Drawing Lessons III – Leonardo da Vinci

Following is the second excerpt from my paper on Leonardo da Vinci.

?Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.?

Leonardo da Vinci


A genius such as Leonardo da Vinci, living in the Renaissance, was eagerly welcomed in this time of immense cultural and political fervor and growth. Apprenticed at age 13 to the Florentine artist Verrocchio, Leonardo worked in his studio until he was 23. During these years, while emerging as a highly-respected painter and receiving many important painting commissions, Leonardo sketched and wrote unceasingly, carrying his Notebook everywhere with him. He would make countless preliminary sketches and studies for every painting, invention, and design.

Klein (2008) observes:

?His notebooks are full of reflections inspired by details other people would likely deem insignificant and ignore. Leonardo, however, refused to take anything for granted. His mind worked like that of a child seeing everything for the first time and always wondering why things are the way they are and whether it might be possible for them to be some altogether different way.? (p. 26).

In his sketches, he not only explored the physical visage of his subjects but their emotions, spirit, and soul which was essential to him to convey in his work. After the Medieval time period and moving into the Renaissance, the personality of the subject became a principal focus in artist?s paintings and sculptures. This humanistic quality in Leonardo?s work was characteristic of the Renaissance, not only in art but in all areas of study and endeavor. In his sketches, Leonardo draws human beings and all living creatures with great empathy and sensitivity. For Leonardo, life, and then his art, was in the details. When he adjusted a minute detail in a drawing, such as a smile or tilt of the chin, Leonardo told a story about his subject. Leonardo wrote, ?Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art.?

For one of his first commissioned paintings of Madonna and Child, a subject Leonardo explored extensively in his art throughout his life, he would portray Mary with sensitivity, depicting her with human qualities such as vulnerability, sorrow, and approachability. This human approach to the divine subject had not been done prior to the Renaissance. Leonardo became famous throughout Europe, at a very young age, for these human, sensitive characteristics and spirit in the subjects of his work.

Leonardo often chose his subjects from Florence citizenry, street people or his friends, all of whom he would sketch unceasingly. He carried his Notebooks everywhere with him and found inspiration in the people he met every day for his art. Leonardo looked at all people the same way, whether they were a street urchin or a member of the royal court. In fact, several of the disciples in his renowned painting, The Last Supper, are Florence street people.

Bramly writes that Leonardo liked to base his figures on real people:

?He strolled the streets of Milan and sketched many faces in order to come up with the models for Christ’s disciples. It was smooth sailing until he tried to find someone “evil” looking enough to base Judas on. Apparently Leonardo dragged his feet on completing the fresco for a year while he searched for “his Judas.” The prior of the convent who was keeping tabs on the notoriously slow-working Leonardo finally complained to the Duke of Milan regarding the delay. Called in front of the Duke to explain himself, Leonardo had this to say: “…I have been going every day to the Borghetto, where Your Excellency knows that all the ruffians of the city live. But I have not yet been able to discover a villain’s face corresponding to what I have in mind. Once I find that face, I will finish the painting in a day. But if my research remains fruitless, I shall take the features of the prior who came to complain about me to Your Excellency and who would fit the requirements perfectly. But I have been hesitating a long time whether to make him a figure of ridicule in his own convent.” (p. 94).


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