beauty. Strength and beauty of structure, freedom and grace of movement, subtle expression of emotion, were to be presented only by thorough knowledge of anatomy, and of the technique of brush and chisel. To acquire this knowledge Verrocchio devoted his life and genius, and with complete success. His acquaintance with anatomy and the laws of movement, his draftsmanship and technical skill in the various arts he employed, excelled that of any of his contemporaries, and with an impeccable accuracy in representation, and a vigorous and facile execution, he combined the poetry, the depth of feeling, and the wide sympathies of the idealist. His interpretation of the charm of childhood in the ‘Putto with the Dolphin,’ of vigorous youth in the `David,’ of the superb force of manhood in the ‘Colleoni,’ embodies in each phase of life its highest development. Yet this scientific and poetic artist has been so little studied that the most trivial and ignorant work is attributed to him, work which in feeling and in style is directly opposed to his own. He is so little appreciated that he is constantly condemned as “narrow and bourgeois,” and his work as “commonplace, angular, and dry.”
Taking as the standard of judgment only such works as are proved beyond possibility of doubt to be authentic, a clean sweep of all the feeble and mediocre productions attributed to him can be made, which leaves us free to rank Verrocchio as one of the greatest masters of the Quattrocento, inferior to none of his contemporaries in scientific accuracy and technical ability; in breadth of vision and imaginative power, only to Donatello and Leonardo.
J. A. CROWE AND G. B. CAVALCASELLE ‘HISTORY OF PAINTING’
IF we test the man by his work, we find that Verrocchio was indeed not merely a goldsmith, but a sculptor and carver, a draftsman and a painter. It is true that his sculpture is mostly bronze, but he is almost unrivaled in that metal; and the Colleoni monument testifies to this, whilst it proves his power as a designer, his knowledge of perspective, of form, motion, and anatomy. These last requirements are essentially prominent in the Pollajuoli, and were therefore common to them and to their contemporary and rival; but Verrocchio rises above the art of the goldsmith, stands at a higher level than Antonio and Piero, and fitly represents that combination of science and art which was continued and perfected by Leonardo.
If his landscape varies little in style from that of the Pollajuoli, if his technical mode of painting resembles theirs, the impression in the first place is greater, because he strove for more lightness and vapor; in the second, be-cause, in spite of difficulty in manipulating the high surface color, the result is less hard and less incomplete. Verrocchio’s is a higher nature enriched by a more educated and general taste than that of the Pollajuoli. His `Baptism of Christ,’ unfinished and injured though it be, offers to us a picture of calm and composure, of reverent and tender worship, which carries with it a special charm. The resigned consciousness of the Saviour receiving the water which St. John pours on his head, the questioning, tender air of the two beautiful angels who wait on the bank of the brook to minister to the Redeemer’s wants, the brook itself running in its bed of pebbles round a projection of rocks crowned with trees from a distance of lake and hills, the palm-tree with the bird flying into it,the mixture of the mysteries of solitude and worship are all calculated to affect the senses of the beholder.
Descending to a more critical analysis, we find the type of the Saviour not absolutely select, somewhat imperfect in proportion and form, but bony, and drawn or modeled with a searching study of anatomical reality. The Baptist is unfinished. He presents to us the stiff action and some of the vulgarity of a model. The curly-headed angel presenting his front face to the spectator is beautiful. His chiseled features, shadowed in light greenish gray over the bright local tone, are fair to look upon; but he is surpassed in beauty and feeling by his fellow-angel whose back is towards the beholder, whilst his head, gently bent and looking up to the Saviour, presents the rotatory lines of brow, cheek, and mouth, which illustrate the application of a law in rendering movement familiar to the great painters of the sixteenth century. So fresh and innocent, so tender and loving, is this angel, it strikes one as the finest ever produced in the manner of Verrocchio. The soft gaiety and grace in the play of the exquisite features, the pure, silvery outlines and modeling of the parts, of the hair and lashes, the chaste ornaments which deck the collar of the bright green tunic damasked in brown at the sleeves, the edges of the lucid blue mantle and the dress which is held ready for the Saviour,this all combines to form a total revealing the finish, the study, conspicuous in Leonardo. In type and in the expression of tender feeling the face and form of this figure are equal to those of the `Virgin of the Rocks,’ whilst the draperies, by their broken nature, the color, by its impasto, recall the same example to mind. The force of chiaroscuro alone is not so great; but everything confirms the statement of Vasari that Leonardo helped Verrocchio to paint the picture.
