Leonardo Da Vinci Lesson Plans
Self portrait - 1512.
"Ten Questions to Ask Your Kids About Art"
"Questions to Ask About Art When Discussions Get Stuck"
"Successful Art Class Critique"
"Picture Talks" from Ambleside Online
"Picture Study Ideas" from Ambleside Online
1. Read a biography of da Vinci.
Chapter 43 of Picture Every Child Should Know by Mary Bacon.
"Leonardo da Vinci" from Knights of Art by Amy Steedman.
"Leonardo da Vinci" from Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists.
"Leonardo da Vinci" from Lives of the Artists by Giorgio Vasari (pdf) pages 204-231.
2. Complete Artist Worksheet on da Vinci.
3. Study "Mona Lisa" and complete Art Worksheet.
Read "Monna Lisa" from Great Pictures, as Seen and Described by Great Artists by Esther Singleton.
Oil on poplar panel, c.1503-1505
30 1/4 x 20 3/4 inches (77 x 53 cm)
Musée du Louvre, Paris
This portrait was doubtless painted in Florence between 1503 and 1506. It is thought to be of Lisa Gherardini, wife of a Florentine cloth merchant named Francesco del Giocondo - hence the alternative title, La Gioconda. However, Leonardo seems to have taken the completed portrait to France rather than giving it to the person who commissioned it. It was eventually returned to Italy by Leonardo's student and heir Salai. It is not known how the painting came to be in François I's collection.
The history of the Mona Lisa is shrouded in mystery. Among the aspects which remain unclear are the exact identity of the sitter, who commissioned the portrait, how long Leonardo worked on the painting, how long he kept it, and how it came to be in the French royal collection.
The portrait may have been painted to mark one of two events - either when Francesco del Giocondo and his wife bought their own house in 1503, or when their second son, Andrea, was born in December 1502 after the death of a daughter in 1499. The delicate dark veil that covers Mona Lisa's hair is sometimes considered a mourning veil. In fact, such veils were commonly worn as a mark of virtue. Her clothing is unremarkable. Neither the yellow sleeves of her gown, nor her pleated gown, nor the scarf delicately draped round her shoulders are signs of aristocratic status.
The Mona Lisa is the earliest Italian portrait to focus so closely on the sitter in a half-length portrait. The painting is generous enough in its dimensions to include the arms and hands without them touching the frame. The portrait is painted to a realistic scale in the highly structured space where it has the fullness of volume of a sculpture in the round. The figure is shown in half-length, from the head to the waist, sitting in a chair whose arm is resting on balusters. She is resting her left arm on the arm of the chair, which is placed in front of a loggia, suggested by the parapet behind her and the two fragmentary columns framing the figure and forming a "window" looking out over the landscape. The perfection of this new artistic formula explains its immediate influence on Florentine and Lombard art of the early 16th century. Such aspects of the work as the three-quarter view of a figure against a landscape, the architectural setting, and the hands joined in the foreground were already extant in Flemish portraiture of the second half of the 15th century, particularly in the works of Hans Memling. However, the spacial coherence, the atmospheric illusionism, the monumentality, and the sheer equilibrium of the work were all new. In fact, these aspects were also new to Leonardo's work, as none of his earlier portraits display such controlled majesty.
The Mona Lisa's famous smile represents the sitter in the same way that the juniper branches represent Ginevra Benci and the ermine represents Cecilia Gallerani in their portraits, in Washington and Krakow respectively. It is a visual representation of the idea of happiness suggested by the word "gioconda" in Italian. Leonardo made this notion of happiness the central motif of the portrait: it is this notion which makes the work such an ideal. The nature of the landscape also plays a role. The middle distance, on the same level as the sitter's chest, is in warm colors. Men live in this space: there is a winding road and a bridge. This space represents the transition between the space of the sitter and the far distance, where the landscape becomes a wild and uninhabited space of rocks and water which stretches to the horizon, which Leonardo has cleverly drawn at the level of the sitter's eyes. From the Louvre.
