Andrea del Verrocchio

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Andrea del Verrocchio

The Italian sculptor and painter Andrea del Verrocchio (1435-1488) created some of the most powerful monumental bronze sculptures of the Renaissance.

Andrea del Verrocchio was born in Florence, the son of a brick and tile maker. Nothing is known about his early training. In 1465 the magistrates of the merchants' guild of Florence commissioned him to execute a bronze Doubting of Thomas to occupy a marble niche earlier executed by Donatello and Michelozzo for the principal facade of Orsanmichele in Florence. When the group was finally placed in its niche in 1483, the diarist L. Landucci called the head of Christ "the most beautiful head of the Saviour that has yet been made." The Doubting of Thomas is one of the most important sculpture groups of the entire Renaissance. It is a dramatic masterpiece of spatial arrangement between two high-relief, life-size figures (the statues are actually hollow shells of bronze, without backs) and an exquisitely ornamented Renaissance niche.

The Medici family commissioned a number of works from Verrocchio. In 1467 Cosimo de' Medici was buried in a tomb that had been commissioned from Verrocchio two years earlier. In 1471 he completed the tomb for Giovanni and Piero de' Medici in the old sacristy of the family church of S. Lorenzo in Florence. The rich marble, porphyry, and bronze sarcophagus is framed by a marble arch and backed by a bronze grille in the form of interlaced ropes; it is one of the most original creations of the period. An early masterpiece in bronze, David, a pensive, boyish figure in leather jerkin and skirt, triumphant over Goliath, was commissioned by Lorenzo de' Medici for his villa at Careggi. He sold the David to the Signory of Florence in 1476. Other Medici commissions completed by Verrocchio are listed in an inventory of 1496, including a bust of Giuliano in terra-cotta.

Verrocchio's most notable painting is the Baptism of Christ. During the execution of the painting, about 1470, Verrocchio allowed his young pupil Leonardo da Vinci to paint the head of the first of two angels who kneel at the left and also the spectacular landscape vista above the angel's head. Four other extant paintings are attributed to Verrocchio.

In 1473 Verrocchio estimated the value of a pulpit by Mino da Fiesole and Antonio Rossellino in the Prato Cathedral. In 1477 Verrocchio competed with Piero Pollaiuolo for the monument of Cardinal Niccolò Forteguerri in Pistoia. Although Pollaiuolo's design was accepted, Lorenzo de' Medici ordered the one by Verrocchio executed. In the same year he presented two models for reliefs for the altar of S. Giovanni in the Baptistery of Florence; one, the Beheading of John the Baptist, was accepted and finished in 1480.

Among Verrocchio's marble works is the Bust of a Young Woman, often identified, without proof, as the mistress of Lorenzo de' Medici, Lucrezia Donati. She is clad in a translucent garment and has broad eyebrows and large, beautifully graceful hands. His conception represents the new spirit of naturalism which arose in the 1480s in Florentine sculpture and painting.

Verrocchio's final work is also his grandest: the bronze equestrian monument of Bartolommeo Colleoni in Campo SS. Giovanni e Paolo, Venice. Colleoni, a condottiere, died in 1475 and left money to the Venetian Republic for the execution of the statue. The commission was awarded in 1479, and the model was executed in Florence; it was sent to Venice two years later. Verrocchio moved to Venice in 1483 and died there five years later before he could cast his clay model in bronze. The casting was begun in 1490 by Alessandro Leopardi, who also designed the base on which the monument was finally set in 1496. Verrocchio abandoned Donatello's static concept of the equestrian monument and presented Colleoni, armed and helmeted, riding his charger into battle. Rarely has a sculptor so effectively depicted the expression of power in a dramatic moment.

Further Reading

The best monograph on Verrocchio in English, with a clear text and splendid photographic details of all the works, is Gunther Passavant, Verrocchio: Sculptures, Paintings and Drawings (1969). A succinct and lucid introduction to the master's sculpture is Charles Seymour, Jr., The Sculpture of Verrocchio (1972). □

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Verrocchio, Andrea del (14351488)

Sculptor, goldsmith, and painter renowned for his monumental works in bronze. He was born as Andrea di Michele di Francesco di Cioni in Florence and was the son of a brick maker. Historians know very few details of his youth or his apprenticeship as an artist. He joined the workshop of Giulio Verrocchi, whose name he took as his own; he may also have studied with Fra Filippo Lippi. Verrocchio was commissioned in 1465 by the traders guild of Florence to create a work for the church of Orsanmichele. The result was his Christ and St. Thomas (also known as the Doubting of Thomas ), which was finally completed in 1483 and which immediately drew the admiration for its dramatic arrangement and ingenious use of a confined space.

Verrocchio enjoyed a high reputation in Florence and drew many skilled young painters to his workshop, including Perugino, Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, and Leonardo da Vinci. As a painter, Verrocchio is best known for his Baptism of Christ, in which he was assisted by his young apprentice Leonardo da Vinci, who completed a dramatic natural backdrop and the head of an angel. Verrocchio also completed an altarpiece for the cathedral of Pistoia, a Crucifixion with Saints, Madonna with Child (the only painting that he signed), and Tobias and the Angel.

He won several important commissions from the Medici rulers of Florence, including funerary monuments to Cosimo de' Medici and monuments to Giovanni, and Piero de' Medici that were placed in the sacristy of the church of San Lorenzo. For the Villa Medici at Careggi, Verrocchio created a sculpture of David, showing the young man just after his victory over Goliath. This work was later sold to the Signoria of Florence and displayed in the main square of Venice for several centuries. Verrocchio also was a skilled sculptor in marble, in which he completed a celebrated Bust of a Young Woman. His grandest work was the design for an equestrian monument of the mercenary Bartolommeo Colleoni. This work is known for its dynamic motion, in which the horse raises one of its legs, boldly preparing for a charge into battle. The statue was cast after Verrocchio's death and still rises in the Campo San Giovanni e Paolo in Venice.

See Also: Botticelli, Sandro; Leonardo da Vinci; sculpture

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Andrea del Verrocchio (ändrĕ´ä dĕl vār-rôk´kyō), 1435–88, Florentine sculptor and painter, whose real name was Andrea di Michele di Francesco di Cioni. He was a leading figure in the early Renaissance, and his workshop was a center for the training of young artists in Florence. A virtuoso metalworker, Verrocchio was primarily concerned with the spirited rendering of movement and the elaboration of detail. Many of his paintings are lost. Of the remaining panels, his hand is evident in the Baptism of Christ (Uffizi), assisted by Leonardo da Vinci. In the Pistoia altarpiece he was aided by Lorenzo di Credi. Other attributions are Tobias and the Angel (National Gall., London), two paintings of the Madonna and Child (National Gall., London; Berlin), and a Crucifixion with Saints (Argiano). Most of Verrocchio's achievements in sculpture have survived. His earlier work includes the bold group Incredulity of St. Thomas (Orsanmichele). In 1472 he designed the tombs of Piero and Giovanni de' Medici (San Lorenzo). In the same period he created the graceful Boy with a Dolphin and a lithe portrayal of David (Bargello). He went to Venice (c.1480) to work on the equestrian monument of the condottiere Bartolomeo Colleoni. Verrocchio designed a massive figure of the commander, which was not cast until after the sculptor's death. Examples of his bronze work are in the Metropolitan Museum, and there are two portrait busts of Giuliano and Lorenzo de' Medici in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

See his complete sculptures, paintings, and drawings, ed. by G. Passavant (1969).