Art/ Collection/ Art Object
{{img.publicCaption}}

The Head of the Virgin in Three-Quarter View Facing Right

Artist:
Leonardo da Vinci (Italian, Vinci 1452–1519 Amboise)
Date:
1510–1513
Medium:
Black chalk, charcoal, and red chalk, with some traces of white chalk (?); some remains of framing outline in pen and brown ink at upper right (not by Leonardo)
Dimensions:
Sheet: 8 x 6 1/8 in. (20.3 x 15.6 cm)
Classification:
Drawings
Credit Line:
Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1951
Accession Number:
51.90
Not on view
Fully revealed in 2005, the verso of this sheet is inscribed with a gray-brown ink ".T." that is quite reminiscent of the "Melzi-Leoni" markings on Leonardo’s drawings and manuscripts. The study for the head of the Virgin on the recto has sometimes been doubted by scholars 'ex silentio' as being by Leonardo, possibly because its magical beauty renders it suspicious (Walter Vitzthum in 1966 quoted a recent English critic’s opinion in his support, "the drawing makes one think of Walter Pater’s mind rather than of Leonardo’s hand"). However, even in Leonardo’s most densely pictorial drawings, a few traces of his left-handed parallel hatching often remain visible underneath all the layers of the worked up medium. As the detailed scientific analyses of 2002-2003 demonstrated, this drawing is done with a nearly seamless sfumato technique, and is extremely homogeneous in its dense use of red and black chalks, revealing extensive, unified left-handed strokes in the rubbed-in intermediate shadows; these lines are also partly evident with the plain, unassisted eye (laboratory examinations by Marjorie Shelley and Rachel Mustalish, Paper Conservators, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; microphotograph details published and discussed by Carmen C. Bambach in Metropolitan Museum of Art 2003, pp. 41-42, 46-47, figs. 35a-d).

The left-handed strokes in the intermediate shadows of modeling had almost gone unnoticed until 2002-2003, as this drawing is much too often discussed by scholars from photographs, rather than from analysis of the original; one early historian who discerned the faint evidence of the "tratto alla mancina" in the drawing was Theodore Rousseau, the curator who acquired the work for the Metropolitan Museum of Art (see press release, dated 8 June 1951, Archive of The Metropolitan Museum of Art). The structural, delicately curving lower right to upper left strokes of the silvery, soft black chalk are most evident to the unassisted eye in the area of the Virgin’s forehead, while the short, left-handed strokes in the under-drawing done in red chalk are best evident in microscopic enlargements. Since this left-handed hatching is extensive, the drawing of the Head of the Virgin must unquestionably be authentic, and must have also served a creative, exploratory purpose in Leonardo’s design process. Among the great believers in the attribution of the drawing to Leonardo himself was Jean Paul Richter (the eminent anthologist of Leonardo’s writings), who catalogued the work in 1910, while it was in the collection of Dr. Ludwig Mond in London; most authors who have published an opinion about the Metropolitan Head of the Virgin have accepted it as an original work by Leonardo. While an attribution to Leonardo was hesitantly maintained by Carlo Pedretti and Patricia Trutty Coohill in 1993, they thought the drawing problematic and "so thoroughly overworked that one cannot penetrate to its original character" (this is not correct according to the most recent condition reports of the drawing in laboratory conditions in November 2005); the same authors considered the drawing a "bozzetto" with strong hints of the style of Bernardino Luini and Bernardino Lanino. It must be emphasized that the areas of intervention by later hands on the drawing are minimal (as is clarified by ultraviolet and transmitted light), and that the issues of condition are also minor: tiny flecks of dark accretions in the corner of the left eye, a slight vertical, curved area of abrasion at the base of the nose, and some strengthening of the deepest shadows of the nostril and lips. The design of the hair (done in places with bold, incisive strokes of the hard pointy black chalk at upper left) reveals noticeable changes of design by the artist. Still faintly visible are a pattern of tight curls done with small curving strokes on the side of the face (curling tendrils of hair similarly obscure the face in some of the Leda head studies; RL 12515, 12517, Windsor), while at least two alternative ideas for the forms of the thick braids enveloped in the veil-headdress at the crown of the head are explored with free, expressive strokes in partly erased layers of drawing in black chalk and then reworked differently on top (the alternative designs are comparable to some of Leonardo’s late head studies; RL 12533, 12534, Windsor). Recent positive opinions of the drawing have been stated by Pietro C. Marani (1999-2000), Martin Clayton (1996-97, 2002-2003), and David Alan Brown (2003).

