LeightonÂ’s debut work submitted to the Royal Academy, CimabueÂ’s Celebrated Madonna is Carried in Procession through the Streets of Florence was snapped up by an enthusiastic Queen Victoria on the first day it went on show.

The Queen confided in her journal entry for 3 May 1855: ‘There was a very big picture by a man called Leighton. It is a beautiful painting, quite reminding one of a Paul Veronese, so bright and full of light. Albert was enchanted with it – so much so that he made me buy it.‘ The work still belongs to the Royal Collection, although since 1988 it has been on loan to the National Gallery, London, where it hangs above the main staircase. This canvas is a colour sketch for the final picture, and it joins the beautiful preparatory drawings for the painting at Leighton House, the extraordinary London villa where where the artist lived and had his studio. The subject is based on an account in Vasari’s Lives of the Artists, which describes the triumphant procession of Cimabue’s altarpiece through the streets of Florence following its completion in about 1285. Leighton adds to the pageantry of the scene by combining it with a second passage from Vasari in which the visiting King of Anjou is taken to view the altarpiece. The artist went to great lengths to include authentic detail, travelling to Florence and Venice to gather material and inspiration. Particularly significant was a fresco by Andrea da Firenze in the Spanish Chapel in Santa Maria Novella, Florence, which was understood to depict Cimabue, Giotto and other late 13th-century artists. The painting’s close attention to detail drew praise from critics such as John Ruskin. Leighton found his instant celebrity both exciting and daunting, writing to a friend: ‘My success here in London has been extraordinarily great, but fills me with anxiety and apprehension; I am always thinking, 'What can you exhibit next year that will fulfil the expectations of the public.'


G. Windus Esq.; G.P. Wall; ChristieÂ’s, 1912 ; Cross & Phillips, Liverpool; W.H. Lever, 1st Viscount Leverhulme; Lady Lever Art Gallery; Lady Lever Art Gallery sale, ChristieÂ’s 1958 ; Gooden & Fox, London; John Bryson, ChristieÂ’s, 1977 ; Mrs Tanenbaum 1

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