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Benois Madonna
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Arty Fact

wbillingsley's picture

Contributor

Beyond being a painting by the famous Leonardo da Vinci, the Benois Madonna has a lot going for it.

For one, it is an incredibly treasured work. In 1912 the Russian people launched a drive to purchase the painting, and even though the British outbid them by nearly 350k francs, it was sold to the Russians anyway because of the people’s sheer love for the work. It currently resides in St. Petersburg, in more or less the same place it had been hanging for the past one hundred years. It leaves only briefly for tours and has returned to its home in Italy only once in that time. Additionally, it is one of the “newest” Da Vinci paintings to have been rediscovered, second to the Salvator Mundi, its formal debut being made in 1909. However none of this distracts from the fact that The Benois Madonna is freaking hideous.

I mean, just look at it. The virgin mary is a balding crackhead that simultaneously looks sixteen and sixty, and this fat baby Jesus has a head so big he looks like he has psychic powers. And it's not just me; there is a general consensus on how ugly this painting is. One critic describes the experience of looking upon it as simply, “hard.” You might think to argue that an image so off-putting might not actually be made by one of the greatest artists of the western world, but you would be wrong. For not only do critics widely (if reluctantly) agree that this was done by the hand of Leonardo, but the British also happen to have early sketches of the painting, further cementing its origin. This fact is doubly depressing, as it also means that this wretchedness was planned.

Critics try to excuse away the picture’s unsettling nature by claiming that it was produced during Leonardo’s Florentine period, or the early part of his career. However, its hard to let him off the hook, especially when you look at some of the other paintings he made during that period such as his portrait of Ginevra de' Benci, and his other depictions of the Madonna such as Virgin of the Rocks. I guess they can't all be winners. 

Sources

Sources

  1. Colvin, Sidney. "A Note on the Bénois Madonna of Leonardo Da Vinci." The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 20, no. 106 (1912): 230-33. http://www.jstor.org/stable/858892.
  2. Kemp, Martin “Art history: Sight and salvation” Nature: International Journal of Science 11/09/11 https://www.nature.com/articles/479174a
  3. Web Contributor “Benois Madonna - by Leonardo da Vinci” leonardodavinci.net viewed on 10/03/19 https://www.leonardodavinci.net/benois-madonna.jsp
  4. Web Contributor “Leonardo Da Vinci's Benois Madonna to make rare return to Italy” The Local, 05/13/19 https://www.thelocal.it/20190513/leonardo-da-vinci-benois-madonna-rare-r...
  5. Web Contributor “The Acquisition of Leonardo da Vinci’s "Madonna and Child" (the "Benois Madonna")” The State Hermitage Museum, viewed on 10/03/2019 https://www.hermitagemuseum.org/wps/portal/hermitage/explore/history/his...

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Benois Madonna

Madonna and Child with Flowers, otherwise known as the Benois Madonna, could be one of two Madonnas Leonardo da Vinci had commented on having started in October 1478. The other one could be Madonna of the Carnation from Munich.

It is likely that the Benois Madonna was the first work painted by Leonardo independently from his master Verrocchio. There are two of Leonardo's preliminary sketches for this piece in the British Museum, although the painting was probably overpainted by other hands. The preliminary sketches and the painting itself suggest that Leonardo was concentrating on the idea of sight. The child is thought to be guiding his mother's hands into his central vision.

The composition of Madonna and Child with Flowers proved to be one of Leonardo's most popular. It was extensively copied by young painters, including Raphael, whose own version of Leonardo's design (the Madonna of the Pinks) was acquired in 2004 by the National Gallery, London.

For centuries, Madonna and Child with Flowers was considered lost. In 1909, the architect Leon Benois sensationally exhibited it in Saint Petersburg as part of his father-in-law's collection. The painting had been apparently brought from Italy to Russia by the notable connoisseur Aleksey Korsakov in the 1790s. Upon Korsakov's death, it was sold by his son to the Astrakhan merchant Sapozhnikov for 1400 roubles and so passed by inheritance to the Benois family in 1880. After many a squabble regarding attribution, Leon Benois sold the painting to the Imperial Hermitage Museum in 1914. The purchase was made by Ernst Friedrich von Liphart who was the curator of paintings and had correctly identified the artist. (Ernst's father Karl was an expert on Leonardo.)

Since 1914 the painting has been exhibited in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.


Check out the full Wikipedia article about Benois Madonna.