As I prepare to fine tune my own interpretation of Classical Portraits and shoot my Latino Mona Lisa I felt I needed to explore the work of Leonardo Da Vinci a bit further. Perhaps I need to justify to myself why his work appeals to me and what it is about him as an artist that I resonate with.
I was brought up a Roman Catholic and Da Vinci’s Last Supper was always, of course, the only ‘painting’ we had by the dinner table… quite frankly I always associated with food and not art – yes, shoot me now.
Ok, I admit I have a soft spot for Da Vinci and he is why:
a) He had a brilliant mind. He was an artist, an sculptor, an engineer, a scientist and an inventor. I was lucky enough to see some of the things he worked on, his notebooks, sketches, etc in an exhibition in Rome a couple of hours ago.
b) Initially a well known painter of Al Fresco he moved to Florence circa 1499 (he painted the mural of the Last Supper in a monastery in there). It was whilst living in Florence that Da Vinci painted many portraits, unfortunately his only surviving work is the famous Mona Lisa
On close examination, The Last Supper was meticulously planned and features plenty of semiotics from mathematical symbolism to Judas holding a small bag (no doubt reference to his payment for betraying Jesus). Judas is also the only disciple cast in a shadow. The painting also features plenty of still life ie lace, bread, etc.
c) I saw the Mona Lisa when I visited the Louvre a few years ago and I can honestly say no picture does it justice. The way Da Vinci brought her to life, the way he highlighted in all the right places, his placement of ‘light’ was striking. I almost felt I was looking right into her yes. Sadly, it was covered in a layer of vanish and as it ages its making the colours dull and covering it with a hint of yellow. I hope it can be restored at some point.
As far as technicalities is concerned and according to BBC Science, Leonardo used a technique known as Sfumato – the blurring of sharp edges by blending colours – to leave the corners of the eyes and the mouth in shadow. It is this technique that makes the Mona Lisa‘s expression ambiguous.
The background of the painting has been made to look more hazy, with fewer distinct outlines than the foreground. This technique is known as aerial perspective, and Leonardo was one of the first painters to use it to give his paintings more depth.