Leonardo da Vinci's reputation as an inventor and scientist, and the complexity of his creativity and personality, have sometimes almost overshadowed the importance of his aims and techniques as a painter. This catalogue focuses on a crucial period in the 1480s and 1490s when, as a salaried court artist to Duke Ludovico Sforza in the city-state of Milan, freed from the pressures of making a living in the commercially minded Florentine republic, Leonardo produced some of the most celebrated-and influential-work of his career. The Last Supper, his two versions of The Virgin of the Rocks, and the beautiful portrait of Ludovico's mistress, Cecilia Gallerani (The Lady with an Ermine), were paintings that set a new standard for his Milanese contemporaries. Leonardo's style was magnified, through collaboration and imitation, to become the visual language of the regime, and by the time he returned to Florence in 1500, his status had been utterly transformed.
Luke Syson is Curator of Italian paintings before 1500 and Head of Research at the National Gallery, London. His previous publications include Renaissance Siena: Art for a City and, as co-author, Pisanello: Painter to the Renaissance Court and Objects of Virtue: Art in Renaissance Italy. Larry Keith, Arturo Galansino, Antonio Mazzotta, Minna Moore Ede, Scott Nethersole, and Per Rumberg are all present or former members of staff at the National Gallery, London.