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Verrocchio

His name was Andrea di Michele di Francesco Cioni. He was born in about 1435, the son of Michele di Francesco Cioni, a brick and tile manufacturer and later tax collector, who lived in the Sant’Ambrogio parish of Florence. It is uncertain how he came to be called ‘Verrocchio’, but the most popular theory is that he was the pupil or partner of a goldsmith of that name – probably Francesco di Lucca Verrocchio. There is only one hard fact about his training: in 1458 a goldsmith called Antonio Dei cited him among his debtors as a former worker in his shop. No works by either Francesco Verrocchio or Antonio Dei are known to have survived.

Andrea Verrocchio appears (from his tax return of 1457) to have abandoned the goldsmith’s craft through lack of work. He may then have studied sculpture under Donatello (as several early writers claimed) or under Desiderio da Settignano or Antonio Rossellino (as some modern art historians have suggested). It is uncertain at what point in his career he took up painting; his first documented commission for a painted work (a tournament standard) was in 1469.

As a sculptor, he worked extensively for the Medici, producing marble busts and reliefs, silver figurines, decorated armour and horse trappings for tournaments, funerary monuments, fountains and monumental bronzes. He visited Venice briefly in 1469, and was resident there from spring 1486. He died in summer 1488, leaving unfinished the great equestrian statue of the condottiere Bartolomeo Colleoni. His remains were brought back to Florence and buried in the Cioni family vault in Sant’Ambrogio.

Verrocchio’s studio is famous in the history of painting as well as sculpture, and Leonardo da Vinci, Perugino and Lorenzo di Credi were among his pupils and assistants. Leonardo entered his studio as an apprentice in the middle or late 1460s, and he is recorded still living there in 1476. Perugino was probably his pupil, or perhaps rather his assistant, in the 1470s. The considerably younger Credi is recorded in Verrocchio’s studio in 1480-81 and remained there until Verrocchio’s death. It is often believed that Ghirlandaio and Botticelli also worked briefly as young assistants in Verrocchio’s studio before setting up on their own, though there is no documentary proof of this.

Very few pictures can be attributed with any certainty to Verrocchio himself. Three are to some extent authenticated by early sources, but none appears to be wholly from his own hand. An altarpiece in Pistoia Cathedral is documented as having been commissioned from him, but the execution is usually ascribed largely or wholly to Credi. The famous Baptism in the Uffizi is traditionally ascribed to Verrocchio, but both early writers and modern criticism attribute part of it to Leonardo. A Madonna and Saints at Budapest is apparently identical with an altarpiece Vasari ascribed to Verrocchio in the Florentine church of San Domenico del Maglio, but most critics have judged the picture unworthy of him (and some have consigned it to the minor artist Biagio d’Antonio). A number of smaller devotional pictures, mainly of the Virgin and Child, have been associated with Verrocchio since the late nineteenth century. None of these pictures is signed, dated, documented or mentioned in early sources. While there is general agreement that they could have originated in Verrocchio’s studio and might have been planned or designed by him, there has been little agreement about which members of the studio (Verrocchio himself, Perugino, Ghirlandaio, Credi, Leonardo or some obscure assistant) are likely to have executed particular pictures. Attributions from two recent monographs are compared in the table below.

Vasari described Verrocchio’s paintings as ‘somewhat hard and crude’. So far as it is possible to identify his style, it does appear to be highly sculptural, with strong, systematic modelling of forms; Pope-Hennessy described one of his attributed pictures as ‘the closest equivalent in quattrocento painting to a carved Madonna relief’. Unlike the Pollaiuoli, his chief competitors, and his pupil Leonardo, he does not seem to have experimented with the new oil media but worked only in tempera. There is no evidence he ever painted in fresco.


Berlin. Gemäldegalerie.
Seated Madonna and Child (no. 104A). Wood, 72 x 53.
One of half-dozen or so undocumented pictures of the Virgin and Child that are generally now regarded as works of Verrocchio, his workshop or his immediate circle. Of these, this is the one most often attributed to Verrocchio himself. It is usually regarded as an early work (about 1470?). The composition is closely related, in reverse, to that of the Madonna by Fra Filippo Lippi at Munich. Acquired in Florence in 1873 from the collection of Prince Jérôme Bonaparte. Ascribed to Pollaiuolo in the nineteenth century and first given to Verrocchio by Wilhelm von Bode in 1882. The attribution is accepted in both the recent monographs on Verrocchio (Covi (2005) and Butterfield (2005)). The panel is heavily retouched in parts (including the Virgin’s head) and the composition has been extended slightly at the edges.
Madonna and Standing Child (no. 108). Wood, 74 x 46.
Acquired with the Solly collection in 1821. It was once supposed to be a youthful work of Leonardo, and then went under Pesello’s name. Crowe and Cavalcaselle gave it to Verrocchio’s workshop. It is usually grouped with the Virgin and Child and Two Angels in the National Gallery, London. Some Italian writers (eg. Longhi in 1952 and Zeri in 1953) have attributed both pictures to Perugino, as very early works painted in Verrocchio’s studio, while other critics (including Passavant (1969) and Covi (2005)) have attributed the Berlin picture to the young Domenico Ghirlandaio.

