Honors Capstone Project
Date of Submission
Gary M. Radke
Art and Music Histories
Arts and Science
Capstone Prize Winner
Won Capstone Funding
History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology | Other History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology
On April 25, 1483 Leonardo da Vinci and Evangelista and Ambrogio de’ Predis, signed a contract with the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception in Milan. The artists were commissioned to complete a painting for the Confraternity’s chapel in the Church of San Francesco Grande. While there are two existing paintings associated with this contract--one version in the Louvre and one in the National Gallery--it remains a mystery which painting results from the commission.
Art historians generally agree that the Louvre version is entirely by the hand of Leonardo. Unfortunately, nothing is known of its history before the year 1625 when it was seen in the Royal Collection in France, before eventually arriving in the Louvre. The National Gallery version was done in large part by Leonardo’s assistant, presumably Ambrogio de’ Predis. It seems to have been recorded in the Confraternity’s chapel in the late sixteenth century.
Establishing authorship of the National Gallery’s Virgin of the Rocks produces a more thorough and sound understanding of the historical events of the commission. The fact that the attribution of the National Gallery version has remained unresolved for so many centuries suggests that examining the surviving documentation evidence alone is insufficient. Therefore, my project provides a comparison of the representations of botany in the two paintings to offer supporting evidence and a more thoroughly researched argument in establishing attribution.
The Louvre version of the Virgin of the Rocks features scientifically accurate depictions of botanical species. On the other hand, the botanical subject matter in the National Gallery version is decorative and ornamental. This observation suggests that the Louvre painting was completed entirely by Leonardo while a pupil was largely responsible for portions of the National Gallery painting.
In addition to the research paper, the museum exhibition features a comparison of the botanical renderings in the two paintings. The comparison demonstrates the fidelity to nature in the Louvre version of the Virgin of the Rocks and the lack of ecological accuracy in the National Gallery version. Therefore, the botany in the works contributes to greater certainty of authorship as well as a new perspective of historical events.
Tripi, Christina J., "Determining Authorship of the Virgin of the Rocks: A Botanical Study" (2008). Syracuse University Honors Program Capstone Projects. 505.
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