WALTER PATER ‘THE RENAISSANCE’
HIS father (Leonardo’s), pondering over this promise in the child, took him to the workshop of Andrea Verrocchio, then the most famous artist in Florence. Beautiful objects lay about therereliquaries, pyxes, silver images for the pope’s chapel at Rome, strange fancy-work of the middle ages keeping odd company with fragments of antiquity, then but lately discovered. Another student Leonardo may have seen therea boy into whose soul the level light and aerial illusions of Italian sunsets had passed, in after days famous as Perugino. Verrocchio was an artist of the earlier Florentine type, carver, painter, and worker in metals, in one; designer, not of pictures only, but of all things for sacred or household use, drinking-vessels, ambries, instruments of music, making them all fair to look upon, filling the common ways of life with reflection of some far-off brightness; and years of patience had refined his hand till his work was now sought after from distant places.
It happened that Verrocchio was employed by the brethren of Vallombrosa to paint the `Baptism of Christ,’ and Leonardo was allowed to finish an angel in the left-hand corner. It was one of those moments in which the progress of a great thinghere, that of the art of Italypresses hard and sharp on the happiness of an individual, through whose discouragement and decrease, humanity, in more fortunate persons, comes a step nearer to its final success. For beneath the cheerful exterior of the mere well-paid craftsman, chasing brooches for copes of Santa Maria Novella, or twisting metal screens for the tombs of the Medici, lay the ambitious desire of expanding the destiny of Italian art by a larger knowledge and insight into things, a purpose in art not unlike Leonardo’s still unconscious purpose, and often, in modeling of drapery, as of a lifted arm, or of hair cast back from the face, there came to him something of the freer manner and richer humanity of a later age’ But in this `Baptism’ the pupil had surpassed the master; and Verrocchio turned away, as one stunned, and as if his sweet earlier work must thereafter be distasteful to him, from the bright, animated angel of Leonardo’s hand.
The angel may still be seen in Florence, a space of sunlight in the cold, labored old picture; but the legend is true only in sentiment, for painting had always been the art by which Verrocchio set least store. And as in a sense he anticipated Leonardo, so to the last Leonardo recalls the studio of Verrocchio, in the love of beautiful toys, such as the vessel of water for a mirror, and lovely needlework about the implicated hands in the `Modesty’ and `Vanity,’ and of reliefs, like those cameos which in the `Virgin of the Balance’ hang all around the girdle of Saint Michael, and of bright variegated stones, such as the agates in the `St. Anne,’ and in a hieratic preciseness and grace as of a sanctuary swept and garnished.
E. H. AND E. W. BLASHFIELD AND A. A. HOPKINS, EDITORS ‘ VASARI’ S LIVES’
ANDREA is the investigator-artist, the experimentalist, the man with whom science is a passion, and therein he is quintessentially Florentine. He is a realist in the flat arms and shins, the salient collar-bone and thick knees, of his `David,’ and is thereby attractive to the modern student of art; but while he is an intent observer, he is also intensely personal, and in his choice of a facial type is so individual as to have become the genesis of that of Leonardo da Vinci. His science sometimes became genius; for, interesting in his `David,’ he is charming in his `Boy with the Dolphin,’ inspiring and in-spired in his magnificent ‘Colleoni,’ who rides straight to immortality as the Magister Equitum of the Renaissance. Like Browning’s Pallajuolo, Andrea was “thrice a craftsman,” and was one of the last of those typical “all-around artists” who stand upon the threshold of a time when the greatest talent is about to instinctively run into the channel of painting alone with Botticelli, Signorelli, Ghirlandajo, and Perugino, and no artist more admirably represents the period of the Middle Renaissance.