This study is closely connected to the final design of Leonardo’s oil painting on panel, the Virgin and Child with Saint Anne (Musée du Louvre, Paris), which the present author dates to ca. 1508–12 (in agreement with Pietro C. Marani, Leonardo: una carriera di pittore, Milan, 1999-2000, pp. 275-78). Although the delicately finished drawing surface of the Metropolitan Museum study has suffered somewhat from slight abrasions throughout, it is still possible to appreciate the atmospheric dissolution of the Virgin’s relief-like forms as a work of superb technical virtuosity. The artist reworked much of the drawing in soft black chalk with red chalk (this red chalk layer is especially evident in the face, but it is found in the hair as under-drawing), and used a sfumato technique to unify the layers of medium. The soft smudging of the strokes into seamlessly blended tone exactly recalls Leonardo’s famous note intended for the "Libro di Pittura," of 1490-92, in the Paris Manuscript A, fol. 107 verso (B.N. 2038, fol. 27 verso): "… che le tue o[m]bre e lumi sieno uniti sa[n]za tratti o segni, a uso di fumo." More importantly, the Metropolitan Museum study vividly illustrates the depths of Leonardo’s explorations of optical phenomena late in his career. Like a number of other drawings associated with the Louvre painting of the Virgin and Child with Saint Anne, this sheet is an important example of Leonardo’s innovative development of complex pictorial techniques of drawing, in order to materialize his scientific research on the perspective of color, the disappearance of form, and the gradations of light and shadow, as discussed in his notes of 1513-16 (see RL 19076 recto, Windsor; Paris Manuscript G, fol. 37 recto; Paris Manuscript E, fols. 15 recto-17 recto, 32 verso, 80 recto-verso). He advised artists that their drawings attempt to capture such minute types of observable phenomena, as the reflected varieties of brightness and darkness from surrounding objects onto primary forms (Paris Manuscript E, fol. 17 recto).

Of the other closely related preparatory drawings for the Louvre Virgin and Child with Saint Anne that exist, the Metropolitan Museum Head of the Virgin seems exactly comparable in date to the study in soft black chalk or charcoal for the head of St. Anne (RL 12533, Windsor), to the studies in red chalk on ochre prepared paper for the Christ Child (Gallerie dell’Accademia 257, Venice), and to some of the detail studies for the draperies (RL 12530, 12532, Windsor; Louvre 2257, Paris). See recent discussion in Carmen C. Bambach (ed.), Leonardo da Vinci: Master Draftsman. Exh. cat. New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2003, pp. 557-70, nos. 105-109; Francoise Viatte and Varena Forcione (ed.) Léonard de Vinci: Dessins et manuscrits. Exh. cat. Paris, Musée du Louvre. Paris, 2003, pp. 243-65, no. 79-90 (with an early, unconvinving date of ca. 1499 for the Louvre drapery study inv. 2257). It is also clear from other drawings connected with the Louvre painting that Leonardo continued to executed studies for the picture into his French period, in 1516-19, and especially drapery studies (RL 12526, 12527, Windsor). See Martin Clayton, Leonardo da Vinci: A Singular Vision, exh. cat., Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London, 1996-97, pp. 132-37. A number of landscape drawings are also connected to the composition of the Louvre painting, of which the study of rock formations (RL 12397, Windsor) seems especially close in date and drawing technique to the Metropolitan Head of the Virgin. It can be said that in his drawings for the Louvre Virgin and Child with St. Anne, Leonardo transformed scientific principles into a pictorial language of magical force and nuance.

