as a painter and sculptor in the workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio (1435–1488), Leonardo is also celebrated for his scientific
contributions. Leonardo’s curiosity and insatiable hunger for knowledge never left him. He was constantly observing, experimenting, and inventing, and drawing was, for him, a tool for recording his investigation of nature. Although completed works by Leonardo are few, he left a large body of drawings
(almost 2,500) that record his ideas, most still gathered into notebooks. He was principally active in Florence (1472–ca. 1482, 1500–1508) and Milan
(ca. 1482–99, 1508–13), but spent the last years of his life in Rome (1513–16) and France
(1516/17–1519), where he died. His genius as an artist and inventor continues to inspire artists and scientists alike centuries after his death.
Outside of Italy, Leonardo’s work can be studied most readily in drawings. He recorded his constant flow of ideas for paintings on paper. In his Studies for the Nativity (17.142.1
), he studied different poses and gestures of the mother and her infant
, probably in preparation for the main panel in his famous altarpiece known as the Virgin of the Rocks (Paris, Louvre). Similarly, in a sheet of designs for a stage setting (Allegorical Design, verso, 17.142.2
), prepared for a staging of a masque (or musical comedy) in Milan in 1496, he made notes on the actors’ positions on stage alongside his sketches, translating images and ideas from his imagination onto paper. Leonardo also drew what he observed from the world around him, including human anatomy
, animal and plant life, the motion of water, and the...
... middle of paper ...
...ra of mystery surrounds this painting, which is veiled in a soft light, creating an atmosphere of enchantment. There are no hard lines or contours here (a technique of painting known as sfumato—fumo in Italian means “smoke”), only seamless transitions between light and dark. Perhaps the most striking feature of the painting is the sitter’s ambiguous half smile. She looks directly at the viewer, but her arms, torso, and head each twist subtly in a different direction, conveying an arrested sense of movement. Leonardo explores the possibilities of oil paint
in the soft folds of the drapery, texture of skin, and contrasting light and dark (chiaroscuro). The deeply receding background, with its winding rivers and rock formations, is an example of Leonardo’s personal view of the natural world: one in which everything is liquid, in flux, and filled with movement and energy.
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