A review of the review...

November 15 2011

Image of A review of the review...

Picture: Hermitage, St Petersburg

Following on from my review of Leonardo, a reader who is a leading art historian, and whose judgement I trust absolutely when it comes to judging pictures, has sent me this excellent summary:

You were right but actually quite kind about the Madonna Litta. If there is one thing Leonardo knew about more than anyone else it was anatomy and the anatomy in this picture is all skew-whiff. It is also painted in tempera: whenever you hear or see the words 'unusual for this date' (actually unique for this date and L had not used the medium for a decade or more…) the alarm bells ought to ring. Not a chance. 

I also agree about the NG Virgin of the Rocks. Again and again I found myself reflecting how powerful the Louvre version is in comparison (accepting that the Virgin's head, notably, is largely gone over), and also noted the strange finish to such areas as the Christ Child's hand in the National Gallery version: you can see the same thing in his foot, where the blocking-in is visible and the painting over it unresolved, and similar areas in, for example, the right hand of the Virgin which is a complete muddle. I thought that these things, and the final effect, were not Leonardo being 'painterly' but someone else winging it, even though the conception must be his and, for example, much of the angel actually painted and finished by him (and not 'painterly' to anything like the same degree).

La Belle Ferronière has been fiddled with, by the way, quite extensively in the area over her right eye but the odd craquelure on most of her face seemed coherent and the paint convincing especially in the wonderful area around her mouth. The famous reflected light beneath her chin to her left seems entirely repaint, which is a sad thought. But it is a great painting. 

Cecilia Galleriani is in the best condition of any of the Leonardo paintings on view and made complete sense in relation to La B F. The far more delicate reflected light on the jawline here is a miracle – and of course earlier, which makes it even more extraordinary. 

I thought the Musician (which I recently saw in Rome: a sadly well-travelled panel…) more abraded than I had been able to see before, notably in the lower half of the whole. 

One of the great things about this show is being able to get so close to the surfaces. And the drawings are worth it alone.

And I agree about Boltraffio: it was a great treat to be able to see so many works by him and he could not half draw…

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