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“THE ANNUNCIATION” IN THE LOUVRE
Modern criticism, inconsolabe at the loss of these early master pieces, has ingeniously endeavoured to fill up so regrettable a gap in Leonardo's work by a series of productions which undoubtedly reveal the influence of the young artist, but which have perhaps been too hastily accepted as his own.
One of the earliest and most interesting among these is the Annunciation in the Louvre, in the gallery overlooking the river. This picture, which is of very small dimensions (14 cm. high by 59 cm. wide, with figures 15 cm. high), was formerly arched at the top but is now rectangular. It was attributed to Lorenzo di Credi until Bayersdorfer, whose opinion was adopted by Morelli, proposed to give it the name of Leonardo. The curlyheaded angel kneeling in a sort of ecstasy in front of the Virgin, suggests the one in the Annunciation of the Uffizi, to which we shall presently refer. The Virgin, too, presents the Leonardesque type, with an added touch of morbidezza. But this type, as we know, was adopted by Boltraffio, and many other Milanese pupils of the master. Although the impasto is very fat, the accessories
—the desk in front of which the Virgin is seated, the seats near it, etc.—are rendered with infinite care. The little piece of landscape in the background is beautiful, tranquil and imposing. The trees, unfortunately, have blackened.
The Annunciation of the Louvre differs from that of the Uffizi
BUST OF S. JOHN THE BAPTIST (ASCRIBED TO LEONARDO).
(South Kensington Museum.)
firstly in its dimensions, its narrowness being quite abnormal, and secondly, in the attitude of the Virgin, who is here in profile, while in the Uffizi picture she faces three-quarters to the front. This Virgin has been compared with a study of a head in the Uffizi (see our full-page Plate). Another head, three-quarters face, in the library at Windsor, is also akin to it. On the other hand, the angel of the Louvre suggests that of the Uffizi in every way. The attitude is identical ; he kneels on one knee, the right hand raised, the left falling to the level of the knee.
The Annunciation of the Uffizi Gallery has been restored to Leonardo by authoritative connoisseurs such as Baron von Liphart, Dr. Bode, and Baron de Geymuller, while others, Crowe and Cavalcaselle, and Morelli (agreeing for once !) persist in ascribing it to Ridolfo Ghirlandajo. The picture, which once adorned the Convent of Monte Oliveto near Florence, is in every respect worthy of Leonardo's magic brush ; the grace and freshness of the figures, deliciously juvenile with their coquettishly curled hair and their exquisitely arranged draperies, the finish and poetic charm of the landscape, a sea-port-perhaps, according to de Geymüller, Porto Pisano—with beacons and a kind of jetty, backed by mountains of improbable height : all are arguments in favour of Leonardo's authorship. The angel kneeling on one knee recalls the attitudes, so full of compunction, beloved of Fra Angelico; it also resembles, in certain points, Lorenzo di Credi's angel in his Annunciation in the Uffizi, saving that in this latter work the drawing is weaker and rounder.
In spite of the great charm of this composition, we may be permitted to hesitate as to its authenticity, and that for various reasons.
1 Müller-Walde (Fig. 66) connects this head with the Resurrection in the Berlin Gallery.
2 It was assuredly thus, in a manner at once affecting and devout, that Leonardo considered the Annunciation should be represented. In his Treatise on Painting (chap. viii.) he criticises the artists who give exaggerated movement to such a subject. “I have recently seen,” he says, “an angel, who, in announcing her destiny to the Virgin, appeared to be driving her from her chamber, for his movements expressed the indignation one might feel in the presence of one's worst enemy, and Our Lady seemed ready to throw herself in desperation from the window.”
It is not impossible that the study of drapery for a seated figure facing the spectator, and slightly turned to the left (Louvre) may relate to the Virgin of the Annunciation, despite the difference in detail. So too, the drapery of the kneeling figure, turned to the right (Uffizi) may be that of the angel (Müller-Walde, fig. 191).
“ THE VIRGIN WITH THE CARNATION”
The Annunciation has a precision, I mean a rigour and firmness of outline, which is rarely found in the authentic works of Leonardo, who banished architecture as much as possible from his compositions (his only exception to this rule being his Last Supper), in order to leave a wider field for landscape and aërial perspective. The presence of the magnificent classical pedestal which serves the Virgin for a readingdesk is also calculated to inspire some doubt. Would Leonardo, who rarely copied Greek or Roman sculptures, have been likely to reproduce this with such elaboration ? Let us be content to admire a youthful and exquisite work which offers several points of contact with Leonardo's style, and refrain from attempts to solve a problem calculated to exercise the sagacity of the critics for a long time to come.
Following on the two Annunciations, if we are to believe certain connoisseurs, comes a Virgin and Child, acquired in 1889 by the Munich Pinacothek, and now known to fame under the title of the Virgin with the Carnation. The history of this little picture it measures 40 x 60 centimetres only) is quite a romance. Sold at Günzburg for the modest sum of a guinea, it was bought again almost immediately by the Pinacothek for £40, and instantly declared to be a masterpiece. It is a most enthralling work, combining a grand and dignified solemnity with extreme finish and consummate modelling ; a penetrating poetic charm breathes from the picture. If the Child, with its puffy cheeks, approaches somewhat too closely to the rather unsympathetic type created by Lorenzo di Credi (see No. 1616 in the same collection), the Virgin captivates us by the grace of her features, and the elegance of her costume : a pale blue robe of very complicated modulations ; red bodice and sleeves ; yellow scarf salling over the right shoulder and on to the knees. The landscape is vaporous, as is so often the case in Leonardo's works. But the impasto is rich in the flesh-tints (particularly those of the Child) which incline to blue.
The attribution of this picture to Leonardo was not undisputed. M. Emile Molinier, pointing out a replica of the Virgin with the
1 Bayersdorfer.- De Geymüller, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 1890, vol. ii. pp. 97-106 Koopmann, Repertorium für Kunstwissenschaft, 1890, pp. 118-122.