Paintings from the workshop of Verrocchio have been variously attributed to his famous pupils. In addition to Leonardo, these artists included Pietro Perugino and, in all probability, Sandro Botticelli.
However, restorer Jill Dunkerton and curator Luke Syson have identified two works which show significant evidence of his hand alone.
The two paintings are works on the same theme, showing the Virgin and Child with two angels.
The earlier of the two works used to be listed simply as Florentine School. It is only after cleaning that Jill Dunkerton and Luke Syson realised who painted this work.
In spite of awkward parts of the composition, it became clear – after the removal of the dirty and degraded varnish – that this was an early work, painted by Verrocchio in around 1467–69.
The later Virgin and Child with Two Angels (about 1475) had previously been labelled as merely ‘Workshop of Verrocchio’. After restoration the painting could be seen in its full glory. The angel on the left and the Virgin’s head are entirely consistent with Verrocchio’s most beautiful drawings.
However the painting does show a significant contribution from an assistant (probably Lorenzo di Credi) as curator Luke Syson explains:
‘We need only compare the extraordinary three-dimensionality and anatomical precision of the raised hand of the angel on the left – exactly of the quality one would expect from this marvellous sculptor and draughtsman – with the slightly boneless, shinier hand of the angel on the right to see that Verrocchio had help.’
This new attribution was also made possible through the painstaking work of Jill Dunkerton who was forced to deal with the problematic work of earlier 18th-century restorers:
‘The oldest restoration was very hard to remove and I had to work on tiny areas using a microscope for weeks on end. It was also quite a challenge to retouch the damaged areas of a painting with such an exquisite technique, especially the Virgin’s head and the beautiful angel on the left.’
Both pictures now hang in Room 57 of the Sainsbury Wing and Verrocchio the painter is revealed as very much more than just Leonardo’s master.