Leonardo in Britain

Back in London (boo hoo), I am somewhat consoled by finding the published volume of papers of a conference held in May 2016 on Leonardo in Britain: Collections and Historical Reception, edited by Juliana Barone and Susanna Avery-Quash and published by Leo Olschki.

The volume includes a paper I gave on ‘Attitudes to Leonardo at the Royal Academy’ which traces the changes in attitude from the 1770s when the Academy acquired the so-called Leonardo Cartoon without any record of its acquisition, hanging it behind the door in the Antique School, to 1821 when it acquired the early copy of Leonardo’s Last Supper at considerable expense and hung it in a place of great honour behind the chair of the President in the Great Room, so that the Academicians and students could see and admire it during their lectures and meetings.

The volume also includes an admirably detailed account of the provenance of the copy of the Last Supper by Pietro Marani, how it was acquired by the Certosa di Pavia in 1591, stolen in 1796 following the Austrian suppression of monasteries in 1790, and sold to Defendente Sacchi, a critic and author of a biography of Leonardo. In January 1817, when Stendhal saw it while doing research for his biography of Leonardo, it belonged to Stefano Maria Pezzoni, a ‘negoziante di drogherie’ and friend of Giuseppe Vallardi, a collector of Leonardo’s drawings. It was already in London in late July 1817, when, according to the Literary Gazette, it was exhibited at the British Institution, where it was seen and admired by British connoisseurs of the time, including Charles Long, Joseph Farington and Thomas Lawrence. But who was H. Fraville (or Fréville) from whom the copy was bought in 1821 ? And how had he acquired it from Pezzoni ? I don’t think we know.

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