The Mystery of Worcester’s Leonardo makes the case that a work that has been in the museum’s collection since 1940, A Miracle of Saint Donatus of Arezzo (around 1479-85) and attributed mostly to Lorenzo di Credi, should be credited to the Renaissance master.
The experts' confidence that the masterpiece was painted by Leonardo's hand is based on the history of master studying, x-ray researches and ... eyelashes.
Worcester Art Museum argues for reattribution of the altarpiece panels by Verrocchio’s workshop. The museum will display together two early Italian panel paintings for the first time since they were separated from their original altarpiece: the Annunciation (around 1475-78) from the Musée du Louvre and WAM's Miracle of Saint Donato. Both have been attributed mostly to Lorenzo di Credi.
“We are not afraid of any controversy,” says confidently Matthias Waschek, the museum’s director. External experts are more cautious, with one scholar calling the new attribution “plausible”, while another has expressed doubts as to it.
Drawing on research by Rita Albertson, WAM’s chief conservator; Laurence Kanter, the chief curator of Yale University Art Gallery, and Bruno Mottin, the senior curator of the Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France, the exhibition will argue that Leonardo was the main author of both paintings.
The panels were parts of the altarpiece from the Duomo of Pistoia in Tuscany; documents show that Andrea del Verrocchio received the commission around 1475. Leonardo and Lorenzo were members of Verrocchio’s workshop in Florence at the time. X-ray studies on the Worcester panel confirm previous theories that two artists worked on it, Albertson says, arguing that underdrawings betray the hand of Leonardo. The painting also presents light effects, details such as eyelashes and wrinkles, and a naturalistic landscape consistent with the master, she says. Mottin’s analysis of the Louvre’s work tallied with Albertson’s conclusions.
Laurence Kanter, who has doubted the Lorenzo attribution of the Worcester painting for around 20 years, cites observational evidence for Leonardo’s technique—for example, in the way the light breaks against the fingers of the saint. The work features “a recession of space that very few artists could have done”, he says
Left: detail of the panel Miracle of Saint Donato (c. 1479 — 1485), attributed to Lorenzo di Credit and Leonardo da Vinci
The medium itself—oil—is another sign. Verrocchio and Lorenzo worked in tempera. “Leonardo was the only artist in Florence painting in oils at that time,” Kanter says. He suggests that as much as 85% of the Worcester panel was painted by Leonardo, who was then in his 20s and had not yet fully developed as an artist.
Scholars wrongly treat Lorenzo di Credi as the default attribution “if a painting doesn’t quite measure up” to Leonardo, Kanter says. The show will include an accepted Annunciation (around 1480-85) by Lorenzo, from the Alana Collection in Delaware, to illustrate his distinct style.
Art historians have long agreed on the difficulty of firmly attributing paintings made in Verrocchio’s workshop. The picture, rediscovered in the 1930s, was donated to the Worcester museum as a Leonardo, only to be downgraded later by scholars. For decades, it was labelled solely as a Lorenzo di Credi. The Louvre credits its work to Lorenzo and Leonardo, in that order. Both labels will now change, but the museums will hedge, writing: “Attributed to Leonardo da Vinci and Lorenzo di Credi.”
“There is real work to be done on the collaborations between Verrocchio, Lorenzo and Leonardo in the 1470s. We underestimate collaboration as a way of working at that time,” says Luke Syson, who organised the National Gallery’s Leonardo show and is now the curator of European sculpture and decorative arts at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. He declined to comment on the thesis of WAM’s exhibition, but added: “When we see the works all together, we’ll be in a better position to judge.”
"The Mystery of Worcester’s Leonardo" exhibition will be on view at the Worcester Art Museum from 10 March to 3 June 2018.
Based on materials from Worcester Art Museum official site, theartnewspaper.com
Title illustration: A Miracle of Saint Donato of Arezzo, Lorenzo di Credits (1485)