Envy and Verrocchio

Last year my family and I were able to spend some time in Florence, Italy while I taught a study abroad course.  Every day we were able to see amazing works of art.  I enjoyed the stories behind the art almost as much as the art itself.

One of my favorite stories is regarding the painting, Baptism of Christ, by Andrea del Verrocchio and his young pupil, Leonardo da Vinci.  According to artist-historian Vasari, the story goes that Verrocchio had his pupil Leonardo complete parts of the background as well as the outer angel.  After seeing Leonardo’s skill Verrocchio was overwhelmed.  At that moment he decided to give up painting forever.  If such a young student could already outshine his master, then he would no longer spend his time painting.

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I can’t help but feel for Verrocchio.  He must have been frustrated and felt jealous of his young student.  He had spent his whole life studying the art of painting and along comes a young man with such incredible talent.  It would be easy to resort to jealousy and throw your hands up in despair.  It’s sad that we only have a few surviving works by Verrocchio.  He obviously had amazing talent and I’m sure we would all enjoy seeing more from him.  But instead he chose to give in to envy.  He must have loved painting and yet he chose to give it up simply because someone else was better than he.

Envy never builds up, it only tears down.  Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said it best “envy is a mistake that just keeps on giving. Obviously we suffer a little when some misfortune befalls us, but envy requires us to suffer all good fortune that befalls everyone we know! What a bright prospect that is—downing another quart of pickle juice every time anyone around you has a happy moment!”

Envy is certainly another of the universal sins.  No matter how much we have, it never seems enough if the person next to us has more.  Whenever I begin to envy others I stop and think of poor Verrocchio.