Art – Leonardo da Vinci paints the Annunciation

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Florentine artist, is one of the great masters of the High Renaissance, celebrated as a painter, sculptor, architect, engineer, and scientist. His profound love of knowledge and research was the keynote of both his artistic and scientific endeavors. His innovations in the field of painting influenced the course of Italian art for more than a century after his death, and his scientific studies—particularly in the fields of anatomy, optics, and hydraulics—anticipated many of the developments of modern science.

Leonardo began his life in 1452 as the illegitimate son of Piero da Vinci, who brought him to live in Florence.

Although Leonardo da Vinci produced a relatively small number of paintings, many of which remained unfinished, he was nevertheless an extraordinarily innovative and influential artist. During his early years, his style closely paralleled that of Verrocchio, but he gradually moved away from his teacher’s stiff, tight, and somewhat rigid treatment of figures to develop a more evocative and atmospheric handling of composition.

The Annunciation was executed around 1472-1475, when Leonardo was still an apprentice in the workshop of his master, Andrea del Verrocchio.

What is the importance of this painting ?

1. The early The Adoration of the Magi introduced a new approach to composition, in which the main figures are grouped in the foreground, while the background consists of distant views of imaginary ruins and battle scenes.

The sacred scene is set in the garden of a Florentine palace, with a landscape on the background which is already peculiarly Leonardesque, for the magic and unreal atmosphere created by mountains, water and sky.

In the background, there is a river with boats, mountains and trees. The line of cypress helps to physically divide the backdrop

The work is meant to be seen from below and from the right. From this point of view certain details come into proper alignment such as the keystones on the building, the foreshortening of the Virgin’s arm and the lectern.

2.  The scene is depicted as taking place outside, in contrast to medieval iconography, in which the Virgin Mary Annunciate is always indoors, and sometimes Gabriele is outdoors or just coming through the door.

3. Leonardo’s personality is pointed out also in the beautiful drapery of the Virgin and the Angel, while the marble table in front of her probably quotes the tomb of Piero and Giovanni dei Medici in the church of San Lorenzo sculpted by Verrocchio in this period.

4. Mary. The archangel Gabriel is kneeling as a dignified profile figure and raising his right hand in greeting to Mary, indicating her divine pregnancy. Gabriel’s wings were inspired by real birds and realistic

With the right hand, Gabriel blesses the Virgin Mary, and in his left hand, he is holding a lily, a symbol for purity. The Virgin Mary is sitting down in front of a book stand or small altar, which is decorated with classical motifs that seem very much influenced by Verrocchio.

The Virgin has stopped reading and reacts to the Annunciation with an expression of deep respect and by gesturing with her left hand.

Mary is depicted with her left hand gesture in response to the archangel’s greeting.

Leonardo featured interactions between characters – In his drawings, Leonardo rendered the multiple positions of his figures in an attempt to capture their physical and emotional interactions.

Her head clearly contrasts with the dark wall and her body is emphatically framed by the cornerstones whose parallel lines are converging on her.

The painting of Mary is in her three-quarter form sitting on a chair outside a room. The height, width and depth of the painting all meet in Mary’s spot and with Mary’s body outlined by the house’s cornerstones and her head emphasized by the dark wall.  The technique emphasized Mary’s importance is signified in the painting  and gave it a sense of depth.

There is a conspicuous perspective mistake: her right arm had to be painted too long proportionally, so that, despite her seated position, it would still be able to depict the impressive position other hand over the priedieu.

Leonardo’s interest in anatomy allowed him to paint figures with amazingly accurate details in their forms and proportions

Leonardo’s painting innovations

The Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous work, is as well known for its mastery of technical innovations as for the mysteriousness of its legendary smiling subject. This work is a consummate example of two techniques—sfumato and chiaroscuro—of which Leonardo was one of the first great masters.

Sfumato is characterized by subtle, almost infinitesimal transitions between color areas, creating a delicately atmospheric haze or smoky effect; it is especially evident in the delicate gauzy robes worn by the sitter and in her enigmatic smile.

Chiaroscuro is the technique of modeling and defining forms through contrasts of light and shadow; the sensitive hands of the sitter are portrayed with a luminous modulation of light and shade, while color contrast is used only sparingly.

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