According to Vasari, this picture is a portrait of Mona or Monna (short for Madonna) Lisa, who was born in Florence in 1479 and in 1495 married the Marquese del Giocondo, a Florentine of some standing - hence the painting's other name, `La Gioconda'. This identification, however, has sometimes been questioned.
Leonardo took the picture with him from Florence to Milan, and later to France. It must have been this portrait which was seen at Cloux, near Amboise, on 10 October 1517 by the Cardinal of Aragon and his secretary, Antonio de Beatis. There is a slight difficulty here, however, because Beatis says that the portrait had been painted at the wish of Giuliano de Medici. Historians have attempted to solve this problem by suggesting that Monna del Giocondo had been Giuliano's mistress.
The painting was probably acquired by François I from Leonardo himself, or after his death from his executor Melzi. It is recorded as being at Fontainebleau by Vasari (1550), Lomazzo (1590), Peiresc, and Cassiano del Pozzo (1625). The latter relates that when the Duke of Buckingham came to the French court to seek the hand of Henrietta of France for Charles I, he made it known that the King was most anxious to own this painting; but the courtiers of Louis XIII prevented him from parting with the picture. It was put on exhibition in the Musée Napoléon in I8o4; before that, in 1800, Bonaparte had it in his room in the Tuileries.
From the beginning it was greatly admired and much copied, and it came to be considered the prototype of the Renaissance portrait. It became even more famous in 1911, when it was stolen from the Salle Carrée on 21 August 1911 by Vicenzo Perrugia, an Italian workman. In 1913 it was found in Florence, exhibited at the Uffizi, then in Rome and Milan, and brought back to Paris on 31 December in the same year.
This figure of a woman, dressed in the Florentine fashion of her day and seated in a visionary, mountainous landscape, is a remarkable instance of Leonardo's sfumato technique of soft, heavily shaded modeling. The Mona Lisa's enigmatic expression, which seems both alluring and aloof, has given the portrait universal fame.
Reams have been written about this small masterpiece by Leonardo, and the gentle woman who is its subject has been adapted in turn as an aesthetic, philosophical and advertising symbol, entering eventually into the irreverent parodies of the Dada and Surrealist artists.
Vasari relates that Leonardo worked on it for four years without being able to finish it; yet the picture gives the impression of being completely realized. The dates suggested for it vary between 1503 and 1513, the most widely accepted being 1503-05.
Taking a living model as his point of departure, Leonardo has expressed in an ideal form the concept of balanced and integrated humanity. The smile stands for the movement of life, and the mystery of the soul. The misty blue mountains, towering above the plain and its river, symbolize the universe. From Web Gallery of Art.
There is a suggestion of a smile both in the Mona Lisa's eyes and on the lips and in the corners other mouth; it appears unfathomable and mysterious and during the course of the centuries has given rise to any number of interpretations. Giorgio Vasari, writing about the arts, provided an amusing explanation: Leonardo wanted to depict the lady in a happy mood and for that reason arranged for musicians and clowns to come to the portrait sittings. This anecdote was ingeniously supported by the name he gave the portrayed woman: "La Gioconda", which means nothing less than "the merry one".
In the essay "On the perfect beauty of a woman'', by the 16th-century writer Firenzuola, we learn that the slight opening of the lips at the corners of the mouth was considered in that period a sign of elegance. Thus Mona Lisa has that slight smile which enters into the gentle, delicate atmosphere pervading the whole painting. To achieve this effect, Leonardo uses the sfumato technique, a gradual dissolving of the forms themselves, continuous interaction between light and shade and an uncertain sense of the time of day. From Web Gallery of Art.
In his treatise on painting, Leonardo wrote that in a good painting contours had to become more blurred the further into the background they were. This creates his famous sfumato, which makes all things look as if they were seen through a veil. There was nothing new in depicting landscapes as decorative or symbolic backgrounds to portraits, but Leonardo's skill lay in his ability to combine both pictorial elements into one harmonious whole by linking them to each other in various ways. The bridge, for example, is nothing more than a continuation of the archlike rising veil draped across the Mona Lisa's left shoulder. From Web Gallery of Art.
