December 26, 2008

The Art of Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci (1492 – 1519), is featured in the current exhibit, “Leonardo: 500 Years into the Future” which at the Tech museum of Innovation in San Jose, California USA and will be showing until January 25, 2009. If you are in the area, and you are interested in science and engineering, I highly recommend it. For more information, see Leonardo’s studies in science and engineering are as impressive and innovative as his artistic work.

(Leonardo da Vinci. Vitruvian Man. c. 1485-90.
sketch on paper. Galleria dell' Accademia, Venice.)

It is very hard to sum up the work and life of a man that made so many contributions to art, science and engineering. He recorded observations in his notebooks every day, comprising some 13,000 pages of notes and drawings, which fuse art and natural philosophy and are the forerunners of modern science. These notebooks were maintained daily throughout Leonardo’s life and travels as he made continual observations of the world around him.

(Leonardo da Vinci. Study of Hydraulic Instrumentation.
c. 1482. sketch on paper. Milan,Spain.)

Leonardo is now famous for the range and variety of his talents, embracing science as well as art. However, most of his scientific work remained hidden in his notebooks for centuries, and his contemporaries only recognized him primarily as a painter. His output of paintings was small (and he left several works unfinished), partly because his mind was constantly roaming to new interests, but in spite of this he was immensely influential.

(Leonardo da Vinci. The Last Supper. c. 1495 - 1498.
tempera on gesso. Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan.)

He is regarded as the main creator of the majestic High Renaissance style, which moved away from the emphasis on line and the decorative detailed characteristics of so many 15th century Italian paintings. Although no one painted detail more exquisitely than Leonardo, he combined this detail with the grandeur of form and the unity of atmosphere, through his wonderfully subtle handling of light and shade.

(Leonardo da Vinci. Madonna in der Felsengrotte (Virgin on
the Rocks).
c. 1503 - 1506. oil on panel. National Gallery, London.)

At times Leonardo led an unsettling existence. His career was divided mainly between Florence and Milan, plus he spent his final years in France as an honored guest of Francois I. By the time of his death he had already acquired a legendary aura.

(Leonardo da Vinci. The Annunciation. c. 1472-1475.
oil & tempera on panel. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.)

Although the identity of the sitter still remains unknown, the Mona Lisa is now so famous that it is difficult to imagine how fresh and innovative it must have looked to Leonardo’s contemporaries. The portrait was among the first to depict the sitter before a made-up landscape, unlike the plain backgrounds characteristics of the previous portrait paintings that came before it. The sensuous curves of the sitter’s hair and clothing mirror the rolling imaginary valleys and rivers behind her creating a calming sense of harmony throughout the painting. The relaxed naturalism of the pose, with the hands casually overlapping, and the intriguing subtlety of the expression made all of the earlier portraits of the 15th century look extremely stiff.

(Leonardo da Vinci. La Gioconda (Mona Lisa).
c. 1503-1506. oil on Poplar. Louvre, Paris.)

Using a half figure pose with the subject’s upper body turned three quarters of the way toward the artist, the composition is made up of a pyramid. Her folded hands form the bottom of the pyramid while her shoulders form the sides and her head is at the peak. This naturally leads the eye of the viewer up to the eyes of the subject which line up perfectly with the line of the landscape behind her. Leonardo revolutionized portrait painting. Five centuries later, portraits are still using his style! I can't say enough about his contributions to art, science & engineering, his work is very much appreciated here!

Enjoy :)