The Virgin with the Smiling Child
Sculptures have always been part of the legend that has surrounded the enigmatic Leonardo da Vinci. However, not a single piece has been attributed until now, when curators of an exhibition in Florence have revealed that “The Virgin with the Smiling Child” is the only surviving sculpture of the Renaissance master.
According to these specialists (whose exhibition “Verrocchio: Leonardo’s Master” has just been inaugurated in the Strozzi Palace), this piece is a miraculous exception. Attributed to the Italian geniu without a doubt, it is said that he sculpted it around 1472.
The work belongs to the British museum V&A since 1858, has been traditionally attributed to Antonio Rossellino. Francesco Caglioti, professor at the University of Naples and renowned researcher leading this new research, has told The Guardian newspaper that this failure in the authorship is due to the fact that, for years, scholars believed John Pope-Hennessy, art historian who was director of the British Museum.
In this red clay sculpture of 50 centimetres high, the Virgin Mary looks at the Child Jesus in her lap with what may be the prototype of all the enigmatic smiles in Leonardo’s art, from which the Mona Lisa becomes the most famous.
This has also been corroborated by the prestigious scholar of Leonardo Carmen C Bambach, of the Metropolitan Museum of New York.
Both Bambach and Caglioti focus on two crucial aspects. First of all, the voluminous and complicated folds that the Virgin wears on her legs are very similar to those made by Leonardo in his drawings at that time.
Secondly, the face of Jesus Child and his studied pose which, being so realistic, makes him look alive. This special attention to children’s behaviour can also be seen in the drawings of the Italian genius.
In spite of these experienced opinions, the V&A museum has decided to remain cautious and only states: “A first attribution to Leonardo da Vinci was proposed in 1899, so Professor Caglioti opens again with this study the discussion about his authorship”.