Budapest. Fine Arts Museum.
Madonna and Child with Angels and Saints. Wood, 168 x 178.
A bishop (Augustine?) and Peter Martyr stand on the left, Dominic (or Vincent Ferrer) and James on the right. Catherine of Siena kneels before the throne. The picture was identified in about 1870 by an Italian art dealer, Alessandro Foresi, as the altarpiece said by Vasari to have been painted by Verrocchio for the church of San Domenico in Florence. Having acquired the painting in England and tried unsuccessfully to sell it to the National Gallery, the Uffizi and the Louvre, Foresi sold it to a Scottish collector. It was then bought by the Budapest Museum from Colnaghi in 1896. The picture has occasionally been accepted as a very early work of Verrocchio (most notably by Konrad Oberhuber in a 1978 article on the artist’s early paintings in Revue de L’Art) or as a work at least designed by him in his youth. However, most critics have deemed the picture unworthy of even the youthful Verrocchio, and since the early twentieth century it has usually been included among a group of paintings attributed to a minor contemporary of Ghirlandaio, once identified as Giovanni Battista Utili and now as Biagio d’Antonio.

Edinburgh. National Gallery of Scotland.
Virgin in Adoration. Canvas (transferred from panel), 107 x 76.
The picture was twice transferred to canvas in the late nineteenth century, and the Child’s legs and Madonna’s drapery are especially damaged and restored. The Child sucks blood from a prick in his finger, a premonition of his Passion. The classical ruins probably represent the Roman Temple of Peace, which is supposed to have collapsed on the night Christ was born. The paving and architecture are based on complex perspectival geometry, and a grid of incised lines runs across the painting. However, the Virgin and Child appear too large for their setting. The picture is first recorded in 1852 in the Manfrin collection at Venice. It was then described as by Filippo Lippi (presumably because the subject, with the Virgin kneeling in adoration, is familiar from Lippi’s paintings). The attribution to Verrocchio dates from John Ruskin’s purchase of the picture in 1877. It is now usually ascribed to Verrocchio’s workshop. After it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1960, Alberto Martini suggested that it might be a very early work of Leonardo da Vinci, but this suggestion found no subsequent support. It has also been suggested (eg. by Waterhouse in 1955, Zeri and Fahy in 1976, and Covi in 2005) that it might be a youthful work of Domenico Ghirlandaio. Bought from the Guild of St George (Ruskin’s Trustees) in 1975.

Florence. Uffizi.
Baptism of Christ. Wood, 180 x 152.
Ascribed to Verrocchio in Francesco Albertini’s 1510 guidebook to Florence, which says that the angel in profile is the work of the young Leonardo. These attributions were repeated by Vasari, who adds the anecdote that Verrocchio gave up painting out of chagrin at Leonardo’s superior addition. Modern criticism also attributes to Leonardo much of the landscape, and usually the figure of Christ as well. Like the angel, these parts are painted in oil glazes, while the rest of the picture is in tempera. The hand of another, inferior assistant (possibly Francesco Botticini) has sometimes been seen in a few areas (such as the palm tree, hands with the dove and the rocks on the right). The picture probably dates from the late 1460s/first half of the 1470s, and was probably painted in at least two distinct stages. It was painted for the monks of San Salvi, just east of Florence, where Verrocchio’s brother Don Simone was abbot on several occasions from 1468 (a possible start date for the picture). It passed after the siege of 1530 (during which the monastery was virtually destroyed) to another Vallombrosan monastery, Santa Verdiana, where it long remained unnoticed. It was rediscovered during the Napoleonic occupation, brought to the Accademia in 1810 and transferred to the Uffizi in 1919.

