By Diane Dunne
Celebrating the 500 Year Anniversary of Leonardo’s death, most major art museums in the world are paying tribute to this masterful genius.
It is fitting that the Louvre’s exhibition of 176 works would be the largest since they own five paintings, more than any other institution.
Leonardo is considered by many scholars to be the greatest artist in the world, with Michelangelo alongside. Yet the output of paintings that are left and attributed to him is a mere 15 or so.
Born in 1452 in the little town of Vinci near Florence, he apprenticed under the expertise of Andre del Verrocchio, who has some works in the show to which Leonardo contributed. At that time, masters had apprenticed paint-in details, figures, and backgrounds on parts of their paintings and sculptures. Rumor has it that the famous Verrocchio asked Leonardo to paint an angel into a Verrochio painting. When he saw Leonardo’s angel, he was so awed, that he stopped painting angels himself.
Around 1482 he moved to Milan, where he painted the Virgin of the Rocks, The Belle Ferronniere, and Lady with an Ermine. There he painted a mural of The Last Supper, completed in 1498, in tempera on gesso at the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. This work made him one of the most famous artists of his time. However, the paint hasn’t last, and the glorious piece is almost unviewable today.
In 1500, he returned to Florence where he produced masterpieces such as Saint Anne with Virgin and Child, The Battle of Anghiari, Saint John the Baptist and the Mona Lisa.
Leonardo dressed himself in his finest clothes to paint the Mona Lisa, and hired jugglers, comedians and chamber musicians to entertain the sitter so that she would look happy and retain her lovely smile. He kept this painting with him for over 15 years, until he died, always adding to it, and perfecting it. Infrared reflectography, an x-ray like imaging method that reveals layers of painting and under-drawings, shows that Leonardo made 35-39 changes to this revered work. He skillfully used sfumato, an artistic technique that employs subtle gradations of light and shadow to model form. Leonardo always was tweaking his works, which is why he often missed a patron’s deadline.
Mona Lisa is the most famous painting in the world. Ironically, there are no records of conclusive evidence stating who she was. Most scholars believe she was Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a Florentine silk merchant, Francesco del Giocondo.
In 1506 he returned to Milan, and in 1513 moved to Rome. In 1516, the French king Francois I invited him to Amboise, France where he spent his last three years. This is why the Louvre has the majority of his works.
Leonardo was more interested in the conceptualization of work, rather than the completion. Several of his famous pieces are left unfinished, such as The Adoration of the Magi owned by the Uffizi Gallery, and Saint Jerome in theWilderness which is from the Vatican Museum and was shown recently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The exhibition features valuable information in which we learn about Leonardo from his notebooks. It is a fascinating collection in all sizes and shapes, containing endless studies and drawings that reveal this master’s thought process, interest, and preparation.
There is a room devoted to his worship of science. Leonardo took a scientific approach to everything, feeling that science itself gave the artist freedom to master shade, light, space, and movement. He wished to be remembered as a man of science and architecture; lastly as an artist.
The Louvre’s exhibition was 10 years in the making for two curators, who drew on works from the Royal Collection, British Museum, National Gallery in London, Vatican Pinacoteca, Bibliotheca Ambrosiana in Milan, State Hermitage in Saint Petersburg, and Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, among others.
The exhibition finishes with a 7-minute Virtual Reality show where the Mona Lisa explains to you some of Leonardo’s art techniques which were cutting-edge during the 15th century. Then you fly in Leonardo’s airplane and hold onto your seat.
This writer spent 3-3/4 hours at a preview of the exhibition, and the last 45 minutes found herself in galleries alone with Leonardo and a guard. It was an inspiring occasion to immerse oneself into the life, mind, and awareness of Leonardo and discover this genius’s impact on life. — # Diane Dunne