Painters Of Florence – Andrea Verrocchio

ANDREA DI CIONE, surnamed Verrocchio from his first master, the goldsmith Giuliano Verrocchio, was the contemporary and rival of Antonio Pollaiuolo. Like that master, Andrea was a goldsmith and sculptor in the first place, and only painted pictures occasionally ; and, like his own great pupil Leonardo, he studied mathematics and geometry, and became an accomplished musician. This talented and many-sided artist was the son of an oven-maker, named Michele di Cione, who afterwards joined the Guild of Stone-cutters, and in his old age held a small office in the Customs. Andrea’s mother, Madonna Gemma, died when he was a child, leaving a large family, one of whom, a sister named Tita (Margherita), came to live as a widow in her brother’s house, and whose children Andrea treated as if they were his own. The artist himself, the youngest of the family, was born in 1435, and at seventeen had the misfortune to kill one of his companions, a lad named Antonio, who was employed in the woollen trade, by throwing a stone which struck him on the temples, when at play together outside the Porta della Croce, He was tried for this accidental murder a few months afterwards, but acquitted of intentional homicide. After serving his apprenticeship in Verrocchio’s shop, Andrea became an assistant of Donatello, whom he helped in his works in S. Lorenzo, and whom he succeeded in the favour of the Medici. Besides the bronze tombs of Cosimo, and of his sons Giovanni and Piero, in S. Lorenzo, he executed a variety of other works for Lorenzo, including the statuettes of the youthful David in the Bargello, and the wonderful Putto with the dolphin, which originally adorned the fountain of Villa Careggi. Andrea also restored antique statues for the Medici palace, designed the helmets worn by Lorenzo and Giuliano at their Tournaments, and planned many of the decorations and pageants which delighted the eyes of Florence on festive occasions. In 1477, he executed one of the silver reliefs for the Baptistery dossal, on which Antonio Pollauiolo was employed, and, soon after 148o, was summoned to Rome by Pope Sixtus IV., to execute silver statuettes of the Apostles, for his new chapel in the Vatican ; while in 1483, he finished the noble group of the Incredulity of St. Thomas for Or’ San Michele, a work which a contemporary, Landucci, describes in his diary as the finest ornament of that church, and the most beautiful head of Christ that has ever been made.

But Andrea was too versatile a genius to confine himself to any one form of art, and after acquiring great renown as a sculptor he turned his attention to painting. ” He was never idle,” says Vasari, ” but always worked at either sculpture or painting, and often passed from one thing to another, in order not to get tired by working too long at the same subject.

And he designed many cartoons for pictures, and began to paint them, but always left them unfinished.” The only picture now in existence that can with any certainty be ascribed to Andrea, is the Baptism, in the Accademia, which he painted for the Vallombrosan friars of S. Salvi, and which is one of the two altar-pieces mentioned by Vasari. Here we find the same vigorous drawing, the same knowledge of anatomy and accuracy of detail, together with the same use of oil glazes on a tempera surface, which are common to all the Florentine goldsmith-painters. Both style and technique are closely akin to those of Baldovnetti and the Pollaiuoli, but there is a higher refinement and grace in the forms, and a truer sense of beauty about the whole. The long-haired Christ standing in the river Jordan with clasped hands and eyes closed in silent devotion, bears a marked likeness to Andrea’s noble bronze statue in Or’ San Michele, while the foremost angel with the golden locks and fair face, kneeling under the palm-tree on the bank, is said to be by the hand of Leonardo, who was at this time working in Verrocchio’s bottega. The youthful charm of the figure and the fine effect of softened light in the rocky landscape, as. well as the skilful handling of oils, all point to this conclusion ; but it is impossible to speak with certainty on the subject, or to decide the exact share which Leonardo had in his master’s works. The beautiful little Annunciation, formerly in the Church of Monte Oliveto, and now in the Uffizi, was formerly given to Leonardo, but is now generally held to be Verrocchio’s work. Here we have the same lovely effect of twilight sky behind the pines and cypresses of the garden, but the type of the faces, the decorative stone-work of the Virgin’s desk, and the general character of the whole are still in the goldsmith’s style. A half-length Madonna, at Berlin, looking down on the laughing Child, who stretches out both arms to her, and a Virgin and Child between the Angels, in the National Gallery, which has been the subject of much discussion, are now ascribed by several critics to Verrocchio. Both of these pictures were formerly given to the Pollaiuoli, but bear far more resemblance to Andrea’s terra-cotta reliefs, while the angels in the National Gallery painting recall those in the Baptism at Florence.

Another group of pictures in which Mr Berenson and other critics recognise 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. At the same time, their strong individuality and portrait-like character remind us that Andrea was one of the first artists to take plaster-casts of living personages, from which he afterwards made busts, arid that “twenty masks taken from nature ” were among the works which he executed for the Medici. 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 Lichtenstein 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 generation the 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 fore-shadowed in the master’s creations, we find already that power of expression and exquisite grace which is the secret of the scholar’s indefinable charm.

Andrea nevi married ; his art was enough to fill his whole life, as Leonardo found in his turn, and his pupils were dear to him as his own children. To the one he loved best of all, Lorenzo di Credi, he left, by his will, the task of finishing the great equestrian statue of Bartolommeo Colleoni, which the Venetian Senate had invited him to execute. The work had been given him in 1479, but it was not till the summer of 1488, that his model was finally completed ; and just as he was about to cast the statue in bronze, he fell ill and died in Venice. After his death, the task of casting this statue was given to the Venetian sculptor Leopardi, but his faithful scholar, Lorenzo di Credi, brought home his master’s remains to Florence and buried them in his father’s grave in San Ambrogio.

CHIEF WORKS-

Florence.—Accademia: 71. Baptism of Christ.

” Ufizi : 3450. Annunciation ; 1204. Profile of Lady.

Milan.—Museo Poldi-Pezzoli: 21. Profile of Lady.

Berlin.—Gallery: 104a. Madonna and Child ; 1614. Profile of Lady.

Lonaon. — National Gallery: 276. Madonna and Child with Angels.

Vienna.—Lichtenstein Gallery: Portrait of Ludy,