The Republic: New Battles
and Old Problems
On 6 June 1505 at the stroke of the thirteenth hour I began painting in the palace;
at the moment of laying the brush down the weather deteriorated…. The
cartoon came unstuck … and great quantities of rain poured down until evening
and it seemed like night (Madrid II, 1r).
In important respects the Florence to which Leonardo returned in 1500 provided a very different environment from the city he had left little less than twenty years earlier. However, the main changes that would have struck him were not artistic in nature. The resident Florentine artists of the last two decades of the old century had not wrought any revolution in style. Indeed, no one painter had fully absorbed all the potential lessons of Leonardo's own Florentine work, let alone approached the innovatory standards of his Milanese paintings. The artist who most nearly approached his level of compositional complexity was Filippino Lippi, appropriately enough the painter of the Adoration of the Kings which finally took the place of Leonardo's unfinished panel. The tonal qualities of Leonardo's colour system had been partially adopted by Perugino, but without the expressive power of Leonardo's light effects. In professional terms, the dominant painter of the 1480s was Domenico Ghirlandaio, an artist of crisp visual intelligence who combined a highly ordered sense of composition in the best Italian manner with a feeling for detail inspired by Netherlandish models. Ghirlandaio's large and efficient studio provided Michelangelo with his first introduction to the world of the professional artist. Michelangelo himself had only flexed his youthful muscles in Florence, and the great works of his early maturity, the Bacchus and the Pietà, had both been made in Rome. Nothing Leonardo saw on his return would have astonished him with its novelty.
The great changes were political and social. We have already touched upon the way in which Charles VIII's invasion of Italy had precipitated the overthrow of the Medici in 1494 and the re-establishment of a functioning Republic under the stern guidance of the Dominican prior, Girolamo Savonarola. The execution of Savonarola four years later, partly in response to Papal pressures, did not