Madonna of the Yarnwinder

By Museo Soumaya.Fundación Carlos Slim

La Virgen del Huso (1510/1540) by Seguidor de Leonardo da VinciMuseo Soumaya.Fundación Carlos Slim

The original of this work by Da Vinci, of which there are many different versions, may have been lost, but a preliminary drawing of the Virgin Mary's face by the same artist is kept in Windsor, in the UK. This panel was painted for Florimond Robertet, a secretary to Louis XII of France. It is a great legacy of Da Vinci's workshop, and is now kept in the Soumaya Museum's Old Masters of Europe gallery.

Another panel painting, "Madonna of the Yarnwinder," currently in the Carlos Slim Foundation's art gallery, comes from the Alfred Ernout collection in Paris. The expert Roberto Longhi, who had the opportunity to study the work, said, in 1966: "Apart from the exaggerated size of the child, I believe the quality of this work is superior to existing versions of this Leonardesque subject." With regard to the landscape—which is of Flemish influence—the scholar wrote: "It may have been the work of Cesare Bernazano," a Milanese painter from the first half of the 1500s. Given its resemblance to Cesare da Sesto's Madonna, now in the Poldi Pezzoli Museum in Milan, Professor Martin Kemp suggested that this piece could be attributed to the Lombard painter.

With a posture that was unprecedented for its time, the twisting of the Baby Jesus's body reveals a profound knowledge of the body. Furthermore, the gaze of the Virgin Mary demonstrates an analysis of the human spirit.

Mary's right hand has been seen from two perspectives. The first sees it as protective, as she tries with her left arm to keep the child away from the spindle, which takes on a new significance as a symbol of the cross. In the other interpretation, she expresses calm and loving submission to the divine plan.

Jesus's gaze is deeply evocative. Leonardo achieves this emotional intensity through his astute observation of human emotions.

With its powerful symbolic meaning, the spindle becomes central to the piece in a way never seen before. This old-fashioned spinning instrument also refers to the routine of daily life, and symbolizes patience and experience. But in the shape of a cross, it transcends its worldly significance.

The change from one tone to another in the Virgin's face is so gradual that it is impossible to see exactly where each form ends. This creates greater symbiosis between the figures and their environment. This is the lesson that Da Vinci passed down through the history of art.

The contrast between light and shadow achieves an effect of volume and plasticity. Da Vinci was a pioneer in this area thanks to his use of sfumato, which involved blurring edges to create the effect of greater depth.

In nature, the air is not totally transparent. Instead, an atmospheric phenomenon gives it an indigo color. The gradual blurring of images in the distance is the result of moisture in the lower layers of the atmosphere, causing the change in color that Da Vinci reflected in his paintings.

The Soumaya Museum's "Madonna of the Yarnwinder" was analyzed in the Carlos Slim Foundation's Conservation Laboratory, which uncovered a few brush strokes beneath the oil painting.

The scientific studies used ultraviolet light to reveal that the piece had been worked on at various points, particularly in the child's pelvic region. A photograph taken before the work arrived at Soumaya shows the presence of a subtle material that was later removed, as it did not coincide with the original design.

Infrared False-Color (IRFC) image analysis makes it possible to examine some of the pigments used to create the work. In the Virgin's cloak, it detected natural ultramarine blue, a very expensive pigment for the time, revealing the importance of a commission for a panel like this.

The scientific results from the Madonna's clothing showed the use of kermes red, a luxurious animal colorant originating in Europe that was fashionable during the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

Credits: Story

Based on a text by Francesca Conti in the monthly magazine: "A 500 Años de Da Vinci" (500 Years After Da Vinci), June 2019. Soumaya Museum, Carlos Slim Foundation.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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