Verrocchio and Da Vinci
Andrea del Verrocchio (1435-1488) has been an architect, sculptor and painter in Renaissance Florence. He was part of the second generation of Renaissance artists and as such, he lived in the age of the Medici rulers, in particular Lorenzo the Magnificent. For a while, Verrocchio has been, without discussion, the top artist in Florence: the tombs the grandfather and father of Lorenzo, Cosimo the Elder and Piero the Gouty, were made in his workshop. Among the many young apprentices of his workshop, there was Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519). We have a couple of stories to tell about Verrocchio and Da Vinci, so read on.
The ball on Brunelleschi’s Dome
Brunelleschi’s Dome was completed in 1436, while the lantern was finished in 1461. Only one thing was missing to consider the Cathedral finished: the cross on top. Actually, a sphere with a cross on top. Since Verrocchio’s workshop was the most famous at that time, it got the commission. The sculpture was not very difficult, but anyway, nothing was good enough for the greatest church ever built, and the city wanted to have the best possible material to complete the work. As stated in the official contract, the ball had to be made of eight pieces of copper, hammered to reach a spheric shape and gilded. Since the best copper came from Cyprus or Eastern Europe, Verrocchio stayed in venice for several months, patiently waiting for ships carrying excellent quality metal. Six pieces of copper were shipped to Florence in August 1469, two more only in October. We don’t know if Verrocchio and Da Vinci collaborated to the sculpture, but for sure the greatest issue to solve was how to lift that ball on top of the dome. Luckily Filippo Brunelleschi, to build his dome, invented many new machines to pull up weights. These machines were compulsively reproduced in drawings by Leonardo Da Vinci, and many think he was the inventor. He was not, but certainly this experience influenced all his studies on mechanics. Now I can’t but tell you how the story of the ball continues: the ball was lifted on top in 1471. Do you think it was a good idea to place 4368 lbs of copper on top of the highest building of the city? Mother nature would think otherwise. On April 5th, 1492, a storm hit Florence and lightning hit the sphere, which fell in part. Four days later, Lorenzo the Magnificent died, closing an age of prosperity for Florence. The ball fell again in 1601: a circular white stone right behind the Duomo marks the exact point where it fell. Today, luckily, a lighting rod protects the dome.
The Baptism of Christ
More famous, in the collaboration between Verrocchio and Da Vinci, is the Baptism of Christ, a painting (1474-75) made for the Monastery of San Salvi, today at the Uffizi Gallery. We think Leonardo Da Vinci made the angel on the left and some parts of the landscape. As described in Vasari’s Lives (Life of Verrocchio): “… no long time after, he painted another in San Salvi for the monks of Vallombrosa, containg the Baptism of Christ by St. John. In this work he was assisted by Leonardo da Vinci, his disciple, then quite young, who painted therein an angel with his own hand, which was much better than the others parts of the work; and for that reason Andrea resolved never again to touch a bruch, since Leonardo, young as he was, had acquited himself in that art much better than he had done.” This was the last painting by Andrea del Verrocchio…