4. Sketch "Mona Lisa".
5. Study "The Last Supper" and complete Art Worksheet.
Read "The Last Supper" from Great Pictures, as Seen and Descibed by Famous Writers by Esther Singleton.
The Last Supper
181 x 346 3/8 inches (460 x 880 cm)
Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan
The Last Supper was painted in the ambit of the extensive artistic and cultural revival that from 1490 involved Milan, under the patronage of Ludovico Sforza - "il Moro". The Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie was fully involved and in 1495, when Donato Montorfano was completing his Crucifixion for the Refectory, Leonardo was commissioned by the Duke to decorate the facing wall with a Last Supper. The commission is documented by the coats of arms that appear within plant garlands in the four lunettes above the "Supper" and are a reminder of the names of Ludovico, Beatrice and their children.
The Last Supper was quite slow in evolving despite the urgings of Ludovico Sforza and the prior. It actually took Leonardo about four years (1494-1498) with the dry or tempera technique he had decided to use, as if it had been a great tablet (4.60x8.80m). First of all he decided not to apply the consolidated fresco technique, which offered assurances for conservation, but was time-consuming to spread. What Leonardo required was the utmost freedom during the executive stage in order to correct, modify and achieve special color effects. Moreover, the fresco technique was irreconcilable with his bizarre temperament that led him to alternate periods of intense activity with others of total rest, as related by Matteo Bandello, who was a guest of the convent fathers and often saw Leonardo at work.
Although The Last Supper was a traditional theme used to decorate convent refectories, especially in Florence (memorable are those by Taddeo Gaddi, Beato Angelico, Andrea del Castagno and Ghirlandaio), Leonardo presented the subject in a completely innovative form. Not only did he make drastic modifications to the layout of the scene, but also the true novelty was the astounding realism with which he recounted this episode from the Gospels. From Il Cenacolo.
After Ludovico il Moro was made duke of Milan in 1494, he decided to make the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie his family's burial place. This is the context within which Leonardo was probably commissioned to decorate the monks' dining room, the refectory, with a depiction of the Last Supper. It cannot be determined exactly when the commission went to Leonardo, however, the completion of the painting in 1498 is documented.
Leonardo's Last Supper is indisputably one of the most famous and important works in the history of painting. The quality of the wall painting was recognized within a very short space of time after its completion; copies were produced of it and its praises were sung in contemporary sources. After conquering Milan in 1499, the French king is even said to have expressed the desire to bring it to France, but his advisors were apparently able to dissuade him on the grounds that, given the technological conditions of the time, transporting the painting would have been tantamount to destroying it.
As in all his major undertakings, Leonardo sought a new technical solution for the process of painting. He decided in favour of mixed media and painted over two ground layers using oil and tempera paints, as was done in panel painting. This particular technique is partially responsible for the fact that the disintegration of the work set in so early, given the unfavourable climatic conditions.
Scarcely 20 years after the completion of the work, it was already starting to come to pieces, possibly because the wall had absorbed water. Ever since, every generation has worried and made efforts to a greater or lesser degree to preserve this work. In 1943, during an air raid, a bomb exploded in the refectory of the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie and destroyed the roof and the wall to the right of the Last Supper right down to the foundations; the work of art, protected by sand bags, fortunately survived this catastrophe largely unscathed. Since about 1980, extremely extensive and technologically lavish restoration work has been taking place to preserve it, made particularly necessary by increasingly destructive air pollution. This restoration followed the disputed decision to remove all overpaintings and completions of missing sections, preserving only those parts originally painted by Leonardo. From Web Gallery of Art.
There are differing opinions amongst art researchers as to which episode from the Gospels is depicted in the Last Supper. Some consider it to portray the moment at which Jesus has announced the presence of a traitor and the apostles are all reacting with astonishment, others feel that it also represents the introduction of the celebration of the Eucharist by Jesus, who is pointing to the bread and wine with his hands. And yet others feel it depicts the moment when Judas, by reaching for the bread at the same moment as Jesus as related in the Gospel of St Luke (22:21), reveals himself to be the traitor. In the end, none of the interpretations is convincing.
