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Friday, May 17, 2013

Andrea del Verrocchio

Bartolomeo Colleoni, 1483-88, Andrea del Verrocchio

Anyone who teaches art has probably considered the possibility (indeed, the probability) that one or more of his or her students will far exceed their own work as artists. Andrea del Verrocchio may have had such thoughts--and with good reason. Two of his students were none other then Leonardo da Vinci and Pietro Perugino, both outstanding painters, far exceeding the work of their master. Of course, Verrocchio could always claim to be a sculptor first and a painter second, though as a painting instructor, it would appear he was second to none. His workshop in Florence was unique in that Verrocchio allowed senior apprentices such as Leonardo to paint portions of commissions he worked on himself. Leonardo is said to have painted the angel on the left in Verrocchio's Baptism of Christ (below). Some experts find traces of Leonardo's brushwork in various areas all over the painting.

The Baptism of Christ, ca. 1475, Andrea del Verrocchio

David, ca. 1460,
Andrea del Verrocchio
Though Verrocchio was highly respected and considered quite accomplished in his own time, it's his connection with Leonardo which has made him famous in art circles today. Despite the differences in their ages, (Verrocchio was born in 1435, Leonardo in 1452) the two are inextricably entwined. Tradition has it Verrocchio used Leonardo, his young apprentice at the time, as the model for his David. The bronze figure, commissioned by Piero de' Medici sometime during the 1460s, would place its creation during Leonardo's early teen years (he joined Verrocchio's workshop at the age of fourteen). It's a tribute to Verrocchio's prestige as a painter. a sculptor, and a goldsmith in 15th century Florence that his workshop was able to attract such outstanding talents, in effect, serving as a guiding light for the high Renaissance.
Madonna and Child, 1470,
Andrea del Verrocchio
Verrocchio's painting ability and style are not such as to "knock your socks off" (so to speak). First of all, he painted in tempera (as in egg tempera) an extremely demanding and limiting medium as compared to Leonardo's oils or even fresco. Thus Verrocchio's style tends to be tight and rather "mannered" (for lack of a better term). His Madonna and seated Child is from around 1470. (Art historians seem to love that year; an excessive amount of Verrocchio's work bears that date). While the figure of the Christ child is quite animated and natural, the figure of Mary seems lifeless and frail, the face "pinched" and the whole figure disproportionate to that of the toddler in her lap.
Tobias and the Angel, 1470,
Andrea del Verrocchio
Tobias and the Angel (also from 1470--must have been a busy year) is, in my view, much better, more lively and engaging, though some of the same bothersome traits seen in Verrocchio's Madonna and Child are still noticeable. The figure of the angel, like that of the Christ child, seems much stronger than the rather petite Tobias, his face much too "pretty" for a male figure and again, disproportionate to the body. I'm guessing the head and figure did not belong to the same model.

Lorenzo de' Medici, ca. 1485,
Andrea del Verrocchio
Whatever skills Verrocchio may have lacked as a painter, he more than made up for as a sculptor. He was literally without peer in Florence, perhaps in all Italy during the early Renaissance. The ruling de' Medici family in Florence recognized his talents as a sculptor, becoming his most dependable clients as seen in his terracotta bust of Lorenzo (the Magnificent) from around 1485 (right). Likewise, his services were in demand elsewhere besides his hometown. In 1479 Verrocchio journeyed to nearby Venice to compete for the commission to cast a large, bronze equestrian statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni (top), a deceased Venetian general, who had willed the city the money to erect a statue of himself in San Marco Square (how modest of him). Verrocchio submitted an exceptional wax model, competing against similar models made of wood and leather. He won the hefty commission, but unfortunately, never lived to see it completed. He died in 1488 at the age of 53. The casting was made by Alessandro Leopardi, one of the artists who had lost out to Verrocchio in the competition nine years before. The work is considered Verrocchio's greatest masterpiece, the casting, while a considerable feat at the time, is often characterized as not doing justice to Verrocchio's sculptural vision.

Photo by Saiko
Giuliano de' Medici, 1475-78, Andrea del Verrocchio
(Lorenzo's brother) 

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