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April 19, 2015 | by  | in Visual Arts | [ssba]

Your guide to the Renaissance superstars: Leonardo da Vinci

Key works you need to know by the hand of Leonardo: the Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, The Vitruvian Man, prototype helicopters, and drawings of cut up dead people.

Leonardo is remembered for more than the visual arts column has scope for and is pretty much held to be the ideal Renaissance boss man. Born out of wedlock to a peasant woman and a gentleman in the small town Vinci in Florence, Leo had a pretty chilled out childhood. When he was 14 he went to work and learn to paint from Verrocchio who was one of the best artists in Florence at the time. Collaborating was all cool in the 1470s, till the day when Leo was working on a painting with Verrocchio and his teacher saw how much more awesome Leo’s work was than his. In a dramatic move, Verrocchio broke his paint brushes and swore to never paint again, which was actually for the best as Verrocchio’s stuff is comparable to Bebo.

So Leonardo was a genius that can hardly be denied. However, he had a bad case of signing up for too many clubs in clubs week, and barely ever finished what he started. But as art historians we have to work with what we’ve got, and in Leo’s case that is one small unfinished painting of a woman, a terribly damaged painting of Jesus’ last meal and a handful of other unfinished works.

The Mona Lisa

If you’re feeling culturally confused because your hungover contiki experience at the Louvre left you disappointed that the universe didn’t explain itself when you set your eyes on the Mona Lisa, then let me clear some things up for you.

Firstly, size isn’t everything. Yeah the Mona Lisa is pretty small by painting standards (77 x 53cm)—but that really isn’t what we are judging the merits of the painting on here. There are a few things that Leo is doing here that had never been done, at least to this standard before. Things like using a landscape background to a portrait with colours that actually recede like they do in real life. Also in the Renaissance, geometry and particularly circles were considered the bee’s knees and the Mona Lisa is loaded with these (and other secret messages to Dan Brown).

Unconventionally, Leo didn’t paint outlines when dealing with the Mona Lisa’s eyes and mouth, which means she looks more lifelike. However, this has caused a lot of concern by viewers about her happiness and well-being. (“Go on love, you’d be much prettier if you smiled.”) It is obviously an atrocity for a woman this famous not to smile and be grateful. I reckon she’s holding herself pretty well considering the shit she has to put up with on the daily. Apparently Leo played music to the model while he painted so she probably was enjoying a cheeky wee smile to herself.

The Mona Lisa wasn’t even that famous outside of the art world until it was stolen from the Louvre in 1911. The guy just walked out with it under his coat. That painting was 400 years old and he just stuffed it into his coat! Obviously now it’s covered in bulletproof glass and you would probably be shot before getting a finger to it.

Since being stolen the painting has shot to fame and has become the most parodied and well known piece of artwork in the world. I don’t know what Leo would make of all this, but I hope that he would see cheap imitation as the most sincere form of flattery.


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