Gourd-shaped citron, Citrus medica L.: whole fruit & half fruit. VINCENZO LEONARDI (ITALIAN, FL.1621-1646)

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Gourd-shaped citron, Citrus medica L.: whole fruit & half fruit
Preparatory drawings for “Malum citreum cucurbitinum vulgare” in Giovanni Battista Ferrari’s Hesperides, p.67.
Watercolor and gouache over black chalk
Annotation: 58 & 59
ca. 1630
Paper size: 16 x 8 1/2 in
Provenance: Cassiano dal Pozzo; Albani; George III, by descent to George V; London art market (Mendelson)
Literature: D. Freedberg & E. Baldini, The Paper Museum of Cassiano dal Pozzo: A Catalogue Raisonne.
Part One - Citrus Fruit (London, 1997), Plate 2 & 3. References: Bimbi, Villa Med. C. 612; Volkamer Nurnberg. Hesp. II, p. 42, pls. 41, 43-4’ Micheli Enumeratio, p. 104 Engravings: Ferrari 1646, p. 67

The Medici gardens were renowned throughout Europe for their spectacular, indigenous and exotic examples of flora, and they offered generous sponsorship to dal Pozzo’s project, opening their garden to him.

In the 1640s, Cassiano dal Pozzo commissioned Vincenzo Leonardi to paint these beautiful naturalistic watercolors of the interior and exterior of the Citrus medica, a pear-shaped citrus fruit. Leonardi was a noted painter of botanical subjects, and his treatment of the fruit demonstrates the reasons for this acclaim. Despite the generally scientific nature of the commission, Leonardi depicted his subjects with an outstanding combination of realism and artistic selection. Each piece appears fully round and three-dimensional, and every textural aspect, from the rough, dry, lightly blemished exterior to the soft, moist flesh of the fruit itself, appears as though tangible to the viewer. Leonardi was a masterful artist who could convey not only tactile sensation but, with dramatic combinations of shadow and light and delicate modulations of color, render his subjects with vivid animation and naturalism. There were very few precedents in the history of botanical illustration that anticipated the sumptuousness and refinement of Leonardi’s drawings of citrus fruit. Giovanni Battista Ferrari, who later engraved many of Leonardi’s drawings, for his acclaimed series Hesperides, best expressed the great admiration held for the artist’s work: “O Vincenzo, you double nature with your art, since you produce real fruit by what you paint within this volume; indeed you bring about a new and real miracle, since the same things are born on these pages as in the soil…As long as they endure, your fruitful talents will never be contested.”

Curiously enough, Ferrari seems to give no description of this citron in his text. The drawings show the whole fruit and the longitudinal half of two large gourd-shaped citrons. The albedo, under their tin, smooth, yellow peel, is remarkably thick. The seeds are aborted. The two drawings must originally have been on the same drawing sheet, later separated, and then in the 18th century mounted together after entering the collection of George III. They are known only from a 35mm color slide, made by the Courtauld Institute in 1967. The only known measurement is that of the two drawing sheets together.




The Medici influence in the arts and sciences continued well into the seventeenth century. Fellow Florentine Cassiano dal Pozzo established an exemplar for the next generation of Italian intellectual elite by forming one of the most ambitious projects in the history of art collecting.

The principal scholars, antiquaries, scientists and collectors in Europe admired Cassiano dal Pozzo above all for the extraordinarily important collection he began to assemble in the mid-1600s, the so-called Museo Cartaceo, or Paper Museum. This “museum” was to consist of drawings and prints of many relics of antiquity, and also of geological specimens, plants and animals from all over the world. It was to be open for study to artists and scholars. Cassiano had connections to the very wealthy and influential Florentine family: the Medici.

Cassiano maintained connections with important patrons and friends, like the Medici family, who helped make their collections of bird specimens available for painterly use. Moreover, in 1603 he was admitted to Federico Cesi’s Accademia dei Lincei, a scientific society of which Galileo was also a member. This must have given special impetus to dal Pozzo’s collection of natural history drawings of which many of the bird studies were destined for reproduction in G. P. Olina’s L’Uccelliera, published in 1622. Because of the renown of Cassiano’s collection, much of it, including these watercolors, were later acquired by the English Royal Family.

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