500 years ago Leonardo died in France. In 1452 he was born to a peasant girl in the village of Vinci not far from Florence. His father, a Florentine lawyer, had no legitimate male heir, so decided to adopt him. He probably always felt he was an outsider, so it would have been hard for him to train in a workshop, a messy and noisy environment. Harder too for him to accept that in the 1470s the only way to become a painter was to join a guild of craftsmen. This was hardly the environment of choice for an intellectual young man, but it was the only way to learn to be a painter. The most renowned workshop in Florence was Verrocchio’s.
The master, Verrocchio, has been rather ignored until this year. He was a first a good sculptor, but a 15th-century Florentine workshop had to provide small scale works as well as vast frescoes. This was hardly the most conducive environment for Leonardo da Vinci. It has been said that he could paint, an assistant dealing with the messy business of mixing paints, while he wore fine garments and listened to music. Nothing could have been further from the way painters worked in the clutter of Verrocchio’s huge workshop at the commercial centre of Florence
At last Verrocchio’s role at the heart of the famous 15th-century Florentine renaissance is recognised. His two-third lifesize bronze statue of young David contemplating the head of Goliath in the amazement and awe of victory is a masterpiece that is often ignored because of Michelangelo’s famous huge marble sculpture of David. His was the workshop that forged some of the greatest artists the world has ever known.
Image copyright Rufus46 – Opera propria, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35354221