Leonardo’s workshop found in Florence

Posted by jerry on January 29th, 2005 — Posted in History, Journal, Travel

Claims that one of Leonardo da Vinci’s workshops may have been found at the Santissima Annunziata Monastery in Florence are certainly intriguing. The claims seem based on three things: firstly, that many artists lived and worked at the monastery at the time Leonardo was in Florence; secondly, there are frescoes on the wall in a style not unlike Leonardo’s, including what appear to sketches for Leonardo’s Angel Gabriel; and thirdly, a so-called ‘secret room’ off one corner of the main room would have offered a plausibly discrete area for Leonardo to conduct his anatomical research – an area he could close off from prying eyes.

Art historians hope that the collection of five rooms – likely a combined residence and workshop – in a building just off the Piazza of the Santissima Annunziatain in central Florence, may shed some more light on the life of the Renaissance artist. And even if it is not the studio of Leonardo, the rooms may at least shed some light on what is was like to live in Florence as an artist in the 16th century.

The Italian institute of military geography – now a part owner and occupier of the building – may also be partly responsible for the discovery. Think about it – if you put together a collection of bright young visually literate people in a room to study (a group of people taught to analyse and question every aspect of their surroundings) and there are a bunch of old faded frescoes on the wall, sooner or later someone would surely wonder about the origin of the frescoes – especially if there are striking resemblances to the style of of one of Florence’s most famous artists.

But why would they remain undiscovered for so long? Surely those at the monastery would have some idea or at least curiosity about the frescoes? My guess is that there were more prosaic factors at work. It was and I believe still is a working monastery. It is an old building, and the thing about old buildings is that over time their functions change, requiring modifications to the building – new walls, relocation of doors and so on. Now suppose you suspected that there might be something historically special about the frescoes – can you imagine how quickly an historical preservation order would be slapped on the place? Wham! suddenly you can’t just knock a new doorway in or build a partition wall unless it was in keeping with the sixteenth century structure. Suddenly you can’t just lease out a couple of rooms to a local teaching institution – the security risk would be too great – as would the insurance costs! Best to keep it a little-known rumour within a small religious community, and perhaps occasionally sneak in to admire the brush work 🙂

Who knows what the truth may be – perhaps it was an artist who had studied under a student of Leonardo or just someone who admired that style. For now there is no proof that it is one of Leonardo’s studios, but there is certainly an exciting forensic art history assignment for some lucky group of researchers!


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