Leonardo's Last Supper is not a depiction of a simple or sequential action, but interweaves the individual events narrated in the Gospels, from the announcement of the presence of a traitor to the introduction of the Eucharist, to such an extent that the moment depicted is a meeting of the two events. As a result, the disciples' reactions relate both to the past and subsequent events. At the same time, however, the introduction of the Eucharist clearly remains the central event.
The Apostles from left to right: Bartholomew, James the Less, Andrew, Judas, Peter, John, Christ, Thomas, James the Greater, Philip, Matthew, Thaddeus, Simon. From Web Gallery of Art.
Leonardo's painting of the Last Supper was constructed symmetrically according to the laws of central perspective, with a main figure, Jesus, in the centre. He is physically and psychologically isolated from the other figures and with his hands is pointing to the bread and wine, making the introduction of the Eucharist the central event. In Leonardo's conception, the other figures are reacting directly to Jesus, and at the same time, some of them are coming into contact with each other.
James the Great, whose mouth is opened in astonishment, is sitting on the right next to Jesus, and spreading out his arms as if trying to say to the two disciples behind him, who are attempting to command the attention of Jesus with their eloquent gestures and the way they are pushing forward, that they should be quiet and listen.
James the Less, the second from the left, places his hand on Peter's back, while Andrew next to him is still holding his hands before him and speaking, but his eyes are already seeking out Jesus. Peter and John are facing each other deep in conversation, just like the group of three on the far right who still seem to be animatedly discussing the previous announcement of the existence of a traitor.
That this announcement has indeed already taken place is proven by the behaviour of John and Peter. In contrast with the usual manner of depiction, in which John is lying against Christ's chest, here Leonardo refers to the Gospel of St John (13:24): "Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him, that he should ask who it should be of whom he spake."
By combining these two apostles into a group with Judas in this manner, Leonardo was distancing himself from the traditional scheme of depiction used for Last Suppers, according to which Peter and John sat to the right and left of Jesus. In contrast to the other apostles, however, he characterized them so clearly that they are identifiable to the observer. He identified Peter by means of the threatening dagger that he would, at dawn, use to cut off the ear of Malchus, one of the soldiers arresting Jesus.
John, the favourite disciple, is wearing red and blue garments as is Jesus, and is seated at his right hand, the most honourable place. But Judas above all was clearly characterized by Leonardo, for he was not, as was customary, placed in the centre of the picture in front of the table, but placed amongst the row of disciples. He is identified by means of several motifs such as his reaching for the bread, the purse containing the reward for his treachery and the knocking over of a saltcellar, a sign of misfortune. Leonardo even formally expressed his isolation from the group by depicting him as the only one whose upper body is leaning against the table, shrinking back from Jesus. From Web Gallery of Art.
6. Sketch "The Last Supper".
7. Study "Madonna of the Rocks" of Paris or London and complete Art Worksheet.
Read "Madonna of the Rocks (Paris)" from Great Pictures, as Seen and Described by Famous Artists by Esther Singleton.
Virgin of the Rocks
Oil on panel, 1486
78 1/4 x 48 inches (199 x 122 cm)
Musée du Louvre, Paris
The spectacular Grande Galerie in the Louvre plays an important role in the novel The Da Vinci Code, providing the setting for the beginning of the story. Far more remarkable than the parquet flooring with its chevron patterns mentioned in the book is the collection of Italian paintings. Four of the five paintings by Leonardo da Vinci in the Louvre are on display here. The Da Vinci Code analyzes The Virgin of the Rocks (which Sophie Neveu removes from the wall) in a new and subversive way. It suggests that Mary holds in her left hand the invisible head of Mary Magdalene, whose neck is being symbolically sliced by the gesture of the Archangel Uriel on the right. Leonardo was thus supposedly showing the Church's conspiracy against Christ's companion during the early centuries. This far-fetched interpretation of the painting might have been inspired by the work of Bernardino Luini just to the left: Salome Receiving the Head of Saint John the Baptist. In reality, Mary's mysterious gesture relates to traditional religious iconography: Mary is the mother of Jesus, but she is also the incarnation of the Church, the "house." In the painting, therefore, she seems to be covering the head of her Son with her left hand, as if with a roof. The Da Vinci Code thus transformed a gesture of protection into a metaphorical representation of murder. This powerful literary effect is a travesty of art history. From the Louvre.
