Preparatory study for the background of the Adoration of the Magi

Preparatory study for the background of the Adoration of the Magi 1481

This meticulous perspective study relates to the architectural structure seen in the background of the Adoration of the Magi altarpiece, which Leonardo left unfinished before leaving for Milan sometime in 1481 or 1482.

The drawing develops the idea for an architectural structure as sketched in an early compositional drawing now in the Louvre. However, in this careful and complex drawing, Leonardo works towards achieving an asymmetrical balance that prevents the eye from focusing on a central vanishing point, by placing the point at which the orthogonals converge to the right of the centre.

The perspective construction of the tiled floor is amongst the most rigorous of all Renaissance demonstrations of the method proposed by Leon Battista Alberti for single point perspective construction in his treatise On Painting, which appeared in Florence in 1535. Despite the laborious nature of this study, it did not represent the definitive solution for Leonardo. A comparison with the background of the Adoration painting shows that not only were details altered, but the relative proportions of major elements were also substantially adjusted in the final solution.

  • Medium Pen and ink over metalpointwith brown wash and traces of white heightening
  • Size 16.3 x 29 cm
  • Location Gabinetto dei Disegni e delle Stampe degli Uffizi

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