Florence. Pitti.
Saint Jerome. Wood, 40 x 26.
The authorship of this strikingly realistic head is particularly uncertain. The traditional attribution (recorded in a Medici inventory of 1646) was to Pollaiuolo. Since the late nineteenth century, there have been attributions to Piero di Cosimo, Bartolomeo della Gatta, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Domenico Veneziano and even the young Leonardo da Vinci. The panel was given by Wohl (1980) to Verrocchio’s workshop and by Luciano Bellosi (1990) to Verrocchio himself, under whose name it is currently exhibited. The head resembles that of St Jerome in a small altarpiece of the Crucifixion (stolen from the church at Argiano, near Florence, in 1970 and still lost), which was ascribed to Verrocchio by Passavant (1969).

Frankfurt. Städelinstitut.
Madonna and Standing Child. Wood, 85 x 64.
The composition is similar to that of the Madonna and Standing Child in Berlin and even closer to that of a marble relief in the Bargello attributed to Verrocchio’s workshop (or Francesco di Simone). Museum catalogues have retained Bode’s old attribution to Verrocchio, but almost all modern critics have ascribed the picture to his workshop. Some recent critics have seen the hand of the young Ghirlandaio. Acquired in 1817 from N. Grossi in Rome.

London. National Gallery.
Virgin and Child and Two Angels (no. 296). Wood, 97 x 71.
Bought in 1857 from the Contugi collection at Volterra as a work of Piero della Francesca, and subsequently catalogued under Domenico Ghirlandaio (1858), Antonio Pollaiuolo (1862) and School of Verrocchio (from 1888). Crowe and Cavalcaselle thought the execution might be by Lorenzo di Credi in Verrocchio’s studio. Most later critics have agreed that the picture is close to Verrocchio, if not actually by him. It is one of a number of Verrocciesque Madonnas attributed by Zeri (1953) and some subsequent Italian critics to the young Perugino. The picture is one of three (the others being the Seated Madonna in Berlin and the Ruskin Madonna in Edinburgh) that Butterfield (2005) considers likely to be fully autograph works of Verrocchio, while Covi (2005) thinks that the young Ghirlandaio and Credi could both have had a hand in the execution. Thorough and careful restoration in 2008-9, which removed old retouchings, enabled the painting’s quality to be better appreciated. The National Gallery subsequently altered its attribution from ‘workshop of Verrocchio’ to ‘Verrocchio and assistant’. The assistant (Credi?) is held responsible for the execution (and possibly design) of the angel on the right, the Christ Child and the curtain. A dating around the mid or late 1470s is usually suggested.
Tobias and the Angel. Wood, 84 x 66.
The roll of paper held by Tobias is the statement of money owed to his father Tobit; it was to collect this debt that Tobias set out on his journey. The box held by the Angel Raphael contains the fish’s gall, which was to heal Tobit’s blindness. The composition is closely related to that of the much larger picture by Antonio and Piero Pollaiuolo from Orsanmichele (now in Turin). Bequeathed in 1863 by Conte Angiolo Galli Tassi to the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova in Florence, and acquired by the National Gallery in 1867 as a work of Pollaiuolo. Since 1888 it has been catalogued as School or Workshop of Verrocchio. Some Italian critics have attributed the picture to the young Perugino, while others have argued that it is an autograph work of Verrocchio of the 1470s. It has been suggested, eg. by Suida (1954) and Brown (1998), that some of the finely painted details (such as the fish, dog and Tobias’s hair and sleeves) were painted by the youthful Leonardo. Covi (2005) thinks the picture was painted by Ghirlandaio while working in Verrocchio’s studio in the early 1470s.
Virgin and Child with Two Angels (no. 2508). Wood, 70 x 50.
This panel was once in the celebrated collection of Walter Davenport Bromley, where it was published in 1857 by Gustav Waagen as a work of Pesellino. It was subsequently sold with an attribution to Fra Filippo Lippi, and was one of two-dozen early Italian pictures acquired by the National Gallery in 1910 with the bequest of the Australian collector George Salting. Until recently, it was catalogued simply as ‘Florentine School’ and consigned to the reserve collection in the basement. The general composition, with the Child held up to the Virgin by two child angels, derives ultimately from Fra Filippo Lippi’s famous Madonna and Child with Two Angels in the Uffizi. Like several other derivations of Lippi’s Madonna, the painting has sometimes been attributed to the young Botticelli. However, as noted by Martin Davis in his 1961 catalogue of the early Italian works in the National Gallery, its style seems to be closer to Verrocchio’s. Davis, judging that ‘its quality is not very high’, did not venture an attribution to Verrocchio or his workshop. It was not until 2009, after cleaning had removed dirty varnish, that the National Gallery tentatively re-attributed the painting to Verrocchio as an early work of the late 1460s (see the article by Syson and Dunkerton in the June 2011 Burlington Magazine).

