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Work Drapery for a Seated Figure

Department of Prints and Drawings: 14th-15th centuries

Draperie pour une figure assise

Prints and Drawings
14th-15th centuries

Author(s):
Forcione Varena, Grollemund Hélène

The drapery by Leonardo da Vinci exhibited here is the most famous of all the sketches on "tela di lino" (linen canvas). There are sixteen in total. It is often considered to be connected to his preparations for the figure of the Virgin in the Uffizi Annunciation (Florence). It has also been linked with the Retable of San Giusto by Domenico Ghirlandaio (Uffizi, Florence); some authors even believe that this drapery is by Ghirlandaio and not Leonardo.

Achieving formal precision

This drapery entered the Louvre under the name of Dürer. It is thought to be linked to Da Vinci's preparations for the figure of the Virgin in the Uffizi Annunciation, as is the drawing in the former Ganay collection (Louvre, RF 41904) and another study of a seated figure in the Uffizi (Florence). Unlike the two other draperies, the Louvre figure indicates a "contrapposto" pose and the start of a kind of turning movement: this is discernible in the sketching of the legs, and emphasized by the direction of the upper body, which is simply drawn. It follows the direction of the hemline, in a curve, and allows Leonardo to define the form he intends to represent. The painter has studied what we might call the hang of the folds, and the fall and volume of the heavy fabric, by unfurling it successively around the whole form, as though the momentum of the movement had been retained, far from its source. Leonardo no longer treats the drapery as calligraphy or ornament, but like proper clothes, made of very real material; he is seeking formal, objective precision.

A simple analogy

Paradoxically, the Louvre drapery is the one whose attribution is least contested, because of its extremely high quality; however, it is the only one with a potential link to a painting by another artist. It has been possible to establish a close analogy between this drapery and that of the Virgin in the Madonna Enthroned with Saints (known as the "Retable of San Giusto") by Domenico Ghirlandaio, in the Uffizi. Nevertheless, the delicate way in which light and shade are indicated, and the complexity of the Louvre study, make it impossible to relate this to the geometric clarity of Ghirlandaio's work. The issue here is less about linking draperies with painting or sculpture, than an investigation into the use of flexible supports and fluid materials, and above all a study of light.

The question of retouchings

The whole question of the draperies (at least for those in the Louvre) now seems to need reconsideration based on an observation of their technique. This drapery has been reworked by a later hand, but the date of the additions has not been determined. It is in this study that the retouchings are most visible, and this has certainly been a factor in the diversity of suggested attributions to which it has given rise. The obvious retouchings are on the lower edge, in the area beneath the drapery.
Other interventions are discernible on the right-hand side, in the contour of the drapery and the background. Besides these, there are thick highlights in the folds of the figure itself, reinforcing the sculptural effect of this form, made timeless by frequent perfection. In the upper section, on the slanting underside of the drapery, at waist level, the delicate highlights on the fringe of the cloth are intact and reveal what the work was probably like originally.

Bibliography

Arasse Daniel, Léonard de Vinci. Le rythme du monde, Paris, Hazan, 1997, pp. 48-53, fig. 20.Berenson Bernhard, The Drawings of the Florentine Painters Classified, Criticised and Studied as Documents in the History and Appreciation of the Tuscan Art, with a Copious Catalogue Reasoned, Londres, 1903, I, p. 158, pl. CXII, II, n 1061.Cadogan J. K., "Reconsidering some Aspects of Ghirlandaio's Drawings", The Art Bulletin, LXV, n 2, 1983, p. 283, fig. 17.Christiansen Keith, "Leonardo's drapery studies", The Burlington Magazine, CXXXII, n 1049, 1990, pp. 572-573.Demonts Louis, Les Dessins de Léonard de Vinci au musée du Louvre, Paris, 1921, n 1.Marani Pietro C., Léonard de Vinci. Une carrière de peintre, Milan, Motta et Arles, Actes Sud, 1999, p. 17 et pp. 60-61, fig. p. 16.Pedretti Carlo et Dalli Regoli Gigetta, I dise gni di Leonardo da Vinci e della sua cerchia nel Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe della Galleria degli Uffizi a Firenze, Florence, 1985, p. 68, n 17.Reale Commissione Vinciana, I manoscritti e i disegni di Leonardo da Vinci pubblicati dalla Reale Commissione Vinciana sotto gli auspici del Ministero dell'Educazione Nazionale. Disegni, a cura di Adolfo Venturi, Fascicolo I, I disegni di Leonardo da Vinci dal 1470 al 1478, Rome, 1928, n 15.Viatte Françoise, Léonard de Vinci. Les études de draperie, cat. exp. Paris, musée du Louvre, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1989-1990, n 16.Viatte Françoise, in Léonard de Vinci, dessins et manuscrits, cat. exp. Paris, musée du Louvre, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2003, n 11.

Technical description

  • Lorenzo BARTOLINI (Savignano, 1777 - Florence, 1850)

    Dirce

    1470

    Provenance: Comte Alexandre de Pourtalès-Gorgier collection

  • Marble

    H. 0.59 m; W. 1.10 m; D. 0.47 m

  • Acquired in 1982

    392255

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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