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Sfumato


He developed sfumato, a technique that became known as ‘Leonardo’s smoke’. This softened outlines and blended areas of light and shade together. It also created an illusionistic atmosphere.


Sfumato: A technique that allows tones and colours to blend gradually into one another, producing softened outlines or hazy forms.


The human figure


His stunningly realistic figures show Leonardo’s love of nature and anatomy. He dissected bodies and studied the physical proportions of men, women and children. He also loved faces and watched people’s expressions, but in his painting he sought to go beyond everyday realism and show the perfect – the ‘ideal’ human figure.


He depicted religious figures as real-life people and was the first artist to completely abandon halos around their heads in some of his paintings.


Paintings The Virgin of the Rocks Subject


This painting features the Virgin Mary tenderly watching over the infant Christ and John the Baptist. Next to them is a mysteriously smiling, pointing angel with curly hair and soft, dreamy eyes (Fig. 22.8).


The subject is based on a popular legend about St John the Baptist, but Leonardo has gone beyond the simple story with a deeper and more meaningful concept (idea). This is the very idea of Christianity. In a dark cave, four figures are illuminated by divine light – they shine from a light within in a blessed and mysterious truth.


Later in his life, Leonardo painted a second version. This is in the National Gallery in London.


262 APPRECIATING ART: SECTION 2, PART 3


Fig. 22.8 The Virgin of the Rocks, 1495–1508, Leonardo da Vinci, oil on panel, Louvre, Paris. The figures are treated with great tenderness, but Leonardo’s love of mystery shows in the gestures, expressions and strange lighting.


Composition


The figures are grouped in a structured, ordered, pyramidal shape. Exquisitely detailed rocks, water and plants all studied from nature surround the figures.


Colours


Thick yellowed varnish has dulled Leonardo’s colours, but dramatic, soft highlighting draws out the faces from the more subdued background.


Portraits


Portraiture was one of Leonardo’s main subjects and he painted many women. Traditionally women


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