There are two versions of the Virgin of the Rocks, one (the earlier) in the Louvre, Paris and another in the National Gallery, London.
The first work that Leonardo executed in Milan is the so-called Virgin of the Rocks, which actually expresses the theme of the Immaculate Conception, the dogma that affirms Mary was conceived without original sin. The name of the picture reflects an iconographical peculiarity: the religious figures are depicted in a rocky grotto, in which they are sitting on a stone floor. The figures are subjected to a strict spatial arrangement called a pyramidal composition. The painting had a considerable influence on Leonardo's artistic colleagues in Lombardy.
This canvas was to decorate the ancona (a carved wooden altar with frames where paintings were inserted) in the chapel of the Immacolata in the church of San Francesco Grande in Milan. On 25 April 1483, the members of the Confraternity of the Conception assigned the work of the paintings (a Virgin and Child in the center and two Angel-Musicians for the sides), to Leonardo, for the most important part, and the brothers Ambrogio and Evangelista De Predis, for the side panels. Scholars now feel that the two canvases on this same subject, one in the Louvre and the other in London's National Gallery, are simply two versions of the same painting, with significant variants.
The Paris Virgin of the Rocks, entirely by Leonardo, is the one which first adorned the altar in San Francesco Grande. It may have been given by Leonardo himself to King Louis XII of France, in gratitude for the settlement of the suit between the painters and those who commissioned the works, in dispute over the question of payment. The later London painting replaced this one in the ancona.
For the first time Leonardo could achieve in painting that 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 from different plants while in the distance, as if emerging from a mist composed of very fine droplets and filtered by the golden sunlight, the peaks of those mountains we now know so well reappear. This same light reveals the gentle, mild features of the Madonna, the angel's smiling face, the plump, pink flesh of the two putti.
For this work, too, Leonardo made numerous studies, and the figurative expression is slowly adapted to the program of depiction. In fact, the drawing of the face of the angel is, in the sketch, clearly feminine, with a fascination that has nothing ambiguous about it. In the painting, the sex is not defined, and the angel could easily be either a youth or a maiden. From Web Gallery of Art.
In contrast with traditional iconography, Leonardo has not conceived Mary and the Christ Child as a closely united group, but has placed Jesus beneath his mother's hand next to an angel on the right side of the picture. In accordance with the composition of the group of figures which are connected to each other by means of glances and gestures, the angel has embraced him and is looking at him; his finger, however, is pointing at the small St. John in the Mother of God's arms who is adoring the Christ Child, whose hand is raised in blessing, entirely in the traditional manner. From Web Gallery of Art.
Virgin of the Rocks
Oil on wood, 1506
74 1/2 x 47 1/8 inches (189.5 x 120 cm)
National Gallery, London
Full title: The Virgin of the Rocks (The Virgin with the Infant Saint John adoring the Infant Christ accompanied by an Angel)
Inscribed on Saint John's scroll: ecce a[g]/nvs [dei] [Behold the lamb of God].
An elaborate sculpted altar was commissioned by the Milanese Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception for their oratory in San Francesco in 1480. A new contract was drawn up in 1483 with Leonardo and the de Predis brothers: a central panel was to be painted by Leonardo alone, and there were to be two side panels showing angels singing and playing musical instruments. Two paintings of angels ('An Angel in Green with a Vielle' and 'An Angel in Red with a Lute') by artists influenced by Leonardo, are undoubtedly those for the altarpiece.
'The Virgin of the Rocks' seems not to refer to the mystery of the Immaculate Conception, but depicts the type of subject that Leonardo might have painted in his native Florence where legends concerning the young Saint John the Baptist were popular.
It was twenty five years until a painting of this subject was finally placed in the chapel. In the interim, Leonardo had painted two versions of the composition: the first (in the Louvre) probably sold in the 1490s to a private client after a financial wrangle with the Confraternity; and a replacement, - the painting that now hangs in the National Gallery - that was never finished despite some help from his studio, but was installed in the chapel in 1508.
