Leonardo da Vinci “Madonna and Child” (Madonna Litta), 1490 – 1491g, canvas, tempera. 42×33 cm, The State Hermitage, St. Petersburg
The painting is executed, obviously, in Milan, where the artist moved in 1482. It belongs to the number of works, the appearance of which marked a new stage in Renaissance art – the approval of the style of the High Renaissance. A beautiful woman, nursing a baby, is the embodiment of maternal love as the greatest human value.
The composition of the picture is laconic and balanced. The figures of Mary and the baby Christ are modeled in the finest chiaroscuro. In the apertures of symmetrical windows, a boundless mountain landscape opens, recalling the harmony and grandeur of the universe. The very figure of the Madonna is as if illuminated by light coming from somewhere in front. The woman looks at the child gently and thoughtfully. The face of the Madonna is depicted in profile, there is no smile on her lips, only
her corners are hidden in the corners.
The child absentmindedly looks at the viewer, holding his mother’s breast with his right hand. In the left hand the child holds a slit.
The bright imagery of the work reveals itself in small details, which tell us a lot about the mother and child. We see the child and mother in the dramatic moment of weaning. A woman has a red shirt with a narrow neck. Special cuts are made in it, through which it is convenient, without removing the dress, to breast feed the baby. Both sections were carefully sewn (that is, a decision was made to wean the baby from the breast). But the right cut was hastily torn – the top stitches and a piece of thread are clearly visible. The mother, at the insistence of the child, changed her mind and postponed this difficult moment.
The picture came in 1865 from the Milan meeting of Duke Antonio Litta, whose name is associated with its name.
The preparatory drawing for the hermitage canvas is kept in the Louvre.
Before entering the Hermitage in 1865, “Madonna Litta” was in the family collection of the Duke
of Antoine Litta in Milan, hence the name of it. The preservation of the picture was so bad that she had to be immediately shifted from the tree to the canvas. This unique technology that saved the canvas was invented by the Hermitage carpenter Sidorov, for which he received a silver medal.
Around of one of the most beautiful picturesque images of Our Lady with the Child are not quiescent. Leonardo’s authorship is questioned, and although there are sketches for the painting in his papers, some consider it the fruit of the work of the maestro’s pupils (at least with regard to clothing and interior, yet there are few people who would deny that the face of the Mother of God belongs to the brush of Leonardo ). The date of its creation is also unknown. Although the picture is usually attributed to the Milanese period of life, Da Vinci, but there are later datings, by the time when Leonardo lived in Rome – on this account have their own hypotheses. One of them is worth telling.
Not so long ago, more precisely, in the nineties of the last century, Russian scientist and church archaeologist OG Ulyanov studied frescoes in the catacombs of Saint Priscilla in Rome. This place is known from ancient sources as the “Mistress of the Catacombs”, because there are buried the first seven Roman popes, including the martyr priest Papa Marcellinus and his successor Papa Marcellus. According to the latest archaeological data, it dates back to the 2nd century AD.
Among the catacomb frescoes there is an image of the Virgin Mary with the Child, which, apparently, is the oldest image of Our Lady in world painting. Russian scientist was struck by her coincidence with the composition “Madonna Litta.” Like Leonardo, a feeding Baby looks around and looks at the viewer.
Catacombs, accidentally discovered at the end of the 15th century, became a favorite place for walks of artists and thinkers who lived in Rome. Leonardo came to the Eternal City in 1513 and lived there for three years. Of course, he, interested in everything, especially all unusual, could not help but descend into the catacombs, where he saw an ancient fresco that impressed him so much that he repeated it in his painting. That is, the creation of the “Litta Madonna” should be attributed to the time between 1513 and 1517 years. However, in this hypothesis, it is not the new dating that is interesting, but the very possibility of that spiritual impulse that was transferred from an unknown painter of the 2nd century to the genius of the Renaissance.