London. Courtauld Institute Galleries.
Madonna and Child. Wood, 77 x 57.
Acquired in Florence in 1861 by Thomas Gambier-Parry and bequeathed to the Institute by his grandson Mark Gambier-Parry in 1966. After attributions to Antonio and Piero Pollaiuolo (among others), it was tentatively attributed to Verrocchio and dated in the second half of the 1460s by John Shearman in a 1967 article in the Burlington Magazine. Subsequent critics have tended to see the hand of an Umbrian artist (the young Signorelli and Perugino, Pintoricchio and Pietro di Galeotti have all been suggested) working in Verrocchio’s studio or circle. Currently exhibited as ‘attributed to Perugino’, and included as a possible early Perugino in an exhibition (Perugino: Raffaels Meister) held at Munich in 2011-12.

London. British Museum.
Head of a Woman. 
Paper, 33 x 27.
This superb chalk study is one of the very few drawings that can be attributed to Verrocchio with any certainty. The beautiful young woman is shown life size and almost full face, with head inclined to one side and eyes cast down. Her hair is elaborately arranged in plaits, coils, waves and curls. The play of light and shadow across the brow, cheeks and throat is smoothly modelled in soft, smudged black chalk, with white lead heightening, while the twists and strands of hair are crisply rendered in sharper chalk. On the other side of the sheet, there is another, more sketchy study of a similar head. Vasari says there were drawings by Verrocchio of 'woman's heads with beautiful appearance and elaborate hairstyles' in his own collection. Vasari adds that Verrocchio's drawings of women's heads were much imitated by Leonardo. The influence on Leonardo is exemplified (for instance) by the drawings for the Head of Leda (British Royal Collection). The British Museum drawing does not correspond to any known painting by Verrocchio or his workship, though there is some resemblance to the head of the Virgin in the Pistoia Altarpiece (still unfinished in 1485, but commissioned much earlier). In the early nineteenth century, the drawing seems to have been attributed to Leonardo's Milanese follower Bernardino Luini. The attribution to Verrocchio was first made by Giovanni Morelli in 1880, when the drawing was in the remarkable collection of Old Master drawings and prints formed by the Scottish laird John Malcolm of Poltalloch. Baron Malcolm's collection was sold by his son to the British Museum for £25,000 in 1895. An equally fine chalk drawing by Verrocchio at Oxford (Christ Church) shows the head of a woman in profile.   

New York. Metropolitan Museum.
Madonna and Standing Child. Canvas (transferred from panel), 66 x 48.
Closely related in composition to the paintings at Berlin (no. 108) and Frankfurt and to several marble and terracotta reliefs by Verrocchio and his studio. In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, the painting was often accepted as by Verrocchio himself. The execution is usually now ascribed to an unknown assistant in his studio, though there have also been attributions to Francesco Botticini. Acquired in Florence in the mid-nineteenth century by Walter Davenport Bromley (a pioneer collector of early Italian pictures, who lived at Ashbourne in Derbyshire). It was sold as by Francesco Pesellino in 1863 and 1894, but exhibited in 1895 as a work of Verrocchio at the Royal Academy. Sold in 1911 for 6,000 gns to Colnaghi, from whom it was acquired by the New York retailer Benjamin Altman, who bequeathed his vast collection to the Metropolitan Museum in 1913. The condition is uneven; the left side of the Virgin’s face is badly damaged, but the Child is well preserved.

Oxford. Christ Church.
Head of a Woman. 
Paper, 41 x 33.
Perhaps Verrocchio's most beautiful drawing. The young woman is shown almost in profile and looking down. Her elaborately dressed hair is described with a few rapid strokes of black chalk, while the curves of her forehead, cheek and throat are shaded in soft, rubbed chalk. The outlines (which have been reinforced with ink in places) have been pricked for transfer. The painting for which the drawing was a cartoon has not been identified; the closest connection is with the Madonna and Child in Berlin (no. 104A). One of almost two thousand drawings bequeathed by General John Guise to his old Oxford college in 1765. A famous metalpoint and ink drawing in the Uffizi depicts a girl's head in almost identical near-profile. It has sometimes been attributed to Verrocchio or to Lorenzo di Credi, but is now usually regarded as an early drawing by Leonardo, perhaps made in Verrocchio's workshop. 

