Leonardo seems to have spent the winter of 1507-8 in Florence engaged in the lawsuit with his brothers, and the British Museum MS. opens with the note, "begun in March 1508 in the house of Piero di Braccio Martelli". In the same house lived Gian Francesco Rustici, the sculptor, author of the famous group of the Baptist between a Pharisee and a Levite which stands over the north door of the Florentine Baptistry. "While Gian Francesco was at work on the clay model for this group", says Vasari, "he wished no one to come near him except Leonardo da Vinci who in making the moulds, preparing the armature and in short at every point, right up to the casting of the statues, never left him; hence some believe that Leonardo worked at them with his own hand, or at least helped Gian Francesco with advice and good judgment".
Vasari repeats this in his life of Leonardo. "In statuary he gave proofs of his skill in three figures of bronze which stand over the north door of the Baptistry executed by Gian Francesco Rustici, but contrived with the counsel of Leonardo." We can see at once that Vasari's statement is correct. In type and gesture the figures are profoundly Leonardesque. The Pharisee stands in the contemplative attitude of the old man in the Uffizi Adoration. The frowning, hairless Levite is very close to the Budapest studies of heads for the Battle of Anghiari. In both the drapery is so close to the draperies of the various St Annes that it was either executed by Leonardo or taken directly from his drawings, and the pose of St John is a variation of the angel in Leonardo's lost picture which used to belong to the Grand Duke Cosimo. The work of Rustici would therefore seem to be our best guide to Leonardo's sculpture at this period, and it is worth examining a group of small pieces in various materials which have been reasonably attributed to Rustici.
These represent struggles of mounted men, and are conceived with a passion and a close-knit complexity of movement which derive from the cartoon of Anghiari. I think it possible that Leonardo himself executed small wax figures of horses with which to build up the composition of his cartoon. Some such practice is suggested by a note beside one of his drawings "make a little one of wax about four inches long and this may be the explanation of a small bronze which has been widely accepted as being Leonardo's own work, the horse and rider in the Museum of Budapest.
The horse is very like some of those which appear in the studies for Anghiari, and reproduces almost exactly the pose and character of a horse on a sheet of studies at Windsor, no. 12,331. But although the Budapest bronze is so Leonardesque in movement, the surface modelling shows a lack of tension hardly conceivable in Leonardo's authentic work, and I am inclined to think that it is the work of a pupil who had before him one of Leonardo's smaller wax models. He has been able to reproduce the character of the original, but with a certain emptiness natural to an enlargement.
One of the few recorded pieces of Leonardo's sculpture is the lost terracotta head of the child Christ which was in the collection of Lomazzo. Of this I believe we have a relatively clear record in two red chalk drawings at Windsor. These are studies of a child's head and shoulders in a sculpturesque pose and in each Leonardo has cut off the body with a horizontal line drawn just below the breasts, a device wholly uncharacteristic of him unless he had in mind a piece of sculpture. No. 12,519 shows the head and shoulders in profile; the child's head is very like that of the infant Christ in the London Virgin of the Rocks, and the same drawing was evidently used for both. No. 12,567 shows the child's bust drawn from both back and front in exactly the same pose, further indication that these are studies for sculpture.
The handling of the chalk suggests a date about 1500, but the connection with the second version of the Virgin of the Rocks would make the drawings later. They suggest that the terracotta was modelled with that extreme morbidezza of surface which must have characterised Leonardo's sculpture. It is precisely the absence of sensitive surface modelling which prevents us from attributing to Leonardo's own hand the wax bust of Flora in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum. This insensitiveness is partly due to the restorations of a sculptor named Lucas, whose son afterwards claimed that his father had fabricated the whole piece. The claim was widely believed at the time, and made the pretext of malicious attacks on Dr Bode, but it cannot be substantiated. Nothing in Lucas's work suggests that he was capable of the noble movement of the Flora, and the evidence advanced of his authorship only proved that he had subjected the bust to a severe restoration.
The original texture is still visible in the breast, and presumably Lucas reduced the head to its present dull uniformity of surface. Bode was right in seeing this piece as a clear indication of Leonardo's later Sculpture, in which he gave plastic expression to the problems of form attempted in the Leda and the later St John. The solution of these problems, in the St John at least, loses something of its clarity through Leonardo's interest in the counter problem of chiaroscuro, and in the Flora, before her restoration, we should, perhaps, have been able to enjoy Leonardo's formal invention with less distraction than in his late painting. In her present condition, she is little more than another of those mutilated documents through which, alas, so much of Leonardo's art must be reconstructed.
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