The Metropolitan Head of the Virgin is among the earliest examples in Italy of the "two chalk technique," in which red and black chalks are blended for a subtly complementary pictorial effect. Among the Lombard followers of Leonardo who quickly adopted this innovative chalk technique was Bernardino Luini, whose large-scale studies of the infant heads for the painting of 1525-30, the Sleep of Jesus (Musée du Louvre, Paris) offer especially accomplished results. See Luini’s two drawings Louvre inv. 6815 and inv. 6816; discussed by Linda Wolk-Simon in Metropolitan Museum of Art 2003, pp. 667-69, nos. 132-33. Yet none of the head studies by such artists, however directly inspired by Leonardo they may be, approaches the poetry and beauty of drawing technique seen in the Metropolitan Head of the Virgin. Two early drawn copies after the Metropolitan Museum of Art drawing exist (Graphische Sammlung Albertina inv. 17613, Vienna; see Veronika Birke and Janine Kertész, Die italienischen Zeichnungen der Albertina: Generalverzeichnis,Vienna, Cologne, and Weimar, 1992-97, vol. 4, p. 2166, no. 7613; and Biblioteca Pinacoteca Ambrosiana F. 263 Inf. 67, Milan). An unconvincing attribution of the Ambrosiana copy to Cesare da Sesto was proposed by Luisa Cogliati Arano (see Augusto Marinoni and Luisa Cogliati Arano, Leonardo all'Ambrosiana: Il Codice Atlantico, i disegni di Leonardo e della sua cerchia, exh. cat., Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan, 1982, p. 128), as was also rightly observed by Marco Carminati (see Carminati, Cesare da Sesto, 1477-1523, Milan, 1994, p. 184, under no. 12).

(Carmen C. Bambach)
Inscription: Recto is annotated at upper left with script in pen and faded brown ink that is not legible; verso is annotated at center of right border in late Cinquecento hand (Giovanni Francesco Melzi?): ".T." and at upper center in pen and brown ink by a late Seicento hand (Sebastiano Resta?): "i20. R.Vr."

(C. C. Bambach; March 26, 2006)

Marking: [recto, lower right]: Earl of Warwick [verso, lower right]: Sir Charles Greville, uncle of Warwick
Sir Charles Greville (British, 1763–1832); George Guy Greville, 4th Earl of Warwick (British, 1818–1893); Warwick Sale, Christie's, London, May 20-21,1896, no. 213.; Dr. Ludwig Mond (London, 1839–1909); Right Honorable Lady Gwen Melchett of Landford; Melchett Sale, Sotheby's, London, May 23-24, 1951, no. 7repr. frontispiece
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Drawings from New York Collections I: The Italian Renaissance," November 8, 1965–January 9, 1966.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Leonardo da Vinci and His Followers in the Collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art," March 5, 1981–June 7, 1981.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "15th and 16th Century Italian Drawings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," February 16, 1983–April 17, 1983.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Drawings and Prints: Selections from the Permanent Collection," May 6, 1996–July 28, 1996.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Drawings and Prints: Selections from the Permanent Collection," September 11, 2000–December 4, 2000.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Leonardo da Vinci: Master Draftsman," January 22, 2003–March 30, 2003.

Biblioteca Reale di Torino. "Leonardo da Vinci: capolavori in mostra," February 19, 2006–March 16, 2006.

Musée du Louvre. "La Sainte Anne: l'ultime chef-d'oeuvre de Léonard de Vinci," March 26, 2012–June 25, 2012.

Winter Exhibition of Drawings by the Old Masters and Water-Colour Drawings by Deceased Artists of the British School. Exh. cat. Grosvenor Gallery, London, 1877-1878, cat. no. 675, p. 79.

Christie, Manson and Woods Earl of Warwick Sale. Sale cat. London, May 20-21, 1896, cat. no. 213, p. 26.

Bernard Berenson The Drawings of the Florentine Painters: Classified, Criticised and Studied as Documents in the History and Appreciation of the Tuscan Art, with a Copious Catalogue Raisonné. 2 vols., London, 1903, vol. 2, p. 59, cat. no. vol. 2, 1045, vol. 1, p. 158.

Jean Paul Richter The Mond Collection, An Appreciation. 2 vols., London, 1910, fig. no. pl. 19, pp. V.2, pp. 323, ill.

Gustavo Frizzoni "La Raccolta Mond ed opere attinenti alla medesima." Rassegna d'arte. vol. 11, no. 2, 1911, fig. no. 6, p. 43, ill.

Osvald Sirén Leonardo da Vinci. New Haven and London, 1916, p. 137.

Giovanni Poggi Leonardo da Vinci: La 'Vita' di Giorgio Vasari, nuovamente commentata e illustrata con 2000 tavole. Florence, 1919, pp. 20-21.

Frits Lugt Les marques de collections de dessins et d'estampes. Marques estampillés et écrites de collections particulières et publiques. Marques de marchands, de monteurs, et d'imprimeurs. Cachets de vente d'artistes décédés. Marques de graveurs apposées.... Amsterdam, 1921, p. 487, no. 2600.

Adolfo Venturi Storia dell'arte italiana: Vol. 9: La Pittura del Cinquecento. vol. 9, parts 1-2, Milan, 1925, fig. no. 138, p. 208, ill.

Aldo De Rinaldis Storia dell'opera pittorica di Leonardo da Vinci. Bologna, 1926, fig. no. pl. 69, p. 235, ill.

Osvald Sirén Léonard de Vinci: L'artiste et l'homme: Edition entièrement refondue et mis à jour.. 3 vols., Paris and Brussels, 1928, vol. 1, p. 112.

Bernard Berenson The Drawings of the Florentine Painters. 3 vols., amplified edition. Chicago, 1938, cat. no. 1045 (vol. 3), fig. no. 514 (vol. 3), p. 176. (vol. 1), p. 116 (vol. 2).

Théodore Rousseau Jr. "Notes." in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, n.s. vol. 10, no. 4, New York, December 1951, fig. no. on cover, ill.

Marziano Bernardi Leonardo a Milano. Turin, 1952, p. 105.

Art Treasures of the Metropolitan: A Selection from the European and Asiatic Collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, 1952, cat. no. 60, p. 68, ill.

Carlo Pedretti Documenti e memorie riguardanti Leonardo da Vinci a Bologna e in Emilia. Bologna, 1953, p. 76.

Bernard Berenson, Luisa Vertova I disegni dei pittori fiorentini. 3 vols., Revised and enlarged. Milan, 1961, p. 256 (vol. I), p. 205 (vol. II), no. 1049D-1 (vol. III), pl. 499 (vol. III), ill.

Jacob Bean, Felice Stampfle Drawings from New York Collections, Vol. I: The Italian Renaissance. Exh. cat. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1965, p. 28, no. 19, ill.

Walter Vitzthum "Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions: Drawings from New York Collections." The Burlington Magazine. 108, (Feb. 1966). London, 1966, p. 109.

Geoffrey Agnew Agnew's, 1817-1967. Thomas Agnew & Sons, Ltd., London, 1967.

Walter Vitzthum "Review: Drawings from New York Collections, Vol. 2: The Seventeenth Century in Italy (Exh. cat., New York, MMA and PML, by Jacob Bean and Felice Stampfle, 1967)." Burlington Magazine. vol. 109, London, April 1967, p. 109.

B. Bacall A Catalogue of the Drawings of Leonardo da Vinci and his School in the United States of America M.A. thesis, directed by Carlo Pedretti. Master's thesis, 1968 cat. no. 7.

Jacob Bean, Lawrence Turčić 15th and 16th Century Italian Drawings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1982, cat. no. 110, fig. no. 110, pp. 119-20, ill.

Angela Ottino della Chiesa, Mario Pomilio, L. D. Ettlinger L' opera completa di Leonardo pittore. English edition (Italian edition Milan 1967). London, 1985, p. 109.

Alessandro Vezzosi Leonardo: Arte, Scienza e Utopia. Exh. cat., Toronto, J. D. Carrier Art Gallery. Toronto, 1987, p. 17.

Carlo Pedretti, Patricia Trutty-Coohill The Drawings of Leonardo da Vinci and His Circle in America. Florence, 1993, cat. no. 18, pp. 53-55.

Martin Clayton Leonardo da Vinci: A Singular Vision. Exh. cat., London, The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace, Mar. 1, 1996 - Jan 12, 1997. New York, 1996-1997, p. 133.

Pietro C. Marani Leonardo: una carriera di pittore. Milan, 1999, p. 288., ill.

