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than that of an eye, which he characterized as "the window of the soul". When Leonardo began his
campaign to modernize painting the artist was still a craftsman and a guild member; before the High
Renaissance was over, a great master could live like a prince.
Leonardo da Vinci was born in Tuscany. By 1469 he was Verrocchio's apprentice. In
Verrocchio's workshop Leonardo obtained the best education of his time.
The Adoration of the Magi is Leonardo's first masterpiece. It was commissioned in 1481 for a
church outside Florence. It was, never carried any further than the monochrome underpaint
Leonardo used the pyramidal composition. The groups are based on the actions of the component
figures and dissolve as soon as they move. Leonardo did not know it, but this discovery was made
in Greece in the 5-th century B.C. In this work Leonardo started with the moment of feeling, form
came next.
The Madonna of the Rocks, of 1483, is one of the earliest and the most famous Leonardo's
pictures. It was intended for the Oratory of the Immaculate Conception in Milan. The doctrine of
the Immaculate Conception means that the Virgin was freed from the taint of the Original Sin.
Leonardo has interpreted this doctrine dramatically. He represented Mary in the midst of a dark
world of rock forms. In this strange rocky grotto, where the sun never seems to strike and the plants
grow thick but colourless, the Christ Child manifests his Divinity as he blesses the infant St. John,
himself taken under the Virgin's protection. And, like a prophecy of the Baptism of Christ by St.
John in the Jordan, a river winds away among the pale peaks. This painting makes Leonardo a
typical artist of the High Renaissance.
The Madonna and Saint Anna was designed in Florence in 1501 and completed many years
later in Milan. It represents a revolutionary rethinking of the conventional theme of the Holy
Family. Leonardo intertwined the figures to form a pyramidal composition. Leonardo makes the
Virgin sit on her mother's lap and merges their bodies in such a way that their heads are like twin
heads rising from a single trunk. S. Anna's head mirrors her daughter's image. The Virgin, as in
traditional representations of this subject, is shown reaching for the Christ Child, who in his turn
attempts to ride upon a lamb, the symbol of his sacrificial death. The background is one of the most
impressive mountain pictures ever painted. Valleys, rocks and peaks diminish progressively into the
bluish haze of the distance until they can no longer be distinguished.
Leonardo's power as an artist and thinker is evident in the Last Supper and the Mona Lisa, his
two most famous works. Leonardo's Last Supper was painted on the end wall of the refectory of the
Monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan in 1495. In the fresco Christ discloses to his
followers that soon one of their number will betray him and their cause. The composition is the
product of the moment of action and meaning. The Apostles are presented in four groups of three
each. Each of these numbers has many meanings: the multiplication of the Gospels by the Trinity is
only one, and twelve itself is not merely the number of the Apostles but of the months of the year
and the hours of the day and of the night. The numerical division helps to throw the fundamental
character of each of the Apostles into full relief, from the innocence of John on Christ's right to the
horror of James on his left and to the protestation of Philip, who placed his hand on his breast. Only
Judas knows, and the light does not shine upon his face. The Last Supper is a humanistic
interpretation of the narrative. Leonardo has painted a higher reality, thus making a complete break
with the Early Renaissance and establishing the ideal world in which Michelangelo and Raphael
later operated. Leonardo painted his masterpiece in an oil-and-tempera emulsion on the dry plaster,
and it began rapidly to peel off. As a result the surface is severely damaged.
Although Leonardo's paintings are badly preserved, they are all fascinating. Leonardo created
an enigma to which he gives no answer.
From 1503 until 1506 Leonardo was painting a portrait of the wife of the prominent Florentine
citizen. The painting is known today as the Mona Lisa. The figure sits in a relaxed position, with
hands quietly crossed, before one of Leonardo's richest and most mysterious landscape
backgrounds, traversed by roads that lose themselves, bridges to nowhere, crags vanishing in the
mists. This attitude of total calm became characteristic for High Renaissance portraits. The face has
suffered in the course of time but nothing has spoiled the sad half smile that plays about the lips.
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