Take a look at Leonardo da Vinci’s earliest portrait
On the anniversary of the Renaissance master’s birth, we highlight his incredible early skill in 30,000 Years of Art
From Mozart to Einstein, youthful brilliance is often regarded as a sign of future genius, and that was certainly the case for Leonardo da Vinci, who was born on this day, 15 April, in 1452.
Our revised and updated book, 30,000 Years of Art, reproduces the Italian Renaissance artist’s earliest known portrait, made when he was still an apprentice in the studio of the Florentine painter, sculptor and goldsmith, Andrea del Verrocchio.
“Although it is an early experiment in oils, dating between 1475 and 1480, the young Leonardo already demonstrates a startling mastery of the medium,” explains our book. “There is a striking naturalism in the handling of the curls and the delicate sfumato (using subtle shades of colour) of the flesh, which he softened further by pressing his fingers into the wet paint.
“The portrait of Ginevra de’ Benci, daughter of a rich Florentine banker, was commissioned by the poet and humanist Bernardo Bembo, the Venetian ambassador in Florence,” the entry in 30,000 Years of Art continues. “Ginevra poses against a juniper bush (ginepro in Italian), punning on her name and symbolizing chastity, in accordance with her modest dress and the motto ‘Beauty adorns Virtue’. The reverse of the panel bears a depiction of a sprig of juniper on porphyry with a wreath of bay leaves and a palm branch, Bembo’s personal device. The purity of the ambassador’s platonic friendship with the famed beauty, herself a poet, was celebrated in Medici court circles, where Neo-platonic ideals were in vogue.”
For more on both this work and its equals in the great sweep of art history, buy a copy of 30,000 Years of Art here.