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FAH230 - Final Exam Review.docx

Course Code
Flora Ward
Study Guide

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Week 8: The Genius of Leonardo
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
o Key protagonist of the „high renaissance‟ - considered the founder of this period
o Leonardo was 12 or 13 when his family moved to Florence from the Tuscan village of Vinci
o In Florence, Leonardo did an apprenticeship with Florentine painter and sculptor Verrocchio
o After his apprenticeship he spent a number of years on his own and in 1481 or 1482 he traveled to Milan to work for
the ruling Sforza family
o While in Milan he spent much of his time on military and civil engineering projects, including both urban-renewal and
fortification plans for the city (but he also created a few key monuments of Renaissance painting)
o First artist in Vsari‟s lives of Italian Artists
o Wrote a lot of treatise about a number subjects including the art of painting, engineering, hydraulics, nature, botany,
geology etc.
o Leonardo was 12 or 13 when his family moved to Florence from the Tuscan village of Vinci
1. Andrea del Verrocchio and workshop, completed by Leonardo, Baptism of Christ, 1468-
77, oil on wood, Florence, Uffizi
o Completed by Leonardo and his painting school
o Standard iconography for the depiction of the baptism of Christ
o Leonardo is responsible for the angel on the left, which he completed when he was still very
o Verrocchio‟s workshop mainly known for sculpture, but obviously they did some painting as
o Verrocchio‟s style is more cutting, harsh and well defined in young Leonardo‟s we already
see a softness and more colorful hand
o Definition between figures and background is very harsh Leonardo‟s own paintings would
include the sfumato technique the blurring of contours
2. Leonardo, Portrait of Ginevra de’Benci, 1474-78, oil on panel
o By the time Leonardo creates this work he is an artist working on his own (with his own
o Painting is unique because it is painted on both sides
o According to the prof the back is as important as the front
o Completed using the oil on panel technique developed in the north and brought to Italy
o Subject stands in front of a bush of Juniper (ginepro) = Ginevra seems like the juniper motif
was used as a symbolic pun on Ginevra‟s name however the pun is not supported by any
contemporary source and the juniper stood as a symbol of sorrow, pain and loss in the whole of
the Middle Ages (therefore frequently used in portraits of widows)
o In the back we see a laurel and the Juniper bush again tied together by a latin inscription
“Virtutem dormat decorat” = Beauty adorns virtue
o Ginevra shows no hint of a simile and her gaze, though forward, seems indifferent to the
o Technical analysis:
Scholars have understood this painting as have been cut on both sides at
some point
Reason for this attribution is that the earliest descriptions talk about the hands
o Technical analysis reveals that the painting used a prototype from his own workshop
o 3. Verrocchio, Portrait of a Lady with Flowers, ca. 1475, Florence
Sculpture served as a prototype on how to construct this work
Verrocchio‟s sculpture is a frontal bust with the sitter looking directly at us
o In Leonardo‟s painting there is a sense of movement – so not an exact copy/use of the
o Juniper bush (dark bush behind the figure) creates one of the earliest examples of the
chiaroscuro technique
Chiaroscuro = light/dark contrast enhances the 3-d forms
Sfumato = blurring of contours
4. Leonardo, Adoration of the Magi, 1481-2, oil on wood, Florence, Uffizi
o Last work of Leonardo‟s in Florence - not complete - we only see the first layers of colors -
shows us how the artist thought in pictorial terms

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o Allows us to see how Leonardo actually created a work of art and the technicalities of the artist‟s craft
o Painting is ichnographically important as well as the Adoration of the Magi was always depicted a certain way
o Typical Magi Scene- 5. Gentile da Fabriano, Adoration of the Magi, 1423, Florence, Uffizi
Scene depicts the three Magi and the courtiers
Scene of the Virgin and Jesus are always located on one side to leave room for the
parade of the magi
o In Leonardo‟s Adoration he places his theological argument/figures at the centre of the
o There is a sense of movement the Magi here are not the protagonists Madonna and child
are the protagonists placed directly at the centre
o Christ manifestation of the new religion and also the redemption and salvation for followers
against paganism represented in the painting as ancient ruins
Leonardo sent a letter to the duke of Milan (Sforza) - indicating at least 10 different fields he could
him help him with - including last that he could serve as a painter as well - presented himself as
an engineer, architect, artist, sculpture etc. (artist in the fullest sense)
6. Leonardo, Study for the Sforza monument, 1488-89
o Colossal Equestrian monument celebration of the Sforza as the
rulers of Milan
o The monument was actually never realized
o We know about it through Leonardo‟s preparations for it (drawings
and studies)
o It was supposed to be 7m in height (more than 3x life size) and sit
in a public square in front of the cathedral of Milan
o Proposed size of the Sforza monument far greater than the equestrian
monuments we have encountered 7. Verrocchio, Equestrian Monument
of Bartolomeo Colleoni, approx.4m, 1481-95, Venice and 8. Donatello,
Equestrian Monument to Gattamelata, 1447-53, 3.4m, Padua
o Leonardo was to create a horse that was in movement and defeating an
enemy thus completely different to the other two in terms of technicalities
o Both Donatello‟s and Verrocchio‟s were cast in multiple bronze pieces
o Leonardo wanted to cast it in one piece it took him years to come up with the
o Why wasn‟t it completed?
In 1499 the French army invaded Milan and Leonardo had to leave the city without completing the project
o The process of thinking about a new project that would challenge traditional artistic creations is what makes it
9. Leonardo, The Virgin of the Rocks, ca. 1485, oil on wood, Louvre
o While he was engaged with the Duke of Milan he still took on other projects
o The Virgin of the Rocks was painted for the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception to paint an altarpiece for
their chapel in the church of San Francesco Grande in Milan
o The subject is the immaculate conception of the Virgin
o The immaculate conception was debated by Franciscans and Dominicans
o There was no iconography for the immaculate conception
o The Virgin on the Rocks is one of the earliest manifestations of the Dogma
o Virgin is on one hand holding St. John the Baptist (on the left - Jesus‟ younger cousin),
and on the other she is trying to reach Jesus who is blessing St. John
o The enigmatic figure of the angel (to the right of Jesus) who looks out without
actually making eye contact with the viewer points to the centre of interaction
o Theme of the immaculate conception is recreated in the background behind rocks,
which mirrored the contemporary dogmatic texts
o The stable, balanced, pyramidal figural group a compositional formula that will
become a standard feature of High Renaissance Classicism - is set against the
exquisitely detailed landscape that dissolves mysteriously into the misty distance
o To assure that the figures dominate the composition, Leonardo picks them out with
spotlights, creating a strong chiaroscuro that enhances their modeling as 3-D forms
o The painting is also an excellent example of the specific variant of the sfumato
technique in which there are subtle, almost imperceptible transitions between light and
dark in shading, as if the painting is seen through smoke or fog
o The first of the Virgin on the Rocks was not given to the patron but sold on the open
market why he would have done so to make more money is unknown, but we do
have the legal documents to back this up
10. Leonardo, The Virgin of the Rocks, about 1491-2/1506-8, oil on poplar, National
o The Franciscan friars still wanted the painting they paid Leonardo for

