Standing on the steep main road that runs through the hills above Lucca, Tuscany, the town of San Gennaro is not far from Collodi (which provided the writer Carol Lorenzini, author of The Adventures of Pinnocchio, with his penname). Re-built in the 12th century, the church of San Gennaro would in 1998 become the unusual focus of attention for the world’s media. In an article published in the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 ore, Professor Carlo Pedretti of UCLA, the greatest living export on Leonardo da Vinci, would attribute the statue of an angel in San Gennaro to that artist.
The revelation was something of a scoop, as at the time there was only one known work of sculpture by Leonardo da Vinci: that of the Christ Child, now kept in the vaults of a bank in Rome.
This polychrome terracotta statue of an angel had in 1958 been attributed to the “School of Verrocchio” by Prof. Lodovico Ragghianti, an art historian and critic. Given that the young Leonardo learnt his craft in Verrocchio’s studio, Ragghianti was not far off the presently accepted attribution. The basis for identifying this statue as an early work of Leonardo is its striking similarity with his sketch “Study for the Sleeve of the Angel of the Annunciation” which is now in the Uffizi in Florence.
What remains a mystery is how this work by Leonardo da Vinci ended up in this modest village. However that came about, there are records of its presence here from 1772 onwards: archives record that the statue was damaged that year by a falling ladder. Having been restored on that occasion by a local artist, that statue still retains all its charm.
So, the next time you are touring Tuscany, make certain that you visit the lovely little town of San Gennaro and ask at the presbytery to the left of the church to see this stunning statue.