Friday, June 20, 2014

Leonardo da Vinci

The Madonna of the Carnation
oil on panel
62 x 47.5 cm
Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Germany

The Madonna of the Carnation spent most of its existence being attributed to Andrea del Verrocchio. Modern scholarship has revised attribution in favor of Leonardo, based on the handling of the drapery and background scenery, the nearly scientific rendering of the carnations in the vase, and overall similarities between this composition and the undisputed Benois Madonna. This painting is a free variant of the Benois Madonna in the Hermitage, being more complex in its composition and spatial arrangement.

Unfortunately, this painting has deteriorated badly and due to an improper restoration the surface has taken on a leathery look; this is especially obvious on the Madonna's face. In this painting, Jesus reaches out awkwardly for the flower held delicately in Mary's fingers. Like all infants he looks yet unable to control his movements as he attempts to grasp the symbol of the Passion.

Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci (1452-1519) was an Italian Renaissance polymath: painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist and writer whose genius, perhaps more than that of any other figure, epitomized the Renaissance humanist ideal.

He was born in the small Tuscan town of Vinci in the region of Florence as the son of a wealthy notary and a peasant woman. He was handsome, persuasive in conversation, and a fine musician and improviser. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest painters of all time and perhaps the most diversely talented person ever to have lived. Renaissance humanism recognized no mutually exclusive polarities between the sciences and the arts, and Leonardo's studies in science and engineering are as impressive and innovative as his artistic work. These studies were recorded in 13,000 pages of notes and drawings, which fuse art and natural philosophy (the forerunner of modern science), made and maintained daily throughout Leonardo's life and travels, as he made continual observations of the world around him. A creator in all branches of art, a discoverer in most branches of science, and an inventor in branches of technology, Leonardo deserves, perhaps more than anyone, the title of Homo Universalis, Universal Man.

In the normal course of events many men and women are born with remarkable talents; but occasionally, in a way that transcends nature, a single person is marvelously endowed by Heaven with beauty, grace and talent in such abundance that he leaves other men far behind, all his actions seem inspired and indeed everything he does clearly comes from God rather than from human skill. Everyone acknowledged that this was true of Leonardo da Vinci, an artist of outstanding physical beauty, who displayed infinite grace in everything that he did and who cultivated his genius so brilliantly that all problems he studied he solved with ease. (by Giorgio Vasari in the edition of Lives of the Artists, 1568)