St. Anne by Leonardo da Vinci

St. Anne by Leonardo da Vinci
24 November 2016 0 Comment

Is it a “real” Leonardo da Vinci or an extremely clever forgery?

In the rarefied world of art in modern times, curatorial reputations can be made by creating a theme for an exhibition that has immediate public appeal and that means dollars in the cash registers of some of the world’s most important museums and art galleries. It’s a competitive world as well and with the advent of new technologies an ambitious curator has many toys at his or her disposal to go over old ground to shine new light on an artistic conundrum? And when that puzzle includes the name of Leonardo da Vinci, you have a potential show-stopper; a ‘Blockbuster’ exhibition.

We all like a Mystery

Such was the case at the revered Louvre, when in 2012 it mounted an exhibition titled, “Saint Anne, Leonardo da Vinci’s Ultimate Masterpiece” that ran for only a few months strangely enough. The sole purpose of that exhibition it seemed at the time was to set out and prove that the so-called famous painting, “Virgin and Child with St. Anne” began by Leonardo around 1501 and remained unfinished at the time of his death in 1519, was in fact Leonardo’s work. I write so-called famous work because I have held the opinion for a long time that Leonardo was a remarkable artist, but a rather predictable and repetitive painter! An opinion I’ll touch upon a little later.

A long journey before finding a home in 1797

The premise much discussed in the exhibitions catalogue was that because the St. Anne painting had a rather disjointed and complicated journey of ownership prior to it arriving into the fold of the newly founded Musee du Louvre in 1797, the authenticity of authorship of the work was often questioned. Apparently so, at least in some circles, all the way up to recent times when in 2008 scientific examinations were carried out before the painting underwent restoration. The dating of the materials would go some way to removing any doubt, if any still existed by this time, that this painting was in fact a Leonardo da Vinci.

Comparing the St. Anne painting with other works by the Master

The curators in the 2012 exhibition hung juxtaposed to the St. Anne painting other works by the master from the collection of the Louvre as well as compositional sketches, preparatory drawings, landscape studies and the National Gallery of London’s large, magnificent cartoon of the same or very similar subject by Leonardo, which were brought together for the first time since the artist’s death to illustrate beyond doubt that the painting is of his hand. It was an impressive display with all the pomp and intellectual ceremony such a historically important personality as Leonardo would attract. A stifling air of a mystery surrounded this work and “did he or didn’t he paint it” melodrama that would do justice to a Dan Brown novel.

How to pick a painting by Leonardo da Vinci

The exhibition also brought to light, if one could remain objective when one is in the same room with Leonardo da Vinci, that as a painter he had reached his impressive zenith some years earlier, perfecting that ambiguous smile of his, the perfect skin tones of his female subjects and a certain half-light that has you groping for the light switch!  I am more than convinced then and now that Leonardo himself in his later years held painting in rather low esteem, much preferring his forays into scientific studies of the world around him, often manifesting in quite remarkable designs of one machine or another.

Did Leonardo actually like to paint?

There is sameness in his painting that suggests an irksome annoyance for having to do it, and a repetitive iconographic style in his designs and compositions. His remarkable brain became very adept at punching out paintings of a similar sensibility and feel, which was just as well, because he was always distracting himself and upsetting patrons as he constantly changed horses midstream to satisfy his endless curiosities about life and how it functioned. A great mind such as Leonardo’s had little time to consistently bury it in something he knew well and which no longer challenged him; for him painting had become such a thing!

Peter Kilby
About the Author

Peter Kilby is an artist, writer, story-teller, journalist and avid traveller who has lived and worked in Italy since 1987. He created Perfect Traveller to bring the world of art and history closer to you. Download the “free” Perfect Traveller app and enjoy the best audio tours available; about Italy today and yesterday. Sign Up to this website and submit your travel stories and become part of the Perfect Traveller community.

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