Leonardo da Vinci His paintings – A Search for PerfectionAll rights reserved. Rights belong to their respective owners. Availablefree for non-commercial and personal use. First created 11 Feb 2012. Version 1.0 - 23 Feb 2012. Jerry Tse. London .
Vinci 2011. Leonardo was born in or near the town of Vinci, about half way between Florence and Pisa, on 15 April 1452. He was the illegitimate son of a rising Florentine legal official Ser Piero da Vinci. He was good at drawing and was enrolled with the leading Florentine artist of Verrocchio in 1469, at the age of 17. Leonardo was probably the greatest artists of the Renaissance. His studies were strictly based in the scientific methods, on vigorous analysis and on objective reasoning. But it was his inquisitive mind that drove the man forever forward to understand our place in nature. According to Vasari ‘Leonardo disposition was so lovable that he commanded everyone’s affection’, and there are many other accounts of his good looks and charm, as well as his sense of humour and love of practical jokes. Yet he always had a deep distrust of human society. “Alone you Knot pattern inscribed ‘Academia Leonardo Vi-ci’. are all yourself.” 1495. Engraving. British Museum, London.
Early Florentine Years According to Vasari “Leonardo painted (the left-hand angels) in such a manner that his angel was far better than the figure painted by Verrocchio (Leonardo’s teacher). This was the reason why Andrea would never touch colours again, he was so ashamed that a boy understood their use better than he did.” The Baptism of Christ. C1470-72. Verrocchio. Uffizi, Florence.
Early Florence YearsThe Annunciation. 1472-74. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence. This is Leonardo’s earliest known complete work. Even at this early stage he had developed his distinctive style of painting flowers. The dark trees and the dark wall behind the angel and Mary demonstrate his use of the Chiaroscuro technique.
Early Florence Years The lily held by the Archangel Gabriel is a symbol of Mary’s purity. The Annunciation (Detail – Angel). 1472-74.
Early Florence Years Leonardo painted Ginevra with a stiff and solemn expression. This is rather an uneasy portrait showing little or no emotion. Leonardo was the master of using the ‘Chiaroscuro’ technique, balancing the light and the dark areas. He often used a lighted subject against a skilfully darkened background. Ginevra de Benci. C1474. National Gallery, Washington, USA.
Early Florence Years The portrait of Ginevra shows the use of the technique of ‘Sfumato’ , The Comparison blurring of edges and smoothing colours between adjacent areas. Thus it eliminates harsh outlines. This was first introduced by Leonardo and Giorgione. This contrasts with Botticelli’s lining approach.
Milan Years The Milan Years 1483-1499 In 1482, Leonardo entered service of Ludovico II as military engineer and organiser of festivities, in Milan.Ludovico Sforza. 1496-99. by Amrogio dePredis. Tempera on Vellum. Archivio StoricoCivico and Biblioteca Trivulziana, Milan.
Milan Years Because of the rigid pose and the harshness of the shadows, some scholars express their doubts that it was painted by Leonardo. Others pointed to the fine art of Leonardo’s work on the young man face. It is possible that there were more than one painters who worked on the portrait. The young man has a distinctive stare at something outside the canvas, encapsulating a sense of reality. We only know that he was a musician by the musical score in his hand. The Musician. c1485. Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Milan.
There are two versions of this painting, one in theMilan Years Louvre, Paris and the other in the National Gallery, London. The two paintings are nearly identical, with obvious differences. The Paris version is the older of the two. From history of the painting, it looks to me that the painting was commissioned, in April 1483, for the chapel of the newly formed Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception, attached to the church of San Francesco Grande. By December 1484, the Paris version of the painting was nearly finished. Then there was a dispute about the price of the painting. In the exchange of documents, it mentioned that ‘another buyer was interested’ in the painting. Leonardo and his co- painters must have sold the Paris version to ‘another buyer’. Then the dispute dragged on until the London version was painted to fulfil the original contract, after some further disputes. There several unusual features of this painting :- Why are they in a cave? Why is St John the Baptist with the Virgin Mary and not baby Jesus? Why is the angel pointing to St John the Baptist in the Paris version? Virgin of the Rocks. 1483-1485. Musee du Louvre, Paris.
Milan Years The Last Supper (Detail – St John). c1495. Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan. Are these the same woman? Virgin of the Rocks (Detail). 1483-1485. Musee du Louvre, Paris.
An interpretation of painting The following interpretation of theMilan Years painting is based on a document written by James Kettlewell on the internet, which makes sense to me. Why is St John the Baptist with the Virgin Mary and not baby Jesus? The painting is about the Immaculate Conception (that is born without the Original Sin) of the Virgin Mary. According to the Confraternity, both St John and Mary were born by Immaculate Conception and they are not divine. They belong together. Baby Jesus and the angel are grouped together as they are divine. Why is the angel pointing to St John the Baptist? The angel is pointing out to the viewer that the painting is about St John, who according to the Bible was born by Immaculate Conception. By implication Virgin Mary the mother of Jesus must be born by Immaculate Conception as well. This is the whole point of the painting!! Virgin of the Rocks (Detail). 1483-1485. Musee du Louvre, Paris. Edited for fading.
