Madonna Litta

Madonna Litta c1481-97

The attribution of this painting to Leonardo remains controversial. It is now generally agreed that while it may have been based on designs by Leonardo, it was probably brought to completion by Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, who was a pupil of Leonardo’s in the master’s Milanese workshop under the master’s supervision.

This small painting of the Madonna and Child was a popular image type in Italy during the 15th century and was probably intended for private devotion. The overall design with the Madonna and Child situated within a dark interior with windows providing a view of a distant mountain landscape behind is typical of earlier paintings by Leonardo, such as the Madonna and Child with a Carnation and the so-called Benois Madonna.

However, the harsh outlines of the forms and the rather formulaic landscape that lacks atmosphere indicate that the painting is not the work of Leonardo himself, but that of his assistant Boltraffio, who employed a figural type similar to that of the Christchild in other paintings.

The study of a Woman’s head almost in profile, a drawing in silverpoint on greenish prepared paper by Leonardo, probably based on a life model, seems to have been used for the modelling of the Virgin’s head, implying that Leonardo was at least involved in the initial design of the painting.

  • Medium Oil on canvas (transferred from panel in 1865)
  • Size 42 x 33 cm
  • Location The State Hermitage Museum

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