The curators of an exhibition in Florence have this week unveiled a sculpture what they claim is the only existing carved by Leonardo da Vinci. It’s always been part of Leonardo’s legend that he made sculptures, including a giant horse, but not a single extant three-dimensional work by him had been identified.
The Virgin with the Laughing Child is the amazing exception, according to Verrocchio the curators of the exhibition ’Master of Leonardo, at Palazzo Strozzi, where it has just gone on display. It has an unambiguous label: Leonardo da Vinci.’ Leonardo da Vinci is said to have created it around 1472, when he was 19 or 20 and a pupil of the Florentine artist Andrea del Verrocchio. According to Francesco Caglioti, the Italian academic who is leading the new attribution, UK has a special interest in the find, which has belonged to the V&A since 1858 but had long been credited to another artist, Antonio Rossellino. That is because scholars had been puzzled by the posthumous authority of the late art historian and British Museum director John Pope-Hennessy. Experts say details such as the drapery and Christ’s smile show it to be Leonardo Da Vinci’s work.
Pope-Hennessy, a hugely powerful 20th-century expert, pronounced that the sculpture was by Rossellino, and that was that. But he had no real evidence for his ruling, claimed Caglioti, and heavily promoted Rossellino, to whom he attributed works “at his whim”. Awestruck journalists thought it was 100% Leonardo and Revered Leonardo scholar Carmen C Bambach, from the Metropolitan Museum in New York, also support the claim.