Pietro C. Marani Leonardo da Vinci: The Complete Paintings With an appendix of documents transcribed by Edoardo Villata. New York, 2000, pp. 288-89.

Francis Ames-Lewis "Leonardo da Vinci e il disegno a matita." Raccolta Vinciana. vol. 29, Milan, 2001, cat. no. 23, p. 13.

Carmen C. Bambach Renaissance Drawings: Material and Function Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York, October 2002.

Carmen Bambach Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York, October 2002.

Martin Clayton Leonardo da Vinci: The Divine and the Grotesque. Exh. cat. Edinburgh, The Queen's Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse; London, The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace. London, 2002, fig. no. 50, p. 149.

Carmen C. Bambach Leonardo da Vinci: Master Draftsman. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (January 22 - March 30, 2003). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Yale University Press , New Haven and London, 2003, (entry by Carmen C. Bambach), cat. no. 108, fig. no. 35a,b,c,d, pp. 41-48, 566-5, ill.

David Alan Brown "Leonardo Drawings." The Burlington Magazine. vol. 114, no. 12, August, 2003, pp. 613-15.

Françoise Viatte, Varena Forcione Leonard de Vinci. Dessins et manuscrits. Exh. cat.: Paris, Musée du Louvre, May 5 - July 14. Musée du Louvre, Paris, 2003, under cat. no. 87 (entry by Carmen C. Bambach), p. 261.

Giovanna Giacobello Bernard (ed.) Leonardo da Vinci: Capolavori in mostra. Exh. cat., Turin, Biblioteca Reale. Milan, 2006, (entry by Carmen C. Bambach), cat. no. I.15., pp. 64-67., ill.

Carmen C. Bambach "Leonardo's Notes on Pastel Drawings." Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz. Le tecniche del disegno rinascimentale: dai materiali allo stile. Atti del convegno internazionale a cura di Marzia Faietti, Lorenza Melli, Alessandro Nova. (Kunsthistorisches Institut, Florence).. nos. 2/3, vol. LII, Florence, 2008, fig. no. 20-21, pp. 196-98, ill.

Alessandro Ballarin, Marialucia Menegatti, Barbara Maria Savy Leonardo a Milano. Problemi di leonardismo milanese tra Quattrocento e Cinquecento. Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio prima della pala Casio. 4 vols., Padova and Milan 2010 (2011), 2010, vol. 2, pl. CCCXXIX.

Vincent Delieuvin, Musée du Louvre , March 29–June 25, 2012 La Sainte Anne l'ultime chef-d'oeuvre de Léonardo de Vinci. Exh. cat., Musée du Louvre, Paris. Paris, 2012, (entry by Vincent Delieuvin), cat. no. 35, 133-34, ill.

Carmen C. Bambach On the role of scientific evidence in the study of Leonardo's drawings Leonardo da Vinci Techical Practice: Paintings, Drawings and Influence / La pratique technique de Léonard de Vinci: peintures, dessins et influence. ed. by Michel Menu, Paris, 2014, fig. no. 26-34, pp. 248-50, ill.



Related Objects

The Head of a Woman in Profile Facing Left

Artist: Follower of Leonardo da Vinci (Italian, Vinci 1452–1519 Amboise) (Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio?) Date: 1490–1500 Medium: Metalpoint, highlighted with white gouache, on pale blue-gray prepared paper Accession: 19.76.3 On view in:Not on view

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) Accession: 17.142.1 On view in:Not on view

The Head of a Grotesque Man in Profile Facing Right

Artist: After Leonardo da Vinci (Italian, Vinci 1452–1519 Amboise) Date: after 1500 Medium: Pen and brown ink, on off-white paper (now darkened) Accession: 17.142.3 On view in:Not on view

Allegory on the Fidelity of the Lizard (recto); Design for a Stage Setting (verso)

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci (Italian, Vinci 1452–1519 Amboise) Date: 1496 Medium: Pen and brown ink (recto and verso) Accession: 17.142.2 On view in:Not on view

Head of a Man in Profile Facing to the Left

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci (Italian, Vinci 1452–1519 Amboise) Date: 1490–94 Medium: Pen and brown ink, over soft black chalk Accession: 10.45.1 On view in:Not on view