Leonardo da Vinci: Apprentice to Verrocchio

Leonardo da Vinci, Head of a Young Woman. Silverpoint and/or Leadpoint, pen and ink, wash and lead white heightening on off-white prepared paper, 281 x 199 mm. Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi. (c) 2006, SCALA, Florence / ART RESOURCE, N.Y.
Leonardo da Vinci, Head of a Young Woman. Silverpoint and/or Leadpoint, pen and ink, wash and lead white heightening on off-white prepared paper, 281 x 199 mm. Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi. (c) 2006, SCALA, Florence / ART RESOURCE, N.Y.

This delicate drawing from c. 1468-1475 is very Verrocchioesque in the elegant sense of motion, the downward tilt of the woman’s head give this drawing a sense of narrative and mood. As was common in drawings of this period there is a very sophisticated layering of various drawing materials to give a rich and dynamic yet subtle sense of volume and relief. The subtlety and delicacy of handling is of such an elite standard that while the drawing has a higher degree of completion, detail and finish than many of Leonardo’s other more widely known drawings of heads, this drawing is consistent with them in that neither the tonal modelling, nor the elaborately described arrangement of hair appears to be laboured. The execution of this drawing overall brings what Leonardo would have learned about the principles of design and the dynamic application of materials and techniques, the synchronisation of sculptural sensitivity to form and painterly conventions in drawing together.

This drawing has also echoes Verrocchio’s extant drawings of female heads, notably the Christ Church Sheet and the British Museum Sheet. In terms of materials and use of multimedia layering, it shares in the complex approach shown in Verrocchio’s Fitzwilliam head of a young boy with curly hair which combines silverpoint, wash, pen, and lead white heightening to generate a sense of etherial subtlety and sculptural relief. This drawing, if indeed truly by Leonardo (its attribution to Leonardo has been questioned) may also be considered a reflection of why Vasari notes of how Verrocchio’s drawings of female heads were studied and prolifically copied by Leonardo.

I think this drawing shows Leonardo’s experimentalism with media which were conventional in Florentine Renaissance drawing and his pursuit of more subtle yet penetrating and illusionistic naturalism.

Leonardo da Vinci, Drapery for a kneeling figure, tempera on linen c. 1473/1477, 181 x 234 mm.  Musée du Louvre, Département des Arts graphiques, INV 2256, Recto - https://collections.louvre.fr/ark:/53355/cl020003019 - https://collections.louvre.fr/CGU
Leonardo da Vinci, Drapery for a kneeling figure, tempera on linen c. 1473/1477, 181 x 234 mm. Musée du Louvre, Département des Arts graphiques, INV 2256, Recto – https://collections.louvre.fr/ark:/53355/cl020003019 – https://collections.louvre.fr/CGU
Leonardo da Vinci, Drapery for a Seated Figure, Tempera on grey prepared linen, 266 x 233 mm. Musée du Louvre, Département des Arts graphiques, INV 2255, Recto - https://collections.louvre.fr/ark:/53355/cl020003018 - https://collections.louvre.fr/CGU
Leonardo da Vinci, Drapery for a Seated Figure, Tempera on grey prepared linen, 266 x 233 mm. Musée du Louvre, Département des Arts graphiques, INV 2255, Recto – https://collections.louvre.fr/ark:/53355/cl020003018 – https://collections.louvre.fr/CGU

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