LEONARDO DA VINCI AND THE ORATORY OF THE MADONNA DELLA NEVE IN MONTEVETTOLINI
di Filippo Lorenzi e Giovanni Malanima, studiosi di Leonardo
In order to understand Leonardo's drawing, no. 8Pr, in the Uffizi, we need to understand where this drawing was conceived and the reason why Leonardo went to Montevettolini which was to visit the Oratory of the Madonna della Neve.
This oratory sits at the intersection of two roads: one leads towards the Montirici pass on the way to Pistoia, while the other once led to the ancient parish church of Vaiano. Its current architectural shape is the result of a series of additions. Originally a simple tabernacle, it was later transformed into an oratory housing a 14th-century fresco of the Madonna and Child with Saints.
Following, a painted wooden frame divided into three compartments was installed on top of the fresco with Erasmo da Rotterdam's inscription at the top: "Nive intacta candidior" (As white as the driven snow).
The central, open compartment offered a glimpse of the Madonna and Child. At the base there was a predella depicting the Miracle of the Snow in memory of the miracle that took place on the Esquiline hill in Rome on 5 August 352.
The juxtaposition of the oratory with Leonardo's first drawing, dated "Dì di Santa Maria della Neve addì 5 d'aghossto 1473", is connected to this festivity which is only celebrated in the places dedicated to this Saint, such as that of Montevettolini.
It is believed that once in Montevettolini, after the religious celebrations and convivial get-togethers, Leonardo went off to observe and take notes of the Valdinievole valley that opened up before him, as well as the conformation of the village of Montevettolini which he then incorporated in a bird's eye view drawing by raising the viewpoint upwards.
On 22 August 2018, the spot for sending up a drone to a height of about one hundred metres was identified and it was "naturally" the most logical one, that is, the yard of the Madonna della Neve Oratory, about thirty metres from the façade. All this proves that Leonardo had come to the Festival of the Madonna della Neve in Montevettolini precisely as he himself had documented, and it was right here that he made his famous "view" drawing.
From that height, just like in the drawing, the drone photo documents the village of Montevettolini to the left with the fortress and the Cantone tower, now incorporated in the Medici villa, the church and bell tower, the forest, the precipice down to the valley, and in the background with the conical hill of Monsummano, the hill of Segalare, the outline of the Buggiano hill, and the lower foothills of Mount Pisano.
On the right in the drawing the slopes of the Belvedere hill were instead replaced by a rocky ridge, a clear reference to the coeval Baptism of Christ by Verrocchio, in which Leonardo had painted the angel on the left.
Lastly, it is worth noting that in the fresco of the Madonna in the oratory there are numerous graffiti left by pilgrims, including a date, 1478, not much later than 1473, when Leonardo documented his drawing with the View of Valdinievole, meaning that he too, in his own way, left evidence of his visit to this place.
See: F. LORENZI, G. MALANIMA, L’Oratorio di Leonardo da Vinci, 2nd ed., Pagnini, Florence May 2019. Published in the collection “Studi e testi” of the Archiepiscopal Archive of Florence
Vedi: F. Lorenzi, G. Malanima, L’Oratorio di Leonardo da Vinci, 2a ed., Pagnini, Firenze maggio 2019. Pubblicato nella collana “Studi e testi” dell’Archivio Arcivescovile di Firenze