Madonna Litta.
Leonardo's Virgin and Child.

The Madonna Litta is named after a noble Milanese family who owned the painting for centuries. Although it is accepted that the work is by Leonardo, some aspects of the painting have led various experts to speculate that it could be a collaboration between Leonardo and one of his pupils or even a product of his workshop. Certainly, the landscape in the background is not the standard model so recognisable in Da Vinci's, Madonna of the rocks, Mona Lisa, and St Jerome. However, Leonardo's stunning sketches of infants provide evidence of the master's hand in at least some parts of the work.

The harsh outlines of the Madonna and Child are often cited as evidence that the painting is a product of the workshop rather than by the hand of Leonardo. However, the medium used was Tempera, which was not as suited to the subtle sfumato effects achieved by Leonardo when he was working in oils. My own feeling is that the Madonna Litta was worked on by Leonardo's gifted pupil, Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio with the delicate final changes applied by the master himself. 

The Madonna Litta by Leonardo da VinciThe Madonna Litta. 1491-1495, 42x33 cm.Tempera on wood transferred to canvas. The State Hermitage, St Petersburg. (w)

The face of Mary is the most convincing part of this painting, it is beautifully executed with the Virgin's head tilted in a down proudly gazing at her feeding child. The Christ Child stares back at the viewer in what is quite an uncomfortable pose as he clings to his mother.  

Louvre, Paris. silverpoint on paper, 18x16.8cm. (s)

This superb sketch of a lady's head is clearly a study for the Madonna Litta.

Studies of a Baby. 1490. Red chalk on paper. (s)

This fine study by Leonardo could have been used a preliminary drawing for the Madonna Litta. The position of the raised leg is remarkably like the infants in the painting.

British Museum in London. (s)
British Museum in London. (s)

These two versions of The Madonna and Child with a Cat highlight the speed and freedom of Leonardo's quick sketches. They are an example of the many changing positions of the figures within these drawings.

Study of a Child's Head. Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio. 1490-1491. Metalpoint on paper.


This image is close to the finished head of the Christ Child in the Madonna Litta. Attribution to a single artist is difficult when presented with these sketches and strengthens the possibility of a collaboration between the two painters.

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