Home » Exhibitions » Display Review – Leonardo’s Legacy: Francesco Melzi and the Leonardeschi at the National Gallery from 23 May to 23 June 2019

Display Review – Leonardo’s Legacy: Francesco Melzi and the Leonardeschi at the National Gallery from 23 May to 23 June 2019

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

The National Gallery marks the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death with a display presenting the exceptional loan of the recently restored Flora (about 1520) by Francesco Melzi from the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

The painting is being displayed alongside ten other key works by the so-called ‘Leonardeschi’ from the National Gallery. The term ‘Leonardeschi’ has been used to identify artists centred in Milan who were taught by or associated with Leonardo, or whose work bears his influence.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

Francesco Melzi (1493–1570) was the favoured assistant and companion to Leonardo in his final years and was largely responsible for preserving Leonardo’s notebooks and drawings for posterity. The highlight of the display is a stunning painting by Melzi depicting Flora, the goddess of springtime and flowers.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

For many years it was assumed that the painting of ‘Flora’ was by Leonardo himself because of the female characteristics and the fine attention to detail in the depiction of the plants. The painting is symbolic in a number of ways with Flora’s exposed breast and how she inspects a sprig of aquilegia known as a symbol of fertility. On her lap she holds a spray of jasmine, signifying purity, beside anemones representing rebirth.

Few works by Melzi are known: only two works signed by him have survived (both in Milan), although he is known for his chalk portrait of Leonardo in the Royal Collection Trust.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

The display features works by Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio (about 1467–1516), Marco d’Oggiono (active from 1487–died 1524), Giampietrino (active about 1500–1550), Bernardino Luini (about 1480–1532), and Martino Piazza (active about 1513–1522), among others. Many these paintings show key elements of Leonardo’s work without the touch of the master, one particular Leonardo trait picked up by his follows was ‘sfumato’ in which true outlines of opaque bodies are never seen with sharp precision.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

Martino Piazza’s Saint John the Baptist in the Desert (1513-22), Follower of Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio’s Narcissus Probably about 1500, Marco d’Oggiono’s Portrait of a Man aged 20 (1494) and Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio’s The Virgin and Child probably about (1493-9) illustrate how some of his followers absorbed different characteristics of their master’s art.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

This small free fascinating display provides evidence that Leonardo da Vinci did not always work in isolation but had a number of followers who were willing to learn from the master. Melzi in particular played an important part in Leonardo’s latter life and deserves to be more recognised for his painting talents as well as earning plenty of gratitude for saving Leonardo’s notebooks and drawings.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

For more information and tickets, visit the National Gallery website here

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