LEONARDO da Vinci
(b. 1452, Vinci, d. 1519, Cloux, near Amboise)
Madonna with a Flower (Madonna Benois)c. 1478
Oil on canvas transferred from wood, 50 x 32 cm
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg
Mary and her child are naturally engrossed in their game, and their gazes make them appear lifelike to a degree that can be found in no contemporary Italian painting of the Madonna. Leonardo achieved this quality by means of nature studies. In 1478, he noted that he was working on two Madonnas. The Benois Madonna can be dated to that period. The painting has in its present condition been overpainted in some places and has lost some of the paint layer.
The painting was also called the Madonna Benois because of the family who owned it. This canvas demonstrates the newly developed method of chiaroscuro - a lighting/shading technique that made the figures appear three dimensional. It entered the Hermitage in 1914.