Andrea del Verrocchio
Andrea del Verrocchio was a great artist and art teacher of the Early Renaissance. He was born around 1435, in Florence, Italy, and much of his personal history was pieced together by art historians. Basically stated, Verrocchio was an artist who was well trained as a goldsmith, and he was a genius with sculpture and painting. The fact that some of his students (Lorenzo di Credi, Pietro Perugino and Leonardo da Vinci), are famous artists, then and now, speaks well of his capabilities.
He rose from simple and poor beginnings. His father, Michele di Francesco Cioni, had been a brick and tile maker before taking on a job as a tax collector, and from childhood Verrocchio had also worked hard to support his family financially, and as an adult he never married. As a child he was apprenticed to a goldsmith, and some historians believe he may have trained as a painter with Fra Filippo Lippi. Most of his records come from the patronage he received from the ruling Medici family of Florence. Piero de’Medici was a fan of Verrocchio’s art work and his son, Lorenzo de’Medici, had been significantly impressed also.
Few paintings have been ever attributed to Verrocchio, although he had many students who assisted on some of the compositions. Madonna with Seated Child, which was painted in tempera on panel, Virgin and Child, also in tempera on panel, and a small panel painting of the story of Tobias and the Angel Raphael have been attributed to him. Another painting by Verrocchio is titled Baptism of Christ (1475), and it was painted with da Vinci’s assistance, particularly some of the background and an angel on the left. It is a famous work now, held in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.
Verrocchio’s fame was based largely on his talent with sculpture. He created several statues in Florence between the years of 1465 and 1480, ranging from religious statuary and monuments for crypts, to a large golden colored ball for the top of the Duomo (cathedral) in Florence. A list of some of his works are as follows: Christ and St Thomas; David; the Forteguerri monument; Putto with Dolphin; and a bust named Dama col Mazzolino.
As a sculptor he was at the top of his field, and his last work, although somewhat incomplete, is considered to be his masterpiece. The equestrian statue was actually a clause in the will of a famous captain general named Bartolomeo Colleoni, who died in 1475. In order for the State of Venice to collect Colleoni’s estate, they were to have statue of him on a horse made and displayed in the Piazzo San Marco. The State was happy to do so, but they would not allow the statue to be placed in the Piazzo, as no statuary was ever allowed there. Instead they chose a spot in Venice, where it still stands, at the Campo SS Giovanni e Paolo.
The interesting part of the story was that the commission was to be awarded to one of three chosen artists in 1479: Verrocchio, Alessandro Leopardi, and Bartolomeo Vellano. The wax model designed by Verrocchio surpassed the wood and clay models by his competitors, and Verrocchio moved to Venice and opened a new workshop with intention to complete the project. The powerful force and sense of mobility that the statue exudes is a triumph to Verrocchio’s mastery over the clay he molded. The efforts of this project took almost 8 years, which was probably just a few months too many. Verrocchio only needed to cast his clay model in bronze and lace it upon a pedestal, but his life was leaving him. Before he died in 1488, he requested in his will that his able assistant Lorenzo de Credi, who ran Verrocchio’s main workshop in Florence, be allowed to finish the task. After years of debate in the city council it was finally decided that Alessandro Leopardi would be called upon to cast the statue and finally place it upon a pedestal.