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associate of Leonardo da Vinci, possibly Francesco Napoletano, 'An Angel in Green with a Vielle', about 1490-9

Key facts
Full title An Angel in Green with a Vielle
Artist associate of Leonardo da Vinci, possibly Francesco Napoletano
Artist dates 1452 - 1519; died 1501
Series Panels from the S. Francesco Altarpiece, Milan
Date made about 1490-9
Medium and support Oil on poplar
Dimensions 117.2 × 60.8 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1898
Inventory number NG1661
Location Gallery B
Collection Main Collection
An Angel in Green with a Vielle
associate of Leonardo da Vinci, possibly Francesco Napoletano

This angel was part of an elaborate painted and sculpted altarpiece made for the church for San Francesco Grande in Milan. The main image of the altarpiece was Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘The Virgin of the Rocks’, also in the National Gallery’s collection.

This angel – playing a vielle, a type of fiddle – and its pair would have surrounded a sculpture of the Virgin Mary which stood above Leonardo’s image. We cannot be sure who painted it; it might be an artist called Francesco Napoletano, an admirer of Leonardo’s painting style who stepped in after the death of the artist from whom it was commissioned.

Here he imitates Leonardo’s dramatic use of light and shadow and blurred contours, particularly in the angel’s face, creating the effect of soft, delicate features. The angel is absorbed in music, and the overall mood is subdued, like that of Leonardo’s painting.

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Panels from the S. Francesco Altarpiece, Milan


These three panels all came from an elaborate, and partly sculpted, altarpiece that was made for the church of San Francesco Grande, Milan. By the time that Leonardo and his associates were commissioned to provide paintings in 1483, the sculptor Giacomo del Maiano had already finished the sculptures.

The altarpiece stood in a chapel devoted to the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary that belonged to a confraternity (religious group) devoted to the Immaculate Conception. The two angels playing musical instruments probably stood on either side of a large sculpture of the Virgin. Leonardo’s painting, which was probably supposed to represent the Immaculate Conception, was placed directly beneath the sculpture.

The National Gallery’s painting is Leonardo’s second version of the picture. It was probably made to replace one (now in the Louvre, Paris) that Leonardo sold because the confraternity refused to pay him adequately for it.