We can always tell a Leonardo work by his treatment of hair, angelic in its fineness and by the lack of rigidity of the contour. The angel’s face in the painting known as ‘The Virgin of the Rocks’, has an interior and artistic wisdom that is like no other artwork. This painting is by world-renowned artist Leonardo da Vinci. It was painted in-between 1503 and 1506 in the period known as the High Renaissance. The Virgin of the Rocks, also known as ‘The Madonna of the Rocks’, is in the style of Leonardo’s earliest Florentine period, with its soft and glowing colors.
This work has represented the human form in that it has a womanly or motherly air about it. You can see that the gaze of the virgin in the middle is on the two babies.
Leonardo da Vinci’s major influence was his first teacher, Andrea Del Verrocchio. He worked as an apprentice at Verrocchio’s studio. One day, they were working on a panel-picture of St. John baptizing Christ. Leonardo painted an angel so well compared to that of Verrocchio’s that it is said that Verrocchio decided to give up painting then and there because a child could paint better than him.
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Painting for Leonardo could only succeed when clear principles were followed. The most important of these was the power of mathematics. He compared painting to philosophy; both were concerned with looking beyond appearances to the underlying structure and movement.
"The first object of the painter is to make a flat plane appear as a body in relief and projecting from that plane"
(Leonardo da Vinci)
He has used three different techniques in three of his famous works, the most famous being the ‘Mona Lisa’. Here he used the sfumato technique. He shaded the contours and backgrounds in opposition to areas of intense light. The emphatic play of light and shade creates a special atmosphere, half way between a dream and reality.
In the ‘Last Supper’, he used perspective. He found the vanishing point, which is the exact middle of the canvas. Two vertical lines were then drawn to create a large square in the center of the canvas and diagonals from the centre to the corners of the square were drawn to form the lines of perspective.
Another technique is called Chiaroscuro, which is Italian for ‘light-dark.’ This is where the figures seem to blend in with their surroundings, while their faces or another body part gleams out from the darkness. An example of this is ‘The Virgin of the Rocks’.
A few other works by Leonardo include ‘The Annunciation’, ‘The Virgin and Child with St. Anne’ and ‘The Adoration of the Magi’.
The period of time that Leonardo da Vinci belonged to is known as the High Renaissance, renaissance meaning ‘rebirth’. This period lasted between 1490 and 1530. During this time, artists were more interested in impressive art that had a universal idea rather than a naturalistic expression. Renaissance painting marked the transition from the medieval to the modern world and laid the foundations for modern Western values and society. It signifies a distinct style, where painters tried to create the illusion of reality through the use of linear perspective. They modeled with color and light to suggest weight and volume.
Renaissance painters worked freely and inventively rather than strictly. They also strived for idealism and realism in their works.
"This century like a golden age has restored to light
the arts, which almost disappeared; poetry, painting,
architecture, sculpture and music. And all this in Florence.
(letter by the Italian scholar Marsilio Ficino to Paul
A group of monks, one day, offered Leonardo a contract to paint a religious picture. They told him exactly what they wanted and how it was to be done. He produced what was called, "The Virgin of the Rocks". It was far richer in design, color and feeling than what the monks had expected it to be. They accused him of not doing what they wanted and took him to court.
This painting shows how Leonardo had progressed in his studies of light, shade and perspective. He explained that the shapes of objects were not made of lines, but instead of light and shade. He was the first Florentine artist to use mainly oil on his painting with which he was able to model forms through light and shade.
The story of ‘The Virgin of the Rocks’ is based upon a legend that the Christ child met John the Baptist in the wilderness. This painting is a favorite among many people because of the delicacy of the figures. The face of the virgin is at the apex of a pyramid formed by the faces of an angel, the baby Jesus and the baby John the Baptist. They are sitting in a dimly lit grotto setting of rocks and water that gives the work its name.
The virgin’s face radiates light and also there is a sense of pain on her face as if she can foresee the pain difficult destiny that her son will have to endure. There is also an atmosphere in the barren landscape, which gives the scene a visionary quality.
There was the effect of aerial perspective, where the tones blended towards a pale horizon, giving the full impression of distance in the picture. The four figures also seem to blend in with the rocks and plants, which surround them, while their faces have a glow that reaches out to the viewer. No artist ha ever filled a painting with shadows before. The flowers in the bottom left hand corner are painted with accuracy and detail. They are lifted towards the viewer and the light only falls on the petals. The drapery of the angel is also light and the shape of the body can be seen.
In conclusion, The Virgin of the Rocks is a clear example of how Leonardo effectively makes the transition between the Tuscan manner of Quattrocento and the more graceful beauty that is associated with the Renaissance. One form glides gently into another producing a masterpiece that overpowers the spectator.
"To the boldness and greatness of design, Leonardo
adds the counterfeiting of all the minute details of
nature, just as they are…he is most abundant in copying
from nature and most profound in artistic technique."
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