LEONARDO DA VINCI (1452-1519) ARTIST , SCIENTIST AND TOWERING INFLUENCE OF THE ITALIAN RENAISSANCE. HIS BRILLIANCE AND TECHNICAL EXPERTISE HAD NO EQUAL.A TRULY MAGNIFICENT EXPRESSION OF THE GENIUS OF RENAISSANCE ART DURING THE 15TH CENTURY:PART 1

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In this article  I am going to be discussing the influence of Leonardo on Renaissance art during the  15th Century in Italy. Born in 1472 near Empoli in Italy Leonardo started his artistic training under the great Italian Master Andrea Verrochio.

The two great masterpieces of Leonardo were the Last supper and Mona Lisa (Lisa del Giombo).

”  Leonardo’s last supper overwhelms the viewer with the appearance immediacy . in fact however the different perspective systems of real and painted space, the ideally informing even the very smallest detail of the composition”. [1].

Leonardo’s  use of perspective and immaculate drawing of Christand his  disciples showed the development of a very great master of art as Wundrum gives testimony to.

Wundrum shows that Leonardo represented the highest development of intellectual artistic practices during this period. ” Leonardo was the perfect embodiment of the ideal of the universal artist , active in every branch of art and at the same time educated in every field” [2].

” The other aspect of Leonardo’s art the ideality  of form was taken up in in central Italy in the architecture . its counterparts in painting were symmetrical pictorial formats such as the square and the compass”. [3].

As Wundrum shows in his discussion of Renaissance art Leonardo an expert in Mathematics as well as geometry and other branches of Science had no equal in his perfect representation of geometrical shapes. This of course added to his pictorial composition balancing figures landscape and his use of space and light which produced perfect compositions.

Referring to Leonardo’s Virgin and the child with St Anne Wundrum comments ” Leonardo was the embodiment of the Renaissance ideal of the universal man , the first artist to attain complete mastery of all branches of art”. [4].

Giampietrino-Last-Supper-ca-1520

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Leonardo always owed a lot to the great Italian master of Verrochio who Leonardo trained under and worked with other artists in the same Guild located in Florence. Leonardo would come to be recognised as one of the great Florentine painters of the Renaissance.

” He(Leonardo) received his artistic training under Verrochio  in Florence with whose workshop he retained contacts even after having become an Independent Master”. [5].

Wundrum shows how the Last Supper had an effect on the great Flemish artist Rembrandt Von Rijn. ” Even  Rembrandt generally standing aloof from Italian art was unable to resist its outcome. Leonardo’s work revolutionised both pictorial and painterly possibilities”[6].

”  In Leonardo’s Virgin and St Anne’s Leonardo binds the gestures and poses of his figures into the geometric forms governing the composition”. [7].

” Leonardo models both Silhouettes and inner contours purely out of colour in this respect already looking forward to the late works of Titian”.[8].

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Leonardo-Annunciation-Madon

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Leonardo painting in the 15th century was still experiencing problems with paint and pigment although Oil was still being used many artists still used tempera which meant that the drying process was not as good as oil painting. We must remember during the 15th century that the Roman Catholic church and the papacy were the people who commissioned and ordered work , it was very difficult at times to have independent commissions from wealthy Princes or merchants. It was the church that dominated the art market and artists like Leonardo were very quick to recognise this.

Peter and Linda Murray in their book on the Renaissance quickly recognise the genius of Leonardo.” Leonardo da Vinci was regarded even by his contemporaries  as an astonishing virtuoso and to the men of the 16th century he seemed to have been the last of the primitives , or the first of the generation around 1500 which they regarded as the culmination of the whole process of the Renaissance”. [9].

” Leonardo has always been famous because of the fantastic range of his genius: he was not only one of the greatest artists but he was probably the best anatomist in the world ‘ and natural scientist almost without a peer”. [10].

The Murrays continue to concentrate on Leonardo’s scientific achievements which would be borne out by his depiction of Landscapes and the external world.

” But in both cases  it is evident that he was already demonstrating that passion for actuality and curiosity about the appearance of nature which was to be his principal characteristic”. [11].

One of the most beautiful paintings was a portrait of Ginerva de Benci . ” The sitters pale face stands out against a dark background of carefully observed juniper trees”. [12].

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Leonardo_da_Vinci_-_Portrait_of_a_Musician

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Commenting on the adoration of the Kings the Murrays show how every facial detail and gesture is observed and the depth of the picture shows that Leonardo copied and drew all sorts of pictures . He could draw horses , hands human depictions showing the minute detail of every aspect of the anatomy , his biological knowledge was immense and he was to use this in his depiction of the Magi and the Kings.

” The Adoration is full of closely observed gestures and facial expressions and it has a haunting romantic quality in the shadowy press of figures around the serene group in the medley of old men , youths , horses which surge up from among the ghostly figures that inhabit the ruined architecture in the background”. [13].

“It is no exaggeration to recognise in this picture the watershed of renaissance art, and determines the eventual course of Florentine and therefore of Italian painting”.[14].

The Murrays in discussing the other great religious picture by Leonardo ‘Virgin on the Rocks’ compare the adoration in the same way that Leonardo uses the compositional features to balance every aspect including the relation of real figures with ghostly ones.

” Once more the composition is pyramidal  and the inter relationship of the figures is such that a triangular pattern is formed on the picture plane , the apex of which is the head of the Madonna”. [15].

” Once more the relationship of the figures to their mysterious setting has the same like dream fantasy as in the adoration”. [16].

adoration-of-the-magi-da-vinci-copy-by-david-jean-1428C6E325260A99093

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untitled virgin of the rocks

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Peter and Linda Murray also comment on the Last supper which I have commented on . it is sad that the original cannot be now restored and several copies had to be made to show the actual figures of Christ and his followers.

” The other great work of this period is of course the last Supper. Leonardo is known to have been working on it in 1497 and it is this picture which perhaps more than any other can be said to be the first picture of the High Renaissance”. [17].

” The 16th century conception of the  artist as a  creative genius can certainly be traced back to Leonardo”. [18].

 “. [19].

Leonardo towards the end of his life achieved what he had set out to do and that was to work for Monarchy and he eventually was granted his wish and worked as a court painter for Francis 1st of France.

” He was appointed painter of France in 1507 and began to design an equestrian monument to the City’s Governor”. [20].

This concludes my first part of an appreciation of Leonardo Da Vinci. In Part 2 and 3 I will concentrate on his development in later years and particularly his scientific drawings for a number of projects including designs for military weapons during that period.

FOOTNOTES

  1. RENAISSANCE TASCHEN BOOKS MANFRED WUNDRUM PG.16
  2. DITTO PG.16
  3. DITTO PG.16
  4. DITTO PG.50
  5. DITTO PG.50
  6. DITTO PG.50
  7. DITTO PG.50
  8. DITTO PG.50
  9. THE ART OF THE RENAISSANCE  PETER AND LINDA MURRAY WORLD OF ART BOOKS. PG 227
  10. DITTO PG.227
  11. DITTO. PG.230
  12. DITTO PG.230
  13. DITTO PG.232
  14. DITTO PG.232
  15. DITTO PG.234
  16. DITTO PG.234-5
  17. DITTO PG.238
  18. DITTO PG.239
  19. DITTO PG.242
  20. DITTO.PG.243

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