Thus spoke Robert Langdon upon realizing that he had arrived in Florence:
Florence whose galleries lured millions of travelers to admire Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Leonardo’s Annunciation, and the city’s pride and joy – Il Davide.
(Dan Brown, Inferno)
The Annunciation has been located in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence since 1867. It came from the church of San Bartolomeo a Monteoliveto, in the environs of Florence.
It is thought to have been one of Leonardo’s first commissioned paintings, at a time when he was under the apprenticeship of Verrocchio.
While no historian or biographer, including Giorgio Vasari, mentions this work, its attribution to Leonardo stems from the quality of the painting. Specifically, the broad landscape in the background reflects Leonardo’s meditations on nature.
It appears that Leonardo carefully studied the flowers in the field with a precision lens. In the background, over the wall, can be seen a river with loops and boats, as well as mountains dotted with towers and trees. The light is clear as morning.
Unlike the typical portrayal of angels at that time, which were normally represented with peacock wings (the peacock was considered a sacred animal and a symbol of immortality), Leonardo’s angel had wings that were proportionate to those of real birds.
However, someone later extended original wings, which were shorter, not realizing that Leonardo was representing the angel in flight, at the moment when it is closing its wings.
Vasari relates that Leonardo sometimes made clay models of figures, wrapped in soft blankets and soaked in plaster, before patiently reproducing this drapery. This may have been the case for the Annunciation.
Similarly, the beauty of the faces, from the Madonna to the angel, is characteristic of Leonardo. Past doubts over the attribution of the painting are now all but dismissed, due to the discovery of the preparatory sketches by Leonardo.
While Leonardo began his career by closely emulating his master’s style, he gradually distinguished himself through his discovery of new techniques.
The general impression of this work, which still follows the traditional iconography of fifteenth-century Annunciations, is of an intensity found in no other Florentine painting of this period.
Moreover, according to medieval tradition, the Virgin is placed indoors, to enable the insertion of physical elements, such as the bed, whereas the angel is placed outdoors. Leonardo consciously moved away from this trend, setting the scene in a garden outside the house of the Virgin.
A few interesting details: the fingerprints of the twenty-year old Leonardo are visible at close sight in certain areas of the painting. In fact, the artist would at times use his fingertips to fade the color in order to achieve gradient effects.
Also, the painting contains an error of perspective: the right arm of the Virgin is longer than the left.
However, this error is intentional; in fact, the view of the Annunciation from the right side of the disproportionate arm is attenuated by a special optical technique.
Already appropriated by other Florentine artists, this technique is described in the notebooks of Leonardo.
Perhaps the artist already had the background layout of the painting in mind before undertaking the work; that is, a wall to be observed from the right.
Pictures by Wikimedia