Compositional Sketches for the Virgin Adoring the Christ Child, with and without the Infant St. John the Baptist; Diagram of a Perspectival Projection (recto); Slight Doodles (verso)

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci (Italian, Vinci 1452–1519 Amboise)

Date: 1480–85

Medium: Silverpoint, partly reworked by the artist with pen and dark brown ink on pink prepared paper; lines ruled with metalpoint (recto); pen and brown ink (verso)

Dimensions: 7 5/8 x 6 3/8 in. (19.3 x 16.2 cm)

Classification: Drawings

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1917

Accession Number: 17.142.1

Description

In these dazzling sketches of the Virgin kneeling in humility before the Christ Child, who lies on the ground, Leonardo investigated a theme that he would also use in the Virgin of the Rocks (Musée du Louvre, Paris; and National Gallery, London), in which the Virgin kneels facing the spectator, her right hand raised in protective blessing over the seated Infant Jesus. The composition in the center is closest to the Virgin of the Rocks. These sketches, however, seem more closely related to an undocumented painting from around 1483–85 by Leonardo that must have been brought at least to the stage of a complete cartoon (full-scale drawing); several contemporary painted copies of this composition survive. Leonardo explored a number of solutions to the same theme on the sheet with dazzling fluency. He used the traditional fifteenth-century medium of metalpoint but reinforced the shadows with pen and ink for a deeper tonal contrast. The geometric constructions at the lower right represent his attempts to work out the perspective within the composition, with respect to the spectator's vantage point.
(Carmen C. Bambach)

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