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It was impossible that Verrocchio should not have employed the most brilliant of his followers in his works. Here again, the pupil revealed his crushing superiority.
The Baptism of Christ, in the Accademia of Florence, gives us certain valuable indications as to the collaboration of the two artists. Vasar tells us, that after having seen the kneeling angel, painted by Leonardo at the side of the Christ, Verrocchio, in
despair, threw down his brushes and gave up painting.
A careful study of the picture confirms the probability of this story. Nothing could be more unsatisfactory, more meagre than the two chief figures, Christ and S. John; without distinction of form, or poetry ot expression, they are simply laborious studies of some aged and unlovely model, some wretched mechanic whom Verrocchio got to pose for him. (Charles Perkins justly criticises the hardness of the lines, the stiffness of the style, the absence of all sentiment.) Look, on the other hand, at the consummate youthful grace of the angel tradition assigns to Leonardo! How the lion reveals himself in the first stroke of his paw, and with what excellent reason did Verrocchio confess himself vanquished! It is not impossible that the background was also the work of the young beginner; it is a fantastic landscape, not unlike that of the Mona Lisa. The brown scale of colour, too, resembles that which Leonardo adopted, notably in the Saint Jerome, of the Vatican Gallery, in the Adoration of the Magi of the Uffizi (which, however, is only a cartoon), in the Virgin of the Rocks, and in the Mona Lisa.
To sum up, I will say that Leonardo never dreamt, and for
excellent reason, of looking to Verrocchio for ready-made formulae like those by which Raphael profited so long in Perugino's studio. It was rather he who opened up to his astonished master unsuspected sources of beauty, which the latter scarcely had time to turn to account.1
Several German critics have gone so far as to determine Leonardo's share in his master's pictures to the minutest details. For my own part, I make no pretensions to such powers of divination, and am content to draw my conclusions from facts that are obvious to all open and impartial minds. Signor Morelli, indeed, maintains that the Baptism of Christ is entirely by Verrocchio's hand.2
Who shall decide in this conflict of opinions? The reader must forgive me if I respect a tradition that agrees so well with the testimony of the work itself, and continue to believe in the collaboration of master and pupil.
A sketch in the Turin Museum shows us Leonardo preparing the figure of the angel, whose beauty astounded his contemporaries.
Another drawing, in the Windsor Collection (reproduced in our Plate 2), a study of drapery on a kneeling figure in profile to the left, also has analogies with the angel in the Baptism.
It may not be superfluous to point out that Lorenzo di Credi reproduced certain details of the Baptism of Christ in his picture of the same subject in the Church of San Domenico, near Florence (Photograph by Alinari, No. 7726). There is also a strong likeness between the angel of Verrocchio's Baptism and the Virgin's attendant angel in Domenico Ghirlandajo's picture in the National Gallery of London.3 Ghirlandajo's Infant Jesus, too, with his plump, rounded contours, recalls or foreshadows the type given to the child by Leonardo.
1 An Italian critic, Signor Tumiati, has recently vindicated Verrocchio's claims to the beautiful bas-relief in the church of San Giacomo at Rome, signed "Opus Andrese," which Schmarsow attributed to Andrea da Milano. But this Madonna and Child seem to me too pure and classic a work for our master. It has too little in common with his restless and very individual manner. L'Arte, 1898, p. 218—219.
2 Die Galerien zu Berlin, p. 35 et seq.
3 Ascribed, in the National Gallery catalogue, to the School of Verrocchio.—Ed.
A terra-cotta model, a study for one of the two angels on Cardinal Forteguerra's tomb in the Cathedral at Prato (see p. 39), may also perhaps have been the result of collaboration between master and pupil. "If they were not by Verrocchio," says M. Louis Gonse, "these angels (now in the Thiers Collection at the Louvre), might well be by the divine hand of Leonardo himself, so strongly does the Leonardesque sentiment that permeates them recall the figures of the angels in the Virgin of the Rocks, and the Baptism of Christ."