View of the Ospizio della Madonna del Lecceto from the West, ca. 1498-1504
Verso: View of the Same Building from the Northwest
Purchased as the gift of the Fellows
The subject of the present drawing was identified in 1986 by Chris Fischer as the Dominican Ospizio della Madonna del Lecceto, near Lastra as Signa on the outskirts of Florence, and dated about 1498 to 1504 because building activities increased during these years. Unique among Fra Bartolomeo's landscape designs, the sheet presents two views of the same site drawn form different angles: on the recto (zoomed image above) the convent is seen from the west, while on the verso (thumbnail right) the buildings are viewed from the northwest and at slightly closer range. The bell tower visible in both drawings was destroyed by lightning in 1563, but the main convent buildings are still standing, as is the well depicted at left on the recto.
The drawings in the album–studies of trees and rock outcroppings and views of monasteries and hill towns–reveal Fra Bartolomeo as an artist who ventured into the landscape to record what he saw. Such a practice was exceedingly rare at this time, as were the independent landscapes he produced. Even drawings by Leonardo, such as Storm Breaking over a Valley, the Royal Collection, Windsor Castle, are more purely nature studies examined with a scientist's eye. Fra Bartolomeo's designs, by contrast, are what Chris Fischer has called "the sentimentalized topographical landscape," suffused with light and bearing the mark of man.