This mysterious image by Leonardo da Vinci shows the Virgin, Christ, Saint John, and an angel in a dark landscape, with a backdrop of mountains, caves and water.
Legendary tales of a childhood meeting between Jesus and his cousin Saint John the Baptist first became popular in the 14th century. It was claimed that when King Herod ordered the Massacre of the Innocents, the Holy Family fled to Egypt and on their way met Saint John, who also escaped the massacre.
'The Virgin of the Rocks' demonstrates Leonardo's revolutionary technique of using shadows, rather than outlines, to model his figures. The Virgin and Child are usually shown in bright daylight, their faces set against the sky. Leonardo has chosen the dark background of rocks in order to model the faces in light, which is what makes the image so striking and so unusual.
Leonardo did not imagine that this was what the Holy Land looked like. His dark landscape with its strange rock formations was not intended to resemble a particular place, but to remind us of a set of ideas about Mary and Jesus. The whole landscape resonates with references to biblical and literary metaphors.
Rocks and caves were particularly associated with Mary and Joseph because they suggested sanctuary, and because of certain metaphors used to describe the Holy Family. Mary was considered to be 'a rock cleft not by human hand' (ie, a virgin). Christ, as the Son of God, was the 'mountain hewn out of the mountain not by human hand.'
Flowers in paintings of the Virgin Mary also have a special significance. The clump of flowers at the bottom left of the painting are Star of Bethlehems, or heartsease - a symbol of purity and atonement. Palm leaves, seen behind the infant John's head, are an emblem of the Virgin Mary and a symbol of Victory.
The Renaissance mind was accustomed to recognising these metaphors. Part of Leonardo's genius was his skill in creating something that was true to nature, which also brought to mind the stock metaphors of his day.
'The Virgin of the Rocks' was commissioned in 1483 by the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception as part of a large altarpiece for their church, San Francesco in Milan. It wasn't delivered until 1508, and even then it wasn't finished - the angel's hand resting on Christ's back is only sketched in.
The delay in this case was due to an argument over money. Leonardo was promised a set fee plus a bonus when the painting was finished. However, the bonus he was offered was so paltry that he angrily sold the work to a private client. (This is the version which is now in the Louvre in Paris.) The confraternity finally managed to patch things up with the artist, and he began work on a second version of the painting (the National Gallery's painting).
These two angels were made by associates of Leonardo, and were hung on either side of the painting.
What made Leonardo's paintings so revolutionary was his use of light and shadow, rather than lines, to define three-dimensional objects. He once wrote that light and shade should blend 'without lines or borders in the manner of smoke', giving rise to the term sfumato, meaning 'seen as if through smoke'. The soft shadows around corners of the eyes and mouths make Leonardo's faces seem more alive because they leave a little to our imagination.
Leonardo's technique for preparing a painting was to start with a detailed drawing, such as his famous cartoon. The next part of the process would be to transfer the drawing to canvas and to start by painting in the shadows. The highlighted parts of the picture would be added last.
The delicacy of the play between light and shadow in his pictures makes the light seem to dance across the surface of the painting. It is an effect that works best in front of the actual canvas.
When curators and conservators examined the 'Virgin of the Rocks', they hoped to find an underdrawing. What they did not expect to find was a completely different picture, hidden under the paint.
Conservators at the gallery collaborated with a team from Florence and used a technique called infrared reflectography to look through the layers of paint and reveal details of the preliminary drawings underneath. The first part of the painting they focussed on was the Virgin's head, but what sprang out were the face and hand of another figure. Leonardo had evidently started on one picture, and then abandoned it for the existing one.
The hidden drawing is of a kneeling woman (presumably the Virgin Mary) with her face in near profile and one hand across her breast.
The red lines show the outline of the hidden underdrawing.
There are two versions of the Virgin of the Rocks, one (the earlier) in the Louvre, Paris and another in the National Gallery, London.