Pistoia. Duomo. Cappella del Sacramento.
Virgin and Child with St John and St Donatus. Wood, 189 x 191.
Known as the ‘Madonna di Piazza’ after the oratory for which it was painted. Ascribed by Vasari to Lorenzo di Credi, it was Morelli who first attributed the design and part of the execution of the altarpiece to Verrocchio. Documentary support for this judgement was forthcoming in 1899, when a letter of 1485 was discovered stating that Verrocchio received the commission to paint the altarpiece as a legacy of Bishop Donato de’ Medici (d. 1474) for sixty gold florins. The commission had been given some years earlier, but the picture had been left unfinished as full payment had not been received. The extent of Verrocchio’s participation has been disputed. Some critics have considered the picture an essentially autograph painting, produced with the assistance of Credi or completed by him. Others think that, while Verrocchio must have been involved in the planning, the execution was by Credi alone. Since the picture was cleaned in 1992, the latter view seems to have become dominant. The Annunciation (formerly attributed to Leonardo and now given to Credi) in the Louvre and the St Donatus and the Tax Gatherer (by Credi) at Worcester, Massachusetts, are thought to have belonged to the predella.

Pistoia. San Domenico (little museum).
St Jerome and a Female Saint. Detached fresco, 441 x 235.
The right-hand fragment of a large fresco, which had the Madonna and Child in the centre and two other saints on the left. It was discovered behind whitewash in 1932, and attributed initially to Antonio Pollaiuolo. It has been subsequently attributed to Bartolommeo della Gatta, to Domenico Veneziano and to Verrocchio (by Bellosi in 1990). The head of the kneeling saint resembles the St Jerome in the Palazzo Pitti, which has also been attributed recently to Verrocchio, and also the head of the saint in the Crucifixion formerly at Argiano.

Urbino. Galleria Nazionale.
Virgin and Child. Linen, 88 x 61.
Very abraded and substantially cut down. The picture originally included a kneeling worshipper or donor, whose praying hands can be seen in the lower left-hand corner. Said to have come from the convent of Santa Chiara at Urbino, which was founded by Federico da Montefeltro’s daughter Elisabetta Feltria. Catalogued under Verrocchio’s School; listed by Berenson (1963) as by Ghirlandaio’s studio; and sometimes now considered an early work of Ghirlandaio himself.

Washington. National Gallery.
Madonna and Child with a Pomegranate (‘Dreyfus Madonna’). Wood, 16 x 13.
It is generally agreed that this charming tiny Madonna is a product of Verrocchio’s studio of the 1470s. It has sometimes been attributed to Verrocchio himself, sometimes to the young Lorenzo di Credi and sometimes to the young Leonardo da Vinci. Often known as the ‘Dreyfus Madonna’, after a previous owner Gustave Dreyfus of Paris, who had bought it in 1872. Sold by his heirs in 1930 to Duveen and acquired by Samuel H. Kress in 1951.


Table of Attributions

    Covi (2005)  Butterfield (2005)
Berlin: Madonna and Child (104A) Verrocchio Verrocchio (?)
  Madonna and Child (108) Workshop of Verrocchio (Ghirlandaio?) Workshop of Verrocchio (?)
Budapest: Madonna and Saints Biagio d’Antonio in Verrocchio’s workshop Biagio d’Antonio
Edinburgh: ‘Ruskin Madonna’ Ghirlandaio from Verrocchio’s designs Verrocchio or Ghirlandaio?
Florence:
(Uffizi)
Baptism Verrocchio and  Leonardo Verrocchio and  Leonardo
Florence:
(Pitti)
St Jerome Omitted Verrocchio?
Frankfurt: Madonna and Child Workshop of Verrocchio (Ghirlandaio?) Omitted
London:
(Nat. Gal.)
Madonna with Two Angels Workshop of Verrocchio (Ghirlandaio
or Credi?)
Verrocchio?
  Tobias and the Angel Verrocchio and assistant (Ghirlandaio?) Workshop of Verrocchio?
London:
(Courtauld)
Madonna and Child Umbrian follower of Verrocchio Omitted
New York: Madonna and Child Workshop of Verrocchio Workshop of Verrocchio
Urbino: Madonna and Child with Donor Circle of Verrocchio Omitted
Washington: 'Dreyfus Madonna' Circle of Verrocchio (Credi?)  Workshop of  Verrocchio (Leonardo?)

Sources: Dario A. Covi, Andrea del Verrocchio: Life and Work, Olschki Editore, 2005 and Andrew Butterfield, The Sculptures of Andrea del Verrocchio, Yale University Press, 2005.