On an early spring day in 1475, a young girl sat on a stool in the workshop of the Italian master, Andrea del Verrocchio. A fresh bouquet of wildflowers had been given to her just before she sat in the master’s studio.
Born Andrea di Michele di Francesco de’ Cioni, Verrocchio was well known in the halls of Medici power in Florence during the early Renaissance. His study of this particular young girl rests on a stand in what is now called the Sale Verrocchio – a small second floor gallery in the Bargello Museum in Florence.
The question that, even today, occupies the minds of many art critics and historians about Verrochio’s bust of that Tuscan girl is “Who created the bust of Dama col Mazzolino?”
Museo del Bargello, in the heart of Florence’s Medieval city center, seems an austere and perplexing location for yet another extraordinary collection of art. This was the seat of the Podesta, the Chief magistrate of the city for centuries and the place of execution for nearly an equal number of years. Bargello’s imposing crenelated tower, which competes in scale with its nearby neighbor the Badia Fiorentina (Abbey of Florence), pierces the skyline of the city.
To climb the long exterior staircase of the courtyard is to literally rise above Michelangelo (a collection of Buonarotti’s works occupies the ground floor gallery) and arrive in the the midst of invaluable art patronage: Donatello’s David, the gallery of the Della Robbia workshops, and much more.
Many visitors to the Bargello are, by the time they arrive at the Sale Verrocchio (The Verrocchio Room), too tired to pay much attention to the beauty of the works contained therein. The late afternoon sun shimmers through the wave-aged windows as noise rises from the streets below and on top of fatigue, the heat often erodes interest. My advice? Take a break and study, in particular, this singular cinnamon-hued marble masterpiece.
Now, the mystery.
One of Verrocchio’s students was a young man from the village of Vinci, one Leonardo. Verrocchio also worked with Perugino, Botticelli and Ghirlandaio – an incredible collection of the best artists of the day.
As art historians have studied the young woman, a number of experts began to doubt that only Verrocchio, and perhaps not Verrocchio at all, carved the bust. On several of Leonardo’s works there is a nearly identical style to the hands he painted.
Here are some examples, next to the Damma Col Mazzolino.
Note the striking similarity in the position of the hands. The elongated stretch of the fingers are nearly identical. One additional remarkable note about the resemblance of Da Vinci and Verrocchio’s work are from Da Vinci’s most famous fresco, Il Cenacolo, the Last Supper in the refectory of Santa Maria della Grazie Convent in Milan.
During a recent visit to that Convent, I noticed the hands of St. Phillip, who stands three disciples to the left of Christ in Da Vinci’s fresco.
Note, again, the nearly identical position of the saint’s right hand in this fresco to the hands in the works detailed above. Was it simply coincidence that these similarities exist? Many art historians and critics believe that if Leonard did not actually carve the hands (at a minimum) on the young girl holding flowers, Verrocchio’s influence on Da Vinci’s style was both remarkable and deep.
Such, perhaps, is the ‘science’ of art. While technologically advanced equipment can assess the age and condition of works of men and women, the true gift of the artist is in the mystery of their vision. Whether you agree with the discourse on these works of art, I believe those who take the time to study them will come to more deeply understand the effect of the Florentine masters, and their studios, on their students.
My vision, when I study the young Tuscan girl in that small gallery in Florence, is of a young Leonardo, fired by talent and desire, absorbing and learning from every mark of his master’s chisel, every stroke of paint on canvas. Da Vinci’s contemporaries, like Perugino and Ghirlandaio, were at hand to watch, sketch and stare in wonder at the creative energy so perfectly expressed by their teacher. Each of Verrocchio’s pupils learned to create their own work, while paying homage to the genius of the man who taught them.
I will conclude this post with two images. One by Verrocchio, discussed in this blog, and the other by one of Verrocchio’s students.
Yet another opportunity to compare and consider the comparative work of masters: Verrocchio and . . ?