W. J. STILLMAN ‘OLD ITALIAN MASTERS’
VERROCCHIO’S record is mainly that of a sculptor, yet he had more to do with the shaping of the art of painting for his immediate successors than any painter of his generation. Besides his school as a sculptor, which was very influential, he was the master in painting of Leonardo, Perugino,and Lorenzo di Credi. A poem by Verini compares him to a fountain from which all the great painters of Florence drank. In feeling he was a sculptor, and he caught from his master, Donatello, the sympathy with the historical ideal which was the splendid gift of that great artist. This runs through all his personifications, and gives them individuality. Like his master, he was a great portraitist. Vasari says that he was the first who used masks from the dead to obtain the likeness he required; but this is doubtful, for masks of the dead were certainly taken before his time, and they could hardly have served for any other purpose. When he drew it was with the aim of understanding the forms he was studying, and in the day when the technique of all the graphic arts was the common education of artists of all branches, the pencil, the modeling-tool, or the graver were used alike to express form, not to represent surfaces, and drawing meant everything in design. When the pupils of Donatello asked him how they should become good sculptors, he replied, ” Draw.” The thorough understanding of the forms to be represented was the end of study, and when this was attained the representation was equally easy in clay, wax, in simple black and white, or in color; for the color itself was not imitated from nature, but the result of long-elaborated canons, holding to certain relations of the pigments, with a progressive development of intensity rather than a modification of system, from Giotto down until the effect of the revelations of the Venetian school began to be felt in the Florentine. Whether in the former or the latter, imitation of the absolute color of nature formed no part of the study of the artist. He drew to obtain the facility necessary to reproduce what forms he sought, and if a Venetian of the school of Bellini, he rendered these in color with attention solely to its orchestral relations; if a Florentine, with the purpose of giving their essential qualities of shape and character.
BERNHARD BERENSON ‘THE FLORENTINE PAINTERS OF THE RENAISSANCE’
IN all that concerns movement,Verrocchio was a learner from Pollajuolo, rather than an imitator, and he probably never attained his master’s proficiency. We have unfortunately but few terms for comparison, as the only paintings which can be with certainty ascribed to Verrocchio are not pictures of action. Yet in sculpture, along with works which are valuable as harbingers of Leonardo rather than for any intrinsic perfection, he created two such masterpieces of movement as the `Child with the Dolphin’ in the court-yard of the Palazzo Vecchio, and the Colleoni monument at Venicethe latter sinning, if at all, by an over-exuberance of movement, by a step and swing too suggestive of drums and trumpets. But in landscape Verrocchio was a decided innovator.
Verrocchio was, among Florentines at least, the first to feel that a faithful reproduction of the contours is not landscape, that the painting of nature is an art distinct from the painting of the figure. He scarcely knew where the difference lay, but felt that light and atmosphere play an entirely different part in each, and that in landscape these have at least as much importance as tactile values. A vision of plein air, vague I must grant, seems to have hovered before him, and, feeling his powerlessness to cope with it in full effects of light such as he attempted in his earlier pictures, he deliberately chose the twilight hour, when, in Tuscany, on fine days, the trees stand out almost black against a sky of light opalescent gray. To render this subduing, soothing effect of the coolness and the dew after the glare and dust of the daythe effect so matchlessly given in Gray’s ‘Elegy’seemed to be his first desire as a painter, and in presence of his `Annunciation,’ in the Uffizi, we feel that he succeeded as only one other Tuscan succeeded after him, that other being his own pupil Leonardo.
( Originally Published 1905 )
Verrocchio:Andrea Di Michele Di Francesco Cioni – Called VerrocchioThe Art Of VerrocchioThe Works Of VerrocchioA List Of The Principal Works Of Verrocchio With Their Present Locations