Drawing Lessons IV – Leonardo da Vinci

?There are three classes of people:

?those who see, those who see?when they are shown, those who do not see.?

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? ????????Leonardo da Vinci


By the time Leonardo began to receive commissions for prestigious paintings for cathedrals and churches in Florence, he was in his mid-twenties and had already devoted much of his life drawing the natural world and forming his philosophy with regards to his devotion to nature.

Santi (1990) reflects:

?For the first time Leonardo could achieve in painting the intellectual program of fusion between human forms and nature which was slowly taking shape in his view of his art. Here there are no thrones or architectural structures to afford a spatial frame for the figures; instead there are the rocks of a grotto, reflected in limpid waters, decorated by leaves of various kinds of different plants while in the distance, as if emerging from a mist composed of very fine droplets, and filtered by the golden sunlight.? (p. 31).

One substantial influence Leonardo contributed to the drawing was his use of line, and in particular, the weight (width) of the lines he used. His use and choice of line weight became a tool as important as the pencil itself in his drawings.

Prior to Leonardo?s (and other Renaissance artists) forwardly progressive use of the two-dimensional line to create three-dimensional form, most three-dimensional form in art appeared two-dimensional, regardless of the artist?s efforts to represent three-dimensional form. Fluctuating line is defined by the use of varying widths and line weights to imply depth, suggest form and three-dimensionality, and also convey emotion. Use of fluctuating line is a ?melody? sung in all of Leonardo?s drawings and carried through in his paintings.

To this current day, artists employ the use of fluctuating lines to create drawings and works of art that resonate with richness of form and pictorial value, and express the energy and continuum of ongoing life experience, while at the same time creating the illusion of three-dimensional form on a two-dimensional surface.

Curtis (2009) highlights the magnitude of the importance of using fluctuating lines:

?Fluctuating line is the single most crucial element for establishing the overall level of sensitivity in a drawing. It is so fundamental that the presence of sensitive and varied line is reason enough for a drawing to be classified a masterpiece even when it contains inaccuracies of proportion or distorted spatial relationships. The lack of line variation, correspondingly, consigns countless drawings that accurately transcribe every object in the visual field to mediocrity. (pp. 26-27).

By developing the use of line to the highly refined level he did, Leonardo created infinite possibilities for the creative potential of just one of the seven elements of art. He revealed the possibilities that the intelligent and creative use of line offered for imparting a sense of dimension and depth to a work of art, and to create a genuine representation of the subject being observed. Once again, this important artistic convention and technique was developed by Leonardo through his lifetime of observing and drawing every detail of the world around him and his aspiration to convey his subject as close to reality as possible.

At the time Leonardo was apprenticed to Verrochio, Florence was thriving . In 1472, when Leonardo was 20 years old and had already been apprenticed to Verrochio for seven years, Florence boasted 40 workshops devoted to painting, 44 devoted to goldsmithery, 50 to engraving and half-relief, and more than 80 to carved and inlaid woodwork. The shops produced both objects of everyday use and expensive articles, publicly or privately commissioned. In this city, thriving with international commerce, politics, and culture, yet with a population of just 60,000 people, there existed a thirst and appreciation for all of the arts. It was in this Renaissance atmosphere that Leonardo and his contemporaries discovered and then contributed ideas about art and science that still remain at the apex of human achievement. (Lockley, 1999, pp.16-19).

Zollner (2001) relates:

?Vasari reports the following circumstances regarding the painting, The Baptism of Christ, for which Andrea del Vecchio [Leonardo?s master] had already done the main work: ?Leonardo painted an angel who was holding some drapery; and despite his youth, he executed it in such a manner that his angel was far better the the pictures painted by Andrea. This was the reason why Andrea would never touch colours [paints] again. He was so ashamed that a boy understood their use better than he did.? (pp. 10-14).

From childhood, Leonardo was fascinated with birds dreamed of being able to fly, and believed that man would, one day, fly as the birds. He sketched many designs for flying machines and built several models for airplanes, gliders, and parachutes.

Capra (2007) writes:

?Although the machines with movable mechanical wings were not destined to fly, the models built from Leonardo?s designs are extraordinary testimonies to his genius as scientist and engineer.? (p. 187).

The artist who created the Mona Lisa, designed functioning robots, constructed a flying machine, and built the first heart valve was a perfectionist and never completed many of his projects, including court-appointed commissions. Therefore, it is through his drawings we learn profoundly about the dazzling genius and inner man, Leonardo da Vinci. He drew with sweetness, sensitivity, and tremendous skill. The ideas he presented to the world in his drawings and writings encompass the existing, surrounding world along with worlds unknown and unexplored. The primary instrument though which he communicated and conveyed his ideas were through his Notebooks which include drawings and notes from a man who, who in his own words, wanted to know it all.

Leonardo brought movement and breath to every sketch he made. His work conveys a sense of inner meaning and joy. Many scholars and historians contend Leonardo?s curiosity, along with his desire to ?know everything?, propelled him towards the sun of aspiration and accomplishment he soared to reach. I, however, believe it was his heart and deep love, sensitivity, and understanding of all natural life and humanity that flamed the fire of his energy for art, invention, and imagination. Toward the end of his life, Leonard wrote in his Notebook,??I love those who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection.”

‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink, but they whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves their conduct, will pursue their principles unto death.?
Leonardo da Vinci


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