Milan Years Dialogue of hands. The angel is looking at us and pointing at St John the Baptist. Virgin of the Rocks (Detail). 1483-1485. Musee du Louvre, Paris. [Image with fading removed and brightened.
There are two versions of the painting one in Paris and the other in London.Milan Years
Milan Years This is the London version of the painting. It is a later painting. Unlike the Paris version the painting has been restored, it is brighter and the colours more vivid. The painting was painted in 1495-1499. The Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception and the artists continued their arguments about the contract. It was finally finished some time between 1506 and 1508. The major difference between the London version and the Paris version is that the angel no longer points to St John the Baptist and no longer looks toward the viewer. In 1483, Vatican gave support to the idea of the Immaculate Conception of Virgin Mary and condemned those who preached against it. Maybe it was this declaration that the Confraternity no longer felt the need for the angel to point at St John the Baptist. So why are they in a cave? James Kettlewell thinks that Virgin at a grotto is a traditional setting in art. Others think that this may be a reference to the stainless Virgin as in God’s creation of the world. Others point to the meeting with St John on the flight into Egypt. The rugged cave would be such a remote place to offer seclusion and refuge. Still others think that the cave is a symbol of Mary, as in the Song of Song (114), in which Mary is described as “dove … in the clefts of the rock”. Finally, in the specification of the painting, the Confraternity did make the reference to “the mountains and rocks to be worked in oil”.Virgin of the Rocks. 1495-1499 & 1506-08. National Gallery, London.
Milan YearsVirgin of the Rocks (Detail). 1495-1499 & 1506-08. National Gallery, London.
Milan Years She is the most beautiful woman ever painted in the history of European paintings. Don’t you agree?Virgin of the Rocks (Angel). 1495-1499 & 1506-08.National Gallery, London.
The lady was the mistress of Ludovico Sforza (Leonardo’s boss). Note the very faint shadows of the beads on her chest.Milan YearsCecilia Gallerani. C1489-1490. National Museum, Cracow.
A rather playful baby Jesus, whoMilan Years noticed our presence. The exceptional love of a mother?Madonna Litta. c1490-91. Hermitage. St Petersburg.
Sometimes this painting is attributed toMilan Years Leonardo’s followers. The most disconcerting feature of the portrait is the intensity of her gaze, perhaps with a hint of hostility. The expression of the rest of her face is somewhat sober. The title of the painting is called ‘La Belle Ferroniere (The beautiful ironmonger)’. However the title ‘La Belle Ferroniere’ was a 1642 confusion, in which this painting was mistakenly identified. In reality, we do not have much idea who the sitter really was. La Belle Ferroniere (Detail). C1490- 1495.
Milan Years The Last Supper. 1496-97. Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan.Four groups of three disciples and three windows behind Jesus. The disciples were behaving more like Italianthan Jew with their hand gestures and heated discussions, in an atmosphere charged with emotions. Jesus wasisolated in the painting. He alone would have to face what was to come.
Milan Years Andrew Bartholomew James the Less Peter with knife John with tear Judas with his moneyThe Last Supper (Detail). 1496-97. Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan.
Milan Years James the Elder PhillipJesus Thomas with his Matthew Simon Thaddeus poking fingerThe Last Supper (Detail). 1496-97. Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan.
Milan Years Juda St James the Elder Studies of the disciples in the Last Supper. The painting is noted for its emotionally charged expressions and the animated gestures of the disciples.Drawing studies of The LastSupper.
Milan Years St Bartholomew St Philip Studies of the disciples in the Last Supper. The painting is noted for its emotionally charged expressions and the animated gestures of the disciples.Drawing studies of The LastSupper.
Milan YearsThe Last Super, after Leonardo da Vinci. c1520. Giovanni Pietro Rizzoli. Magdalen College, Oxford.Only around 20% of Leonardo’s Last Supper is still visible today. However, an accurate copy and almost the samesize as the original Last Supper, still in good conditions exists. It was painted about 25 years later by Rizzoli. Thispainting was used extensively for reference, during the 20-year-restoration of the original painting in Milan.
A rediscovered portrait by Leonardo? N ew The name of the young woman of the portrait was fin Bianca Sforza, an illegitimate daughter of the dMilan Years Duke of Milan. She was 13 or 14 at the time of the portrait and died a few months later.Investigators of the portrait demonstrated that it waspainted by Leonardo, when it was shown to be from amissing page of a 500 year-old-book, at the National Libraryof Poland, Warsaw. The book was commissioned for the1496 wedding of Bianca Sforza. [For further details seeFebruary 2012 issue of National Geographic magazine,which funded the investigation.]However, there are scholars that expressed their doubts onthe portrait. David Ekserdjian, a scholar of 16C Italiandrawings, suspects the work is a “counterfeit”. [seeWikipedia]. La Bella Principessa (Bianca Sforza). Colour chalk on paper. 1496. Private Collection.
