The Benois Madonna

The Benois Madonna

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Madonna and Child with Flowers, otherwise known as the Benois Madonna, could be one of two Madonnas started by Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci was an Italian Renaissance polymath: painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist and writer whose genius, perhaps more than that of any other figure, epitomized the Renaissance...

, as he remarked himself, in October 1478. The other one could be Madonna with the Carnation from Munich
Munich
Munich The city's motto is "" . Before 2006, it was "Weltstadt mit Herz" . Its native name, , is derived from the Old High German Munichen, meaning "by the monks' place". The city's name derives from the monks of the Benedictine order who founded the city; hence the monk depicted on the city's coat...

.

It is likely that the Benois Madonna was the first work painted by Leonardo independently from his master Verrocchio. There are two of Leonardo's preliminary sketches for this piece in the British Museum
British Museum
The British Museum is a museum of human history and culture in London. Its collections, which number more than seven million objects, are amongst the largest and most comprehensive in the world and originate from all continents, illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its...

 .

The composition of Madonna and Child with Flowers proved to be one of Leonardo's most popular. It was extensively copied by young painters, including Raphael
Raphael
Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino , better known simply as Raphael, was an Italian painter and architect of the High Renaissance. His work is admired for its clarity of form and ease of composition and for its visual achievement of the Neoplatonic ideal of human grandeur...

, whose own version of Leonardo's design (the Madonna of the Pinks
Madonna of the Pinks
The Madonna of the Pinks is an early devotional painting usually attributed to Italian Renaissance master Raphael. It is painted in oils on fruitwood and now hangs in the National Gallery, London....

) was acquired in 2004 by the National Gallery, London
National Gallery, London
The National Gallery is an art museum on Trafalgar Square, London, United Kingdom. Founded in 1824, it houses a collection of over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th century to 1900. The gallery is an exempt charity, and a non-departmental public body of the Department for Culture, Media...

.

For centuries, Madonna and Child with Flowers was considered lost. In 1909, the architect Leon Benois
Leon Benois
Leon Benois was a Russian architect. He was the son of architect Nicholas Benois, the brother of artists Alexandre Benois and Albert Benois, and the grandfather of the actor Sir Peter Ustinov...

 sensationally exhibited it in St Petersburg as part of his father-in-law's collection. The painting had been apparently brought from Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 to Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

 by the notable connoisseur Alexander Korsakov
Alexander Korsakov
Alexander Mikhailovich Rimsky-Korsakov was a Russian General remembered as an unlucky assistant to Alexander Suvorov during his Swiss expedition of 1799–1800....

 in the 1790s. Upon Korsakov's death, it was sold by his son to the Astrakhan
Astrakhan
Astrakhan is a major city in southern European Russia and the administrative center of Astrakhan Oblast. The city lies on the left bank of the Volga River, close to where it discharges into the Caspian Sea at an altitude of below the sea level. Population:...

 merchant Sapozhnikov for 1400 roubles and so passed by inheritance to the Benois family in 1880. After many a squabble regarding attribution, Leon Benois sold the painting to the Imperial Hermitage Museum
Hermitage Museum
The State Hermitage is a museum of art and culture in Saint Petersburg, Russia. One of the largest and oldest museums of the world, it was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great and has been opened to the public since 1852. Its collections, of which only a small part is on permanent display,...

 in 1914. Since then, it has been exhibited in St Petersburg.