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have no documentary evidence of any such voyage, are we to tie ourselves down to the belief that Leonardo, in his youth, never traversed the few leagues of road which divided Florence, or Milan for that matter, from the Eternal City ? Are we to say that because no “procès-verbal” was drawn up and attested before a notary, that no such excursion—it was little more—had ever been made ? That would be a strange way of using documents and interpreting the silence of archives!
In default of other documents, let us see what the master's drawings have to say. They will perhaps allow us to look a little more deeply into the question. In the first place we find in the collection at Windsor Castle a drawing in red chalk which shows us, twice over, the Child Jesus, seated, and bending towards an invisible donor. According to some connoisseurs this is a study for the Child
(Bonnat Collection, Paris.) Jesus in the Madonna of Sant Onofrio. One of the two figures bears a real likeness, especially in the lower part of the body and the position of the limbs, to the Roman fresco. The only difference is in the action of the arms. But we must be sure of the authenticity of the Windsor drawing. Doubts have been thrown upon it by Morelli, who here sees the hand of Cesare da Sesto, and that although he ascribes the fresco itself to Boltraffio !
For my part, I confess that Leonardo's hand does not seem to me VOL. II
conspicuous in these two studies. They are too facile, almost too frivolous. The most we can admit--and I do not like venturing upon such hypotheses--is that they may have been copied from originals by the master. In any case, they do not date from 1485, but from about 1515.
M. Bonnat possesses a drawing in which we may recognise a study, with slight variations, for the Infant Christ. It differs from the fresco in that the Child's left hand lies upon the cushion which supports its body, while in the painting it is extended; the right foot, which lies upon the cushion, hangs free in the fresco ; finally, the left foot keeps the Child's body in its place against the cushion in the drawing, while in the fresco it rests very gently against the Virgin's robe. This drawing has vastly more firmness than the one at Windsor ; it is not unworthy of the master. The Infant Christ of the sketch for the Madonna del Gatto in M. Bonnat's collection (see above, p. 188) foreshadows that of the Madonna of Sant' Onofrio. Seated on his Mother's lap, he has drawn his left leg up, leaving the right to hang. His right arm is stretched out on the opposite side.
Let us turn to the painting itself. Towards the centre sits the Virgin, a half-length figure. She smiles upon her Infant, who raises his right hand to bless the donor. The type reminds us of Boltraffio's Virgin in the Poldi-Pezzoli Museum, which does not mean, however, that Boltraffio's claims to the authorship of the Sant'Onofrio fresco are beyond dispute. The Mother's two hands--the one resting lightly on her drapery, in which a single finger is engaged, the other raised in a gesture full of ease and grace-are ready to support the “ bambino” in case of accident. The features of Mary are as full of careless happiness as those of the Child are grave beyond his years. His countenance has a certain archaic hardness about it, and he concentrates all his attention on the act of benediction. The kneeling donor, cap in hand, offers another contrast by his gravity to the sovereign grace of Mary. His head is modelled with consummate art. In motive and certainty of execution this portrait differs very widely indeed from the donors introduced by Boltraffio into the Madonna della Casa Casio of the Louvre.
25 Study for the Infant Jesus in the “Madonna of Sant*
(M. LEON BONNAT'S COLLECTION, PARIS.)