Late Florence His Late Florentine Years 1499-1517
Late Florence yearsLa Gioconda (Mona Lisa). 1503-05. Musee du Louvre, Paris.
Late Florence yearsMona Lisa was the second wife of aFlorentine silk merchant Francesco delGiocondo, hence its title La Gioconda.Leonardo worked on it for four yearsand never delivered the finished work.He kept the painting for himself andbrought it with him to France.The painting is now in poor conditionand the glazed varnish has now crackedand turned a dirty green. Today it ishung in a bullet-proof glass cage.Recent research discovered the deathcertificate of Mona Lisa, who died in1542, in the convent of St Orsola incentral Florence.The use of ‘Sfumato’, the blurring ofedges and smoothing colours toeliminate harsh outlines, on the lips,may have led to the enigmatic smile ofMona Lisa.Illustration from National GeographicMagazine Feb 2012.
Late Florence years N ewThis is a copy of the Mona Lisa in the Prado finMuseum, before cleaning and restoration. dAs the black paint was removed, the museumdiscovered the familiar landscape of theoriginal Mona Lisa. The work is believed tohave been made by an apprentice of Leonardo,possible painted at the same time as theoriginal. The painting shows greater detailsand brighter colours.
Late Florence Years
Late Florence Years Madonna of the Yarnwinder. 1501-7. Leonardo & Madonna of the Yarnwinder. 1499 onward. Leonardo & Giacomo Salai (?). Private Collection. New York. Anonymous painter. Duke of Buccleuch.
Late Florence Years The painting depicts Virgin Mary sitting on the lap of her mother, St Anne, benting forward to give her son, Jesus support, as he played with the lamb. The lamb is the sacrificial lamb, which baby Jesus was holding. Mary symbolically pulls her son away from his terrible destiny. This subtle message of the painting is hidden by calm and serene figures. The figures of St Anne and Virgin Mary are jumbled together, with St Anne looking as young as her daughter. The arrangement of the three feet make it even easier to confuse the two women. All the figures are set against the backdrop of a striking mountains landscape. Consistently, Leonardo used mountain backdrop to give paintings their depth. The mountain backdrop can be found in his early painting of Annunciation, The Virgin of the Rocks, Madonna Litta, The Last Supper, the Mona Lisa etc. The presence of mountains in his paintings could also be connected to his interest in geological and hydrological studies. St Anne also carries one of Leonardo’s distinctive enigmatic smile.The Virgin and Child with St Anne. 1508-13.Musee du Louvre, Paris.
Late Florence YearsThe Virgin and Child with St Anne. 1508-13. Musee du Louvre, Paris.
Late Florence YearsThe relation between this Leonardo’s BurlingtonHouse Cartoon in London and The Virgin and Childwith St Anne in the Louvre is far from clear.Scholars are still uncertain.The drawing depicts Mary seated on her mother’sknee (St Anne) twisted to hold onto baby Jesus,who was preoccupied with his cousin St John theBaptist. Note St Anne was depicted on the samelevel as Mary and her right shoulder and her rightarm was missing. Cartoon : Virgin & Child with St Anne & St John the Baptist. c1501. National Gallery, London
NLate Florence Years ew fin dThe painting was last acquired in 2005. It has beenauthenticated by a group of experts in 2007. It wasfirst exhibited in London in 2011, after its latestrestoration.The painting shows Christ holding a clear crystalsphere, painted in delicacy and precision. It waspainted for the King of France.Tiny specks of bubble in the globe, suggest it is madeof quartz crystal. The secret knowledge of working thecrystal into a sphere was lost at the time of thepainting. Thus the spherical crystal was arepresentation of perfection.Christ as Salvator Mundi. 1506 onward. Private Collection.
France The last years 1517-1519In 1517 Leonardo went to France, at the invitation of Francis I. He died in May 1519, aged 67. Ingres painted theabove in 1818, as he imagined that Leonardo died in the arms of Francis I, as his honoured guest.
Leonardo Portraits Do you think the facial expressions of Leonardo’s portraits change with time?
Leonardo Portraits These faces were painted after 1500. Are the expressions looking different from the earlier faces?
1452 – 1519 67 yearsLeonardo Timeline There are only about 16 paintings which are believed to be painted by Leonardo existing today, in the world.
The End A16C copy of Leonardo’s Battle of Anghiari painted as fresco in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence.“I am well aware that because I did not study the ancients, some foolish men will accuse me of being uneducated.They will say that because I did not learn from their school books, I am unqualified to express an opinion. But Iwould reply that my conclusions are drawn from first hand experience, unlike the scholars who only believe whatthey read in books written by others.” Leonardo da Vinci. All rights reserved. Rights belong to their respective Music – Julian Bream plays the Vivaldi owners. Available free for non-commercial and personal Concerto in D for Lute and string RV93. use.