Andrea del Verrocchio, born Andrea di Michele di Francesco de' Cioni, (c. 1435 – 1488) was an influential Italian sculptor, goldsmith and painter who worked at the court of Lorenzo de' Medici in Florence. His pupils included Leonardo da Vinci, Perugino, Ghirlandaio and Sandro Botticelli, but he also influenced Michelangelo. He worked in the serenely classic style of the Florentine Early Renaissance.
Early life and training
Verrocchio was born in Florence in 1435 to Michele di Francesco Cioni, who worked as a tile and brick maker and, later, as a tax collector. Michele never married, and had to provide financial support for some members of his family. Michele's fame rose upon his joining the Medici court, in which he remained until his workshop moved to Venice.
Andrea started to work as a goldsmith in the workshop of Giulio Verrocchi, from whom it seems that he took his surname. The possibility that he apprenticed with Donatello remains unconfirmed. His first efforts in painting date probably from the 1460s, when he worked in Prato alongisde Filippo Lippi.
The only signed painting by Verrocchio is the Madonna with Child and Saints, in the Cathedral of Pistoia.
Around 1465 he worked at the lavabo of the Old Sacristy in San Lorenzo, Florence. Between 1465 and 1467 he executed the funerary monument to Cosimo de' Medici for the crypt under the altar of the same church, and in 1472 he completed the monument to Piero and Giovanni de' Medici in the Old Sacristy.
In 1466 the Guild of Traders of Florence commissioned from Verrocchio a bronze group entitled Christ and St. Thomas for an external niche of the church of Orsanmichele. The work was placed there in 1483. He devised a composition of two figures, with Christ in the centre of the niche, and the Saint stretched out, in order to avoid a rigid frontal view and to aid the spectator in better identifying the two characters.
In 1468 Verrocchio made a famous candelabra, now in Amsterdam, for a corridor of Florence's Town Hall. In the early 1470s he made a voyage to Rome, while in 1474 he executed the Forteguerri monument for the Cathedral of Pistoia, which he left unfinished.
From 1474-1475 is the Baptism of Christ, now housed in the Uffizi. In this work he was assisted by Leonardo Da Vinci, then a youth, who finished the background and painted the left angel, excelling in quality the rest of the painting. According to Vasari, Andrea resolved never to touch the brush again because Leonardo, his pupil, had far surpassed him.
Maturity as a sculptor
After the mid-1470s Verrocchio was devoted mainly to sculpture, at first following the standard Florentine canons. These are well in evidence in the bronze statue of David, commissioned by Lorenzo and Giuliano de' Medici c. 1476 (now at the Bargello). Verrocchio's David is underage, modestly clad in contrast to Donatello's provocative David, and haughty in his conquest. The Gothic-like, idealistic beauty of the features is closer in spirit to Ghiberti than to the innovative Donatello.
Around 1478 he finished a Winged Cherubim with Dolphin, today housed in Palazzo Vecchio and originally intended for a fountain in the Medici villa of Careggi: this work is influenced by the dynamic naturalism which Verrocchio learned from Desiderio da Settignano. Of the same period are the Dama col mazzolino and the relief for the funerary monument of Francesca Tornabuoni for Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome (now in the Bargello).
In 1478 Verrocchio began what was to become his most famous work, an equestrian statue of the condottiero Colleoni, who had died three years before. The work was commissioned by the Republic of Venice. It was the first attempt to produce such a group with one of the horse's legs not touching the base. The statue is also notable for the carefully-observed expression of stern command upon Colleoni's face.
Verrocchio sent to his commissioners a wax model in 1480, and in 1488 he finally moved to Venice to assist at the casting of the group. However, he died in the same year, before the work was finished.