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o Scholars have traditionally seen the Louvre version as the first and the London version as the 2nd copy but
according to our reading they are both originals
o Technical analysis:
What do we learn?
Leonardo wanted to change the subject but then modified his own iconography and returned back to the
original work of art
Both paintings were originals by the artist the London version was the one that ended up in the
Franciscan church were it was displayed as an altarpiece
Two paintings differ in compositional details, in colour, in lighting and the handling of the paint
Both paintings show a grouping of four figures arranged in a triangular composition where the Virgin is
the apex of the pyramidal figure group (St. John, The Virgin, Jesus and the Angel)
The main compositional difference between the two paintings is that while in the London painting, the
angel‟s right hand rests on her knee, in the Louvre painting the hand is raised, the index finger pointing at
John the Baptist
London version all the forms are more defined and the rocks are painted in meticulous detail
o Two works of art with the same subject was an unfamiliar concept in the Renaissance, unlike today where artists
often create multiple originals
11. Leonardo, The Last Supper, 1495-98, tempera and oil on plaster, refectory, Milan, Santa Maria delle Grazie
o Canonical scene for Monastery refectories
o Patronized by the Sforza in Milan whose coat of arms is seen above the last supper scene
o Canonical last super before Leonardo 12. Andrea del Castagno, The Last Supper, ca.1445-50, Florence,
Refectory of Sant’ Apollonia
Breaking with traditional representations of the subject,
Leonardo placed the traitor Judas clutching his money bags
in the shadows within the triad to the left of Jesus, along with
the young John the Evangelist and the elderly Peter, rather
than isolating him on the opposite side of the table
Judas, Peter and John were each to play an essential role in
Jesus‟ mission: Judas set in motion the events leading to
Jesus‟ sacrifice; Peter led the Church after Jesus‟ death; and
John, the visionary, foretold the Second Coming and the Last Judgement in
the Book of Revelations
o Main innovation of Leonardo is that Judas is inscribed within the other 12 apostles and
thus not alone on the other side of the table (as had been in
previous Last Super representations)
o In fictive space defined by a coffered ceiling and four pairs of
tapestries that seem to extend the refectory itself into another room,
Jesus and his disciples are seated at a long table placed parallel to
the picture plane and to the monastic diners who would have been
seated in the hall below
o In a sense, Jesus‟ meal with his disciples prefigures the daily
gathering of this local monastic community at mealtimes
o The stagelike space recedes from the table to the three
windows on the back wall, where the vanishing point of the
one-point linear perspective lies behind Jesus‟ head
o A stable, pyramidal Jesus at the center is flanked by his 12
disciples, grouped in four interlocking sets of three
o On one level, Leonardo has painted a scene from a story:
One that captures the individual reactions of the
apostles to Jesus‟ announcement that one of them will betray him they were
astonished, so the work allowed Leonardo to continue his study of emotions and how we express them
with our face, hands, gestures etc.
Leonardo was an acute observer of human behavior, and his art
captures human emotions with compelling immediacy
o On the other level, The Last Super is a symbolic evocation of Jesus
coming sacrifice for the salvation of humankind, the foundation of the
institution of the Mass
o The painting‟s careful geometry, the convergence of its perspective lines,
the stability of its pyramidal forms, and Jesus‟ calm demeanor at the
mathematical centre of all the commotion together reinforce the sense of
gravity, balance and order.
o The clarity and stability of this painting epitomize High Renaissance style
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