Virtual Meeting 2December2015
Learning about Leonardo DaVinci
1. Beginning his apprenticeship with Verrocchio
Apprenticeships were extremely important in Leonardo’s time, they were almost the only way an artist could learn and get the experience he needed to become a skilled artist and craftsman. Leonardo apprenticed with an artist named Verrocchio, who was also skilled in sculpture, casting bronze and other metals, and painting, of course, especially frescos, which is painting on wet plaster (and is one of the reasons we have so many pieces of artwork from this time, because it is a stable and long-lived painting technique).
The painting “The Baptism of Christ” was mainly a work by Verrocchio, but as was very common, his apprentices did much of the drawing and preparation of the painting, and even some of the actual work. Take a look at the painting:
It is the 4th page of the PDF, and you might be able to zoom in on the two little angels in the lower left hand corner. It was hard to find a good enough image online so you can see the faces clearly. Which angel do you like more? Which one seems more transfixed at what is happening in the painting (baptism of the Christ baby).
Leonardo painted the little angel on the far lower left hand side of the painting, and his master painted the one on the right. It is said that Verrucchio gave up painting after seeing Leonardo’s angel (so much better than his), but that can’t be confirmed. Some more information:
2. 1479 – Leonardo is almost 30 years old, and was moving ahead in his painting skills and artistry. He had been apprenticing with Verrocchio, an esteemed artist in Florence, Italy, for almost 13 years, but had, in some ways, already surpassed his master.
He was known to have said to fellow artists: “avoid repetition in favor of a mixture of various appearances, of different ages, and cotumes, also mixed with women, children, dogs, horses, buildings, fields and hills”. Do you think he followed his own advice in his painting “Adoration of the Magi?”
What else can you notice about this picture?
During Leonardo’s apprenticeship, artists were starting to play with the theory of linear perspective. When you look outside off into the distance, you will notice that things that are far away are smaller, and also start to blur and turn lighter in color. There is also the POV (Point of View) of painting: where are you standing (as the observer) in relation to the painting? Above? Straight on?
Look at the Adoration of the Magi again, what is your point of view in relationship to the Madonna in the center? How about the people in the background?
Take a look at Boticelli’s version of the Adoration of the Magi (imitation and copying other artists to make your own version was very common and not thought of as cheating or stealing):
Click on the picture to see a larger version.
Compare Boticelli’s POV with Da Vinci’s POV. Which one do you prefer? Which one seems more striking, or more emotional?
3. Leonardo’s The Last Supper – from 1895 on
This is painted on a wall in a refectory in Milan, so it is pretty difficult to see it in person (only 20 people at a time, 15 minutes only). The first l;ink is a good close-up, the second one has good information.
What emotions do you see in this painting? Leonardo once said the following:
“The good painter has essentially two things to represent : a person and that person’s state of mind. The first is easy, the second is difficult, for one has to achieve it through gestures and movement of the limbs”.
How does he use “gestures and movement of the limbs” in the Last Supper to show what each disciple is thinking and feeling? The Last Supper is when Jesus celebrates with his apostles, but also tells them that one of them (Judas) has betrayed him. Most artists chose one or of the other of these moments, but Leonardo chose to illustrate both of these moments, making for a very emotional, tumultuous painting.
4. Mona Lisa – Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocond
This is probably the most famous painting in the entire world, and Leonardo did do something very different with this painting. Most artist at this time outlined their drawings and pictures in pencil or charcoal before painting, so there would be lines emphasizing the contours and figures. Leonardo used no lines in painting the Mona Lisa, instead painted her with “light and shade”. For example, the nose is painted with gradations of light and dark that blend into one another. Take a close look at the following links, or if you have a book with a copy, look at that instead.
If you go through the gallery of pictures, it will give you some very nice closeups of the eyes and mouth.
This technique of painting with light and dark is called sfumato, and while historians don’t think Leonardo invented this technique, he certainly is one of the earliest and greatest users of it.
Another painting that shows his use of sfumato is his painting called Saint John the Baptist”.
5. We have only started to learn about Leonardo Da Vinci with this short introduction, because he was more than just an artist; he was a philosopher, inventor, sculptor, twon planner, mathematician, a true Renaissance man. I will give some more links to read and learn from at the end, but the one last art-related topic I wanted to cover was his penchant to invent and discover. Not only do we have beautiful drawings and diagrams of inventions and machines, we also have his drawings of when he explored anatomy (dissecting human corpses – illegal at the time!) and nature.
Here are some his drawings of his inventions:
6. Activities for rest of meeting/homework
– – I would like to pick something mechanical from around your house that you can take apart and draw on your iPad. A pen, the inside of an old appliance, an old tape cassette, whatever you have or can find. Try to make your drawing precise like Leonardo’s drawings, with sharp lines and descriptions written in.
– – Pick a painting or drawing of Leonardo that you particularly like and imitate it on your iPad to make your own translation/version. It can be any of them – he didn’t make that many paintings for us to choose from, so all of his drawings are open for your choice as well. Make more than one imitation if you enjoy doing this, there is no limit, whatever you want to do!
– – Here are some more learning links about Leonardo, if you want to learn some more: