When Botticelli painted Leonardo

Adoration of the Magi, 1481, Leonardo da Vinci, Louvre Museum, Paris

More on the stooped figure of Leonardo da Vinci…

The above illustration is part of a series of preparation drawings made by Leonardo da Vinci for his unfinished painting depicting the Adoration of the Magi. He started the work in 1481 but it was never completed before he left Florence and moved to Milan. It has recently been restored and is housed at the Uffizi in Florence.

It is this work that Botticeli has utilised for his version of the Adoration of the Magi, also kept at the Uffizi. While many art historians date Botticelli’s version before Leonardo’s, it is likely that Botticelli did not complete his painting until after his return from Rome in 1482 where he was commissioned with a group of other Florentine artsits to fresco the walls of the Sistine Chapel.

There are two figures from Leonardo’s sketch that Botticelli has adapted for his painting which connect to my previous post, the stooped man, and the man with his arm across his chest and hand resting on his shoulder. In the same post I pointed out that the stooped figure represnts Leonardo and connects to an early memory in his childhood.

Matching pairs from the Leonardo and Botticell versions of the Adoration of the Magi

In Leonardo’s unfinished painting, not the sketch, historians generally agree that the figure standing on the extreme right with his head turned is the artist himself. This figure is also replicated in the Botticelli version as the third standing figure from the left, wearing a red hat. Like many of the figures in Botticelli’s painting, it has two identities: the first was revealed in an earlier post as Bernardo Baroncelli, one of the assassins who took part in the Pazzi conspiracy and cleaved the head of Giuliano de’ Medici, hence his hat depicted as soaked in blood. His own head is also shown hanging from a rope above the figure and is a reference to Leonardo’ drawing of the hanging man..

Also mentioned in a previous post was the two groups either side of the painting are mirrored, and perhaps a pointer to Leonardo’s style of mirror-writing.

So when taking the faceless, stooped figure of Leonardo and his account about the fork-tailed red kite, and mirroring it to the standing Baroncelli, a second identity is revealed – Leonardo da Vinci. Confirmation is provided by features pointing to the kite story and the charge of sodomy with the young goldsmith apprentice.

Could this be the face of Leonardo da Vinci in his late twenties, and painted by his contemporary Sandro Botticelli, probably around 1482?

The brim of the hat is wing-shaped, the underside a lghter red than the crown, representing the light underside of the fork-tailed red kite. A small, white ‘tickling’ feather is attached to the hat-band, the band itself representing a child’s baubles strung across the crib. A bird’s head with a pronounced beak forms one of the hair curls extending into the brim. Below the collar is a fork-shaped fold.

The shoulder insignia is a gold leaf, a reference to Leonardo’s early training as an apprentice goldsmith and to the young goldsmith he was accused with of sodomy. There is gold braid on Leonardo’s shoulder, and the hem of his green gown (right) is threaded with a gold knot pattern, another of Leonardo’s devices.

Leonardo’s left hand grip of his gown at waist level is a sexual signal directed to and observed by the young man at his side who has his arms wrapped around Giuliano de’ Medici. He is likely to represent Jacopo Saltarelli, the apprentice goldsmith and a recorded prostitute in Florentine court records. The waist level signal is intended to match the underbelly feature seen in the stooping figure opposite.

You can follow this thread and earlier posts on Botticelli’s Uffizi Adoration of the Magi by clicking on the category link below, or at my website.

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