September 14th
7:28 PM

The Adoration of the Magi
Oil on Wood - unfinished | Uffizi, Florence

Date: 1481
Size: 246 x 243 cm (97 x 96 inches)

The painting was commissioned by the Augustinian monastery of San Donato at Scopeto, a place just outside Florence.

It seems Ser Piero da Vinci had a hand in arranging the commission for Leonardo, seeing that Leonardo was effectively still dragging his feet in the dirt after his arrest.
In March 1481 the agreement was made that Leonardo should deliver the painting within 24 months, and if he doesn’t manage, the unfinished piece belongs to the monastery and they can do with it as they please. All this is still fairly normal, until the payment is talked about:

Leonardo did not get any cash in advance. He receives one third of a property which he may sell back to the friars after three years - ‘if they so wish’ - for the sum of 300 Florins. The contract also states that Leonardo had to provide the materials and all costs for the painting at his own expense. And as if that wasn’t bad enough yet, Leonardo also had to pay the dowry of a poor girl worth 150 Florins.

Not having the means to pay for anything, Leonardo asked the monastery to pay the dowry for him, as well as lend him money to pay for all the work materials he needed. His account with the friars is debited, and it seems it didn’t stop there:
From the documents that still exist, it becomes clear the Leonardo could not even afford to buy basic essentials such as food or fire wood. The latter he received as payment for decorating the monastery clock, and in the accounts it states that he owes the friars a few bushels of grain, and wine. Quite unsurprisingly, it was in the midst of all this that he decided he’d had enough and left for Milan in 1482, leaving the painting behind…

Today, the ‘Adoration’ is in desperate need of restoration due to the inferior quality of the wood panels Leonardo used - ten vertical planks, each about 9 inches wide - as despite supports that were added on the back the middle boards are bowing, threatening to crack the paint surface. Several attempts to restore it were stopped over the past ten years, and at the moment it is once again undergoing analysis before another attempt will be made to not only save the wood, but remove the thick layers of later added varnish, glue and oil from the surface of the painting to reveal Leonardo’s original draft/underpainting of lamp black mixed with diluted glue, and lead white.

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