RSS Feed (xml)

Powered By

Skin Design:
Free Blogger Skins

Powered by Blogger

Friday, November 21, 2008

So much to learn from Leonardo da Vinci’s world of art


Is Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) the greatest artist to ever live? What is that quintessential element that made Mona Lisa and the Last Supper his most famous masterpieces?

Mona Lisa is arguably the most talked about portrait of all time and Last Supper is one of the most celebrated paintings worldwide.

Last Supper dramatically depicts that Biblical moment after Jesus informs His 12 disciples that one of them is to betray Him (Matthew 26: 23-25).

The mural wields heavyweight influence that it took some of the best artists 22 years, starting 1977, to clean and scrape away “500 years of dirt, glues, and mold, as well as many layers of overpainting by zealous previous restorers” in order to “preserve what is left of Leonardo’s work”.

But that’s beside the point. The discussion is: what really separated Leonardo da Vinci from the boys? In a 1983 National Geographic article, Carlo Bertelli writes that Leonardo da Vinci was a man after perfection.

That one day, the painter saw a stranger whose eyes bore “a sadness and pathos” he had been struggling to sketch. So he followed him through the streets of Milan until he memorised “the details of the man’s face”, with which he visualised Apostle James as he wanted him on the painting.

Matteo Bandello, a Leonardo contemporary and writer, also wrote that Leonardo “would stay from sunrise till darkness, never laying down the brush, but continuing to paint without eating or drinking. Then three or four days would pass without his touching the work, yet each day he would spend several hours examining it and criticizing the figures to himself.”

Leonardo has been described as “a master of perspective” who “designed the ceiling of the room in his Last Supper; the tabletop and the height of the figures all to give anyone in the dining hall the feeling of dining with Christ and the Apostles.” He preferred intriguing subjects and in the Last Supper, he was captivated by the “concept of betrayal”. That’s why the spotlight in the painting is on a seemingly isolated Jesus and the reactions of the twelve are captured vividly; their faces reveal different emotions, the shock and anxiety caused by the disheartening words of their master.

In the book Lives of the Artists: Leonardo da Vinci, 16thCentury painter and biographer Giorgio Vasari lauds Leonardo for drawing with “such marvellous skill” and for painting with “wonderful realism” which made his creations look “more convincing than the real thing.” In the Last Supper, Leonardo left the head of Jesus unfinished; convinced he would never give it “the divine spirituality it demands.”

Then he did his best to depict “features that would form the countenance of a man (Judas Iscariot) who, despite all the blessings he had been given, could so cruelly steel his will to betray his own master and the creator of the world”.

So, Judas as he appears on the Last Supper is “the very embodiment of treachery and inhumanity.” More amazing is that “the texture of the very cloth on the table is counterfeited so cunningly that the linen itself could not look more realistic.”

It is said that Leonardo had a room which no one else ever entered. Sometimes he locked himself in to weigh ideas which he would later express masterfully with his paint brush. To Vasari, Mona Lisa is the best example of “how faithfully art can imitate nature”.

He describes the portrait beginning with eyes as having their “natural lustre and moistness, and around them were the lashes and all those rosy and pearly tints that demand the greatest delicacy of execution. The eyebrows were completely natural, growing thickly in one place and lightly in another and following the pores of the skin. The nose was finely painted, with rosy and delicate nostrils as in life.

The mouth, joined to the flesh-tints of the face by the red of the lips, appeared to be living flesh rather than paint. On looking closely at the pit of her throat, one could swear that the pulses were beating...”

Leonardo was very creative while painting Mona Lisa that he hired singers and comedians to keep her happy “and so chase away the melancholy that painters usually give to portraits.”
That’s how he managed to capture what has since come to be famously known as the “enigmatic smile”, which Vasari describes as “so pleasing that it seemed divine rather than human; and those who saw it were amazed to find that it was as alive as the original.”

Clearly, Ugandan artists have much to learn from the patience, hard work, creativity and class of the Italian genius, whose works continue to immensely influence modern art over 500 years after his demise.