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Shaken though I am in my original conviction, I hesitate to finally erase this admirable creation from the catalogue of Leonardo's works. I hesitate still more to place it in the year 1515, instead of about 1485. It shows, in fact, undeniable traces of archaism, to which no doubt it owes some of its charm.
One might, moreover, turn against the partisans of Boltraffio the weapon they have directed against Leonardo. Where are we to lay our hands on a document to prove that his gifted but unequal disciple visited Rome in or about 1515, and worked at the convent of Sant'. Onofrio?
However this may be, the picture is so penetrating in its charm, its grace and freedom are so exquisite, that its conception can only be due to Leonardo. If he himself did not paint it--which remains to be proved--it must have been to his immediate supervision, or rather to the presence of a cartoon elaborated by his own hand, that the convent of Sant' Onofrio owed the surpassing beauty of its Madonna.
Leonardo's stay in Rome seems to have been interrupted by several excursions. On the 25th of September, 1514, we find him at Parma ;1 but he was soon back on the Tiber, as we gather from a letter addressed to his brother Giuliano by his sister-in-law Lesandra (Alessandra) on the 14th of December. Writing from Florence to Rome, Lesandra charges her husband to recall her to the recollection of Leonardo, an unique and most excellent man“Mi rachomandiate a votro fratello Leonardo, uomo excellentissimo e singhularissimo.” 2
Leonardo did not wait for the departure of his patron Giuliano before quitting the Eternal City. Giuliano, as we know from Leonardo himself,3 left Rome on the 9th of January, 1515; on the same daythe painter adds—the King of France died.
On the oth of December, 1515, at the latest, Leonardo again found himself in Milan, for on that day he wrote to his bailiff (“castaldo”) Zanobi Boni, to point out, for the benefit of the Fiesolan vineyards, certain improvements in the making of wine.
i Richter, vol. ii., p. 247.
2 Uzielli, ist ed., vol. i, p. 198-199. Uzielli throws some doubt on the authenticity of this letter.
3 “The Magnifico Giuliano de' Medici left Rome on the 9th of January, 1515, just at daybreak, to take a wife in Savoy” (Richter, vol. ii., p. 417).
Did Leonardo take part in the competition set afoot by Leo X. for the façade of San Lorenzo, at Florence ? Nothing is more unlikely. Not only did he never do anything to recommend himself as an architect to the Pope ; he had even quitted Rome and Florence for the north before 1516, when the competition began.
This was the last time he ever set foot in his native city.