This version of the painting for the ancona (a carved wooden altar with frames where paintings were inserted) in the chapel of the Immacolata in the church of San Francesco Grande in Milan has distinctly sixteenth-century characteristics: larger figures, made more plastic by a very decided chiaroscuro so unlike Leonardo that scholars were immediately led to consider the work a collaboration. The canvas is generally considered the one that replaced the first version of the Virgin of the Rocks on the altar of the Immaculate Conception, after that version had been given to Louis XII. This version was then, in 1785, purchased by the English collector Gavin Hamilton. It was joined, in England, in 1898, by the two musician-angels of the De Predis brothers, and the three paintings are now displayed together in London's National Gallery.
The picture substitutes a motif popular in Florence for the image normally required by Franciscan patrons promoting the doctrine of Mary's Immaculate Conception: a Virgin without the Child, shown standing among prophets holding texts taken to refer to her exemption from Original Sin. In the Virgin of the Rocks the infant Baptist, sheltering under Mary's cloak, venerates the Christ Child in a cool, watery wilderness. The artist's Milanese clients must have worried about confusing the two infants, for a later hand has given John an identifying scroll and a cross clumsily rooted in one of Leonardo's exquisite studies of plants.
The panel was inserted into a pre-existing frame, elaborately decorated with carving, gilding and painted shutters. (The two musical angels shown nearby, executed by an associate, probably come from the front and back of the right-hand shutter.) In the candlelit chapel the glittering frame and the painted rocks from whose shadows the figures emerge would have combined to suggest a mysterious cavern. In his notebooks Leonardo records a moment, when standing before the mouth of a cave, `Suddenly two things arose in me...fear of the menacing darkness... [and] desire to see if there was any marvellous thing within.' The contrast between the unfinished areas of the picture - such as the hand of the angel on Christ's back - and the finished passages would not have been as disturbing as it is now. Leonardo's intentions in this deeply emotional yet strangely uncommunicative work were perhaps most fully carried out in the angel's head and diaphanous veil, where the shimmering brushstrokes are of miraculous firmness and delicacy.
The London version shows some details generally neglected by Leonardo in the other version: the haloes of the figures, the child Saint John's cross of reeds. Other elements which differ from the Paris picture are the pose of the angel, who no longer points his finger towards the little Paraclete, and his face, whose gaze no longer seeks out the spectator, but is directed inwards. The drapery, too, which in the Paris version was heavy and concealed the body, is lighter here, revealing the anatomical structure. Also the rocks seem painted in a more plastic fashion; the light does not glide over them, creating dewy areas of semi-darkness, but leaves strong contrasts of light and dark. The flesh of the children here is less tender, and though the shadows are insistent, the children's faces seem flatter and less sweet than those of the two sublime creatures in Paris. The intervention of followers on the painting already sketched by Leonardo has made the portrayal less vibrant, more banal, though it retains a compositional authority and an originality in its variants that make this work not a copy but an autonomous version, of high quality, of the unequalled masterpiece in the Louvre. From Web Gallery of Art.
8. Sketch "Madonna of the Rocks".
9. Study "Portrait of Cecilia Gallerani (Lady with an Ermine)" and complete Art Worksheet.
Cecilia Gallerani is holding the heraldic animal of Ludovico il Moro in her arms. She was his favourite and gave birth to his child in the same year as he married Beatrice d'Este. The charming and vivid impression Cecilia makes gained Leonardo the reputation of being a talented portrait painter. The movement of this beautiful girl turning slowly from the shadow into the light is mirrored by the small animal she is holding.
The inscription in the upper left corner - La Feroniere Leonard d'Awinci - is a mistaken addition at the end of the 18th century. From Web Gallery of Art.
10. Sketch "Portrait of Cecilia Gallerani".
11 and 12. View other da Vinci works, including: "The Virgin and Child With Saint Anne," "St. John the Baptist," "La Belle Ferroniere," "Portrait of a Musician," "Saint Jerome," "Madonna with Flower," "Madonna of the Carnation," "Portrait of Ginevra Benci," "Annunciation," "Adoration of the Magi," "Vitruvian Man," "Madonna of the Yarnwinder," "St. John in the Wilderness," "Madonna and Child with a Pomegranate."