(b. 1452, Vinci, d. 1519, Cloux, near Amboise)

The Madonna of the Carnation

Oil on panel, 62 x 47,5 cm
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

A work that would seem to evoke the sketches of a young Leonardo freed from Verrocchio's tutelage, though nevertheless still affected by a passion and taste for the soft textures and dazzle of solid material (as practiced in the workshop of the Florentine artist), is the Madonna sometimes referred to as the Madonna of the Carnation or "Madonna of the flowers".

This painting is a free variant of the Benois Madonna in the Hermitage, being more complex in its composition and spatial arrangement, though perhaps somewhat highflown and less spontaneous. How it arrived at the Alte Pinakothek in Munich, after its acquisition by a private German collector, is unknown to us. What is certain is that after a comprehensible, temporary attribution to Verrocchio or his shop, art critics subsequently almost universally assigned the painting to Leonardo, a jjudgment backed up by the most recent research. In fact, the richness of the drapery, the vastness of the mountain scenery with purple and gold hues tingeing the foothills of peaks that fade into the sky, the vitality of the cut flowers in the crystal vase and the softness of the Child's flesh that foreshadows the tender putti of the Virgin of the Rocks, are elements that show a distancing from the more distinctive Verrocchiesque style and instead assume those formal and chromatic characteristics that would be the mature Leonardo's very own. Moreover, we should not overlook the striking similarities - in facial features and other details - with the Benois Madonna already mentioned (the gem fastening the Virgin's gown over her breast) and with the Uffizi Annunciation, works that in their figurative and expressive invention quite clearly reveal the stamp of Leonardo.