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THE ADORATION OF THE MAGI—"THES. JEROME "—DEPARTURE FROM FLORENCE —SUPPOSED JOURNEY TO THE EAST.
1 In August, 1481, he was settled in his own house, "casa sua propria," at Florence. Miillcr\\a\de, Jahrbtich dcr kg. Preuss. Kunstsammlungen, 1897, p. 121.
2 The time allowed him for the completion of
the altar-piece was two, or two and a half years. He was to receive in payment the third of a little property in the Val d'Elsa, but the abbey reserved the right of redeeming this third within a term of two years, for 300 florins "di suggello." Finally, on this third, Leonardo undertook to furnish the sum necessary to secure a dowry of 150 florins on the Monte di Pieta. of Florence for a young girl mentioned in the act. He was also bound to provide his own colours, gold, &c.
The monastery of San Uonato, which contained pictures by Filippino Lippi, Botticelli, and other famous masters, was, like so many other monuments outlying the city, destroyed by the Florentines as a precautionary measure in view of the siege of 1529. (See Carocci, Dintorni di Firenze, p. 196. Florence, 1881.)
The artist set to work at once, but yielding to a fatal tendency—he was all flame at the beginning, all ice at the end of a few weeks—he soon put the unfinished work aside.1 The monks waited patiently for about fifteen years. At last, in despair, they addressed themselves to Filippino Lippi. In 1496 he, more expeditious than Leonardo, delivered the beautiful Adoration of the Magi, the brilliant and animated work that now hangs in the same room with Leonardo's unfinished cartoon in the Uffizi. From the fact that the subject given to Filippino was the Adoration of the Magi, it was concluded that this was also the subject of the altar-piece begun by Leonardo; hence the identification of the cartoon with that in the Uffizi. True, the works of the two artists are almost of the same size, a fact that has escaped my predecessors. Signor Ferri, Keeper of the Prints and Drawings at the Uffizi, informs me that Leonardo's cartoon measures 2 metres 30 cm. by 2 m. 30 cm., and Filippino's picture 2 m. 53 cm. by 2 m. 43 cm. Both, in short, adopted a square, or almost a square shape, a very unusual one for such pictures.
But there are several objections to this argument. The interval between Leonardo's commission (1481) and Filippino's (about 1496) is so great that the friars may very well have changed their minds, and chosen a new subject. On the other hand, it is, of course, possible that Leonardo may have treated the same subject twice. But the next objection is a weightier one. In June, 1481, the picture ordered by the monks of San Donato was so far advanced that the brothers made a purchase of ultramarine, a precious substance used only on definitive paintings. Now the Uffizi cartoon is simply a sketch in bistre. A further objection is, that one of the studies for the Adoration of the Magi appears on the back of a sketch for Leonardo's masterpiece, the Last Supper. This juxtaposition is difficult to explain, if the cartoon was really painted in 1481, some ten years before the fresco. Finally, the style of the cartoon is akin, in parts, to that of Leonardo's works of 1500, rather than to that of youthful achievements, such as the Virgin of the Rocks. It has the supple modelling, the over-elastic attitudes, in which the bony substructure is apt to disappear altogether. We may add that the inclination the artist shows to represent horses in a great variety of attitudes points to the period of his studies for the Battle of Anghiari and the equestrian statue of Francesco Sforza, rather than his initial stages.1
1 The registers of the monastery for July, 1481, mention various small advances: first, twenty-eight florins to secure the dowry in question, then a florin and a half to buy colours. At an earlier date, June 25, the brothers had advanced four lire ten soldi, to buy an ounce of blue and an ounce of giallolino (pale yellow). They further sent Leonardo at Florence a load of faggots and a load of large logs, with one lira six soldi, for painting the clock, "per dipintura fece di_uriolo/'
If the date 1481 adopted by certain writers should be received with great reserve, that of 14/8 put forward by others, who look upon the Adoration of the Magi as identical with a picture ordered in this year for one of the chapels of the Palazzo Vecchio,2 must be uncompromisingly rejected. The chapel in question was dedicated to Saint Bernard, who figured in the altar-piece by Bernardo Daddi (1335), which Leonardo was invited to replace, and also in Filippino Lippi's work, which was finally substituted for that begun by Leonardo. How are we to reconcile the presence of Saint Bernard with an Adoration of the Magi?
I may add that Herr Miiller-Walde believes the picture ordered by the monks of San Donato to have been a Christ bearing the Cross? The German author considers a head of Christ in the Accademia at Venice a study for the picture in question. This study, on green paper (for which Leonardo had a predilection at the beginning of his career), has certainly strong affinities with Verrocchio's type of Christ. But the rest of the German critic's assumption is purely gratuitous.
1 Vasari only says that Leonardo began a picture of the Adoration of the Magi, of great beauty, especially in the heads. "This picture," he says, "was in the house of Amerigo Benci, opposite the Loggia of the Peruzzi; like the master's other works, it was left unfinished." M. Strzygowski, unacquainted with the studies I had published eight years before in L'Art (April 15 and August 15, 1887), and in the Revue des deux Mondes (October i, 1887), is of opinion that the Uffizi cartoon was begun after Leonardo's sojourn at Milan; that the drawing in the Galichon collection dates from 1480; the right-hand portion of the cartoon from 1494-1495 ; and the Madonna and the rest from the first years of the sixteenth century. (Jahrbuch der kg. Kunstsammlungen, 1895, pp. 159-175-)
* See p. 58.
3 Leonardo da Vinci, p. 157.
Taking into account the methods dear to Leonardo, his intermittent ardour, his endless hesitations, it would be over-bold to attempt a solution of so delicate a problem of chronology, until a key has been furnished by documents in the archives. Let us be content, at present, to study the different phases through which the Adoration of the Magi
passed before taking form in the Uffizi cartoon. We can trace these step by step in a number of drawings.1
The earliest of the sketches preserved in the house—or perhaps I should rather say the museum—in the Rue Bassano, in which M. Leon Bonnat has collected so many mementoes of the great masters, shows that Leonardo's first intention was to paint, not an Adoration of the Magi, but an Adoration of the Shepherds, or Nativity, a subject we
1 The catalogue at the end of the volume describes those drawings not mentioned in the text.