Leonardo restoration sheds light on genius as a young man
By Philip Pullella
FLORENCE Italy (Reuters) - If there is any mind an art restorer would die to get into, it would be that of Leonardo da Vinci, the master painter, architect, engineer and inventor whose genius epitomized the brilliance of the Renaissance.
That was the unique opportunity restorers in Florence have relished as they clean the "Adoration of the Magi", a massive painting that Leonardo started in 1481 at the age of 29 but abandoned a year later, leaving it in various stages of conception and development.
The painting on wood, measuring about 2.5 by 2.5 meters (8.2 by 8.2 feet) depicts the three wise men who paid tribute to the infant Jesus in Bethlehem, but it also includes a riot of human figures, battling horses, architectural designs, landscapes and skies.
Done on 10 slabs of wood glued together, it has blank areas, areas with under-drawings, and sections in advanced stages.
"This is perhaps the most quintessential work-in-progress in the history of art," said Cecilia Frosinini, one of the directors of the ongoing restoration of the work, which is slated to return to Florence's Uffizi Gallery next year.
"Leonardo never wanted this to be seen by anyone at this stage, probably not even by those who commissioned it, probably not even his assistants. This is the phase in which he was still elaborating in his mind what the final work would look like," she said, standing in front of the piece.
Leonardo received the commission to paint an altar piece depicting the Adoration from the monks of the monastery of San Donato a Scopeto, near Florence. He stopped abruptly when he left to take up an offer of steady income from the Dukes of Milan.
In the late 1500s it was acquired by Florence's Medici family, whose restorers added layers of both clear and sepia-colored varnish to give it a homogenous, monochrome look when they put it in their collection. Continued...