Leonardo’s painting of the Madonna and Child known as the
Benois Madonna is one of the artist’s early works. At this stage in his
development Leonardo was still influenced by the teachings and examples of his
master Verrocchio. However this particular painting does display a shift away
from the rather stiff stylised offerings we have come to expect from the mix of
collaborations emanating from Verrocchio’s workshop.
The painting takes it's name from Leon Benois the artist who owned the work until 1914. The picture has been copied by several artists and also served as an inspiration for Raphael who used the figure of the Virgin for one of his own paintings.
The movement and relationship between the figures of the
Virgin and Child shown here reflects the freedoms that Leonardo was displaying in his
sketches of the time, such as his Madonna and Child with Cat drawings. These
could easily be early studies for this painting.
Leonardo has given his figures a solidity unified
by a single light source that pulls the subjects away from the darkness of the
background. The Madonna's right
leg leads us into the painting. With the Christ Child seated firmly on his
mother’s knee, the work has a dynamism that Leonardo used in many of his later
pictures. His, "The Virgin and Child with St Anne", painted some
thirty years later, displays many of the same characteristics, the right leg is
very similar to the one painted here.