Even today, Leonardo’s La Scapiliata, situated in Parma, remains surrounded by mystery when it comes to date, origin and destination.
The small panel represents a face of a woman with sweet features. The painting is characterized by a play of contrasts in a modern manner in this serene face with ambiguous smile and barely opened eyes gazing down. Her unfinished hair is softly held back with ribbon and it falls disorderly on her shoulders like a web of curls.
All these characteristics make one think of an autonomous work rather than a preparatory study for a painting. The technique and the materials might confirm this hypothesis; it may be a monochrome painting on wood panel, but it is definitely excluded from the drawings, preparatory studies and head sketches made by Leonardo.
Among the various hypotheses and categorizations of the critics all agree that La Scapiliata is an individual work of the great master.
Art historians are also divided when it comes to dating the artwork. The style of the work suggests that it was made the period as the St. Anne (1508, situated in London); the skillful and volumetric use of light is very similar to the second version of the Virgin of the Rocks (between 1494 and 1508). Someone has suggested a preparatory study for the Head of Leda, which have been excluded given the complex hairstyle of Leda in the painting, which would have required Leonardo very precise study of the hair that is clearly absent in the painting of Parma.
La Scapiliata is very likely a representation of Madonna with loose hair and perhaps it is part of the group of two or three Madonnas that Leonardo was painting around 1508 and that have remained in darkness of the history. The only known thing is that the French patrons were very excited of the pieces by the great master. In this way the painting would be a part of Leonardo’s later productions where he recalls the artistic style of his youth, influenced by new classicism.
Nevertheless, La Scapiliata of Parma remains a mystery surrounded by speculating theories while being among the most successful works of Da Vinci, as a painting that continues to exist out of space and time.
Even Leonardo’s signature has sparked discussion over the years. In 1924 Adolfo Venturi identified the work as one of the works mentioned in the inventory by the Gonzagas in 1627 and put on sale by them. Probably it is the same work that Ippolito Calandra mentioned in 1531, hanging in the room of Margherita Paleologa, wife of Ferdinando Gonzaga and Isabella d’Este’s daughter-in-law, who asked Leonardo a painting of Madonna for her private study in 1501.
In the beginning of the 19th century the painting was in a private collection of a Parmense painter, whose son sold it to the Accademia delle Belle Arti in 1839. Later it was sold to Galleria Nazionale.
Leonardo was born in Anchiano in 1452. He was an illegitimate son of notary Ser Piero di Vinci who brought him to Florence in 1469 to give him artistic education.
In 1472 he enrolled to the Compagnia dei Pittori and attended Andrea del Verrocchio’s workshop, participating also in the anatomical research with Antonio and Piero Pollaiolo.
In 1482 Leonardo moved to Milan to serve Ludovico il Moro. He introduced himself as a musician, painter, sculptor, engineer and architect. He painted several works in the court of Moro, among them the Lady with an Ermine and worked on the equestrian monument for Francesco Sforza.
He was a set designer for various court celebrations and studied hydraulic and military engineering. He also devoted himself to physical and natural sciences, as shown in many of his drawings. His most famous work of this period was the Last Supper in Santa Maria delle Grazie (1495 – 1498) where he experimented with tempera on plaster technique instead of the traditional fresco. This resulted in poor state of conservation, which Vasari already mentions in the mid-16th century.
Ludovico il Moro was defeated by the French in 1500 and Leonardo set off to Venice with his friend, mathematician Luca Pacioli and his student Salai. Then he went to Mantua as a guest of Isabella d’Este and painted her portrait. In the same year he returned to Florence, where he painted Madonna and Child with St. Anne (Louvre, cartoon at the National Gallery of London) and the cartoon for the Battle of Anghiari (1504-1505) for the Salone dei Cinquecento in Palazzo Vecchio.
He was commissioned by the Gonfaloniere of the Florentine Republic, Pier Soderini, who had also commissioned Michelangelo, who was working with the Battle of Cascina. Leonardo experimented with ancient encaustic technique, which turned out to be unsuccessful. Therefore, the project was not completed and today only some drawings have remained of the lost cartoon, such as the Tavola Doria.
Leonardo traveled to Urbino, Pesaro, Rimini and Cesenatico where he continued to study hydraulics, cartography and fortifications, but in 1505 he returned to Milan. He made several trips between Lombardy, Florence and Rome and continued his science research, but he was never commissioned by the Vatican, which favored the works of Raphael and Michelangelo.
Disappointed Leonardo left Italy in 1517 to take refuge in the castle of Cloux, near Ambroise in France, under the protection of Francis I, who gave him an annual pension. He brought numerous paintings with him, like Mona Lisa, which he painted in Florence in 1503. In France he continued his anatomical and scientific studies of which he left many drawings.
Leonardo died in 1519.
The construction of Palazzo della Pilotta started in 1583 for the order of the duke of Parma and Piacenza, Ottavio Farnese, who entrusted the task to architect Francesco Paciotto from Urbino. The name Pilotta derives from the game pelota, played by Spanish soldiers in the courtyard of Guazzatoio.
Today, the building holds the museum of archeology, national gallery, Palatine library, Farnese theater, and the Bodonian museum as well as the Accademia Nazionale di Belle Arti, the artistic lyceum of Paolo Toschi, the Department of Cultural Heritage and Performing Arts of the University of Parma.
After the extinction of the Farnese dynasty their collection was moved to Naples by Charles III of Spain in 1734. Pilotta remained without its artistic treasures until the duke Philip of Spain arrived in Parma in 1749. The son of the king of Spain and his wife Louise Elizabeth, the favorite daughter of the king Louis XV of France. At this occasion, Pilotta became a cultural center, a real symbol of the enlightenment and the French politics. Accademia di Belle Arti was founded in 1757 and a new artistic collection was created, from which will originate the Galleria Nazionale. The Palatina library (1769) and archaeological museum (1769) were added to the complex.
During the years of the restoration, under the duchy of Marie Louise of Austria (1816-1847) the cultural institutions of the Pilotta underwent considerable transformations. The halls of representation of the court were rearranged and the façade of the Palazzo was remade between 1833 and 1834, creating its elegant neoclassical character. Th task was entrusted to the architect Nicola Bettoli and the aim was to giver greater dignity to the ducal residence.
During the 1944 bombardments the building was severely damaged and from this point began a series of restoring interventions renovating the interiors, which became suitable to host the Galleria Nazionale, starting from 1991. The collection includes La Scapiliata by Leonardo da Vinci, the Turkish Slave and the Mystical Marriage of St. Catherine by Parmigianino, Correggio’s Madonna of St. Jerome and the Lamentation Over the Dead Christ, Guercino’s Susanna and the Elders and a view by Canaletto.