42nd Annual Meeting – Paintings Session, May 30, "Aspects of Painting Techniques in 'The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne' Attributed to Andrea Salai" – Sue Ann Chui and Alan Phenix.

This paper, presented by Sue Ann Chui, intrigued and enticed us to want more. She noted at the beginning that the title had changed to “Leonardo’s Obsession: A Workshop Variant of his ‘Virgin and Child with Saint Anne’ from the Hammer Museum, UCLA.” This is a pertinent point to keep in mind in the broader scope of the day’s PSG talks.
Leonardo da Vinci spent fifteen years working on the painting of “Virgin and Child with Saint Anne” (now at the Louvre), keeping it in his possession, leaving it unfinished at the time of his death. While continuing to work in his studio, other variants were being created in the workshop. It was noted that the Hammer painting is in remarkable condition (both structurally and aesthetically) and that the panel is virtually unaltered.
The oil on wood panel painting, in storage for many years and thought to be an early copy, was attributed to Salai (Gian Giacomo Caprotti da Oreno 1480-1524). The panel support, estimated to be poplar with coniferous wood battens, tangential cut and not thinned, is remarkably close to Leonardo’s original panel (the “Louvre” panel) with similar tool marks and dowels. In addition to these similarities, the panel’s thickness (2-2.8cm) would suggest that both wood panels came from the same workshop in northern Italy.
Analysis revealed the ground to be calcium sulfate and glue with an imprimatura of lead white. Compositional changes can be seen in the under drawing (infrared imaging) of Saint Anne’s left foot and several other areas. Walnut oil was characterized as the binding medium in other samples. Pigments were characterized as lead white, carbon black, vermillion, lead tin yellow, red iron oxides, natural ultramarine, azurite, orpiment, transparent glazes of copper green and red lake.
The Virgin’s mantle, with a complex stratigraphy, presents some interesting questions. Does the stratigraphy represent an original sequence or changes by the artist? Analysis of the blue mantle reveals three applications of grey, along with ultramarine, and two applications of red lake glazes on top of the imprimatura and below the grey layers. Is a thinly applied transparent glaze as a preliminary layer, similar to Leonardo’s technique, intentional? The purple toned sleeve of Saint Anne, comprised of reds, red lake and layers of what appear to be retouching varnish is changed from a red-brown to a purple color similar to color found in the Louvre painting.
Two interesting finds in the Hammer Museum’s panel were imprints from fabric and fingerprints. Historical references mention the use of a textile to even out a glaze, as seen in an area of blue on the panel and using the palm of the hand to uniformly spread a glaze (leaving fingerprints in the paint – who might those fingerprints belong to?). Differing paint application in the scene’s plant foliage hint the passages may be by two different hands. Fine brushstroke’s in the face of Saint Anne suggest a very accomplished artist, leaving us to wonder if perhaps the master provided some assistance to workshop apprentices. It would seem the Hammer panel was almost certainly created in da Vinci’s studio.
The change in the title of the presentation tied in nicely with Elise Effmann Clifford’s presentation “The Reconsideration of a Reattribution: Pierre-Edourd Baranowski by Amedeo Modigliani.” In her talk Elise pointed out the biases and prejudices we all carry and need to be aware of. The need to look at each work afresh, consider all the findings of technical analysis, provenance, along with curatorial knowledge and instinct must inform how we approach artworks, while being mindful of our own biases.
As for my personal bias regarding the analysis of the Hammer panel I must admit that, like many in the attentive audience, I was hoping for a surprise ending that announced the Hammer painting would, in fact, be declared to be by the hand of the master. The session was packed full of high quality technical analysis (including a peek into workshop practices) suggesting deeper questions and the paint geek’s favorite, paint cross-sections!
Additional articles you may be interested in being cognizant of biases, the writer’s and your own!
LA Times article on Hammer St. Anne:
Recent article in The Art Tribune mentions the Armand Hammer, UCLA panel:
Guardian article on over cleaning of panel:
ArtWatch article:

Credit: via Tumblr from WTF Art History
Workshop of Leonardo da Vinci, The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne, c. 1508-1513, oil on panel. University of California, Hammer Museum, Willitts J. Hole Art Collection, Los Angeles
Credit: via Tumblr from WTF Art History