Leonardo da Vinci is widely considered as one of the greatest painters and artists of all time. He is one of the most diversely talented artists ever to have lived especially in the ancient eras where art was not fully discovered. He was an Italian Renaissance polymath given than he combined many skills including those of a painter, scientist, anatomist, botanist, mathematician and musician and also a sculptor (Grack, 18). Leonardo has been described by artists as the archetype of the Renaissance man with many referring him as a man of a feverishly inventive imagination. Despite the recent times awareness and admiration of the ancient Leonardo as a scientist and an inventor, for the earlier times his accomplishments as a painter and a skilled scientist have been heavily revered.
Different artistic qualities come out clearly in his most famous paintings and artistic works. Such include paintings such as Mona Lisa, The Baptism of Jesus, St. Jerome in the Wilderness, The Last Supper and The Virgin of the Rocks (Masters 17). Aspects of his scientific knowledge on the studies of human anatomy, geology, light and botany have been depicted in most of his paintings and artistic (19). Possession of such a variety of skills for an ancient time artist shows a great incorporation of science into art and design works.
Leonardo da Vinci’s Incorporation of Scientific Observation into Art
Artwork and science are intrinsically related since the importance of the existence of art and science is creativity and discovery. Both ancient artists and scientists worked in an orderly and systematic but creative manner with their knowledge and skills being built up through pieces of art works and laboratories (Douglas, 112). Leonardo’s drawings and paintings were among the finest depictions at the time with aspects of science including anatomy, botany, geology and physical sciences being incorporated into artworks with the help of different color and light tones. Leonardo did this through different ways including:
Using color and paint theory to depict the light
Color is one of the vital elements of art and design. An artist need not just blend colors; they should go deeper and study the science of color theory. Colors in artworks determine to a large extent how the spectators’ eyes perceive the painting or drawing (Grack, 5). For an artist or designer working in the 15th century, different skills on the nature of light were of high importance. It was by the efficient painting of light that is falling on a surface that a three dimensional appearance of the painting can be achieved in a two-dimensional painting surface. It was also well comprehended in the ancient time art by artists like Leonardo and his youthful teacher, Verrocchio, that the appearance of the environment and distance in a painting could be enhanced in a background landscape by ensuring painting in tones that had less contrast and colors that were less bright in the background than in the foreground of the main item in the painting (Capra, 23). During Leonardo’s times, the effects of light on solid objects were usually achieved in a painting by trial and error. However, Leonardo was one of the few artists who had accurate scientific knowledge of the aspects to ensure the best coloring for the best light aspect. Leonardo’s inclusion of light in painting and artwork especially in works such as The Virgin of the Rocks and Mona Lisa was meant to change for which they depicted it in their paintings (Masters 17).
The Virgin of the Rocks – Louvre Version
The painting was done by Leonardo with the help of the de Predis brothers. Leonardo painted the apocryphal time of the infancy of Jesus Christ in which another infant John the Baptist, in the company of an angel, encountered Christ and His family. Leonardo uses a range of painting in order to bring out the scene clearly. The painting is able to bring out clearly the light aspects of the scene. The settings of this scene become a vital tool for Leonardo’s scientific interests in depicting nature and using light aspects to determine the tone and colour of the paint to use. The painting used fuses the outlines of the separate objects. Leonard once commented and recommended that one should practice drawing and painting at dusk and in courtyards or caves with walls painted black (Grack, 17). A dark-toned painting is done on the background of rocks which form the cave walls with the distant landscape of mountains and water being painted with a light color which is not very bright. In this case the aspect of little light outside the cave is brought out clearly pointing it out that the scene happened at dusk (Capra, 26).
The figures in this painting are arranged in a pyramid position. The painting shows a group of four main figures including the Christ Child and his mother, John the Baptist and his protection angel all of which are forming a triangular arrangement within the painting. The triangular arrangement is set in a way that it appears to be against a dark background of the cave’s rocks and a distant lighter landscape of mountains, hills and water features. Christ’s mother makes the apex of the triangular figure of the painting, stretching one hand towards John the Baptist. This shows her inclusion and welcoming heart towards the infant John the Baptist. John the Baptist is kneeling and gazing at the Christ Child. His hands are held together in an attitude of prayer and adoration towards the Jesus Christ (Capra, 16). The painting demonstrates a mathematical arrangement of the figures in such a way that the angular consideration between the figures depicts a different measure of art. This shows Leonardo’s skills in mathematics and their incorporation in his art.
Leonardo used a combination of different color tones in this painting which brings out a smooth coloration of the main figure. The light skin color tone is depicted using the lightest tone in the painting. Such color has been painted with great care to ensure a smooth tone. Such light color tone has been reinforced with the darkest color tone in the picture of the clothing. This contrasts the light tone which balances the dark background scene.
Leonardo’s Last Supper painting shows clearly his basic scientific skills especially in mathematical laws and use of different color tones. He is usually concerned with making accurate observations of nature while ensuring that he subjects these observations to the inferred physical and mathematical laws. In earlier times, renaissance artists applied the rules of linear perspective in their paintings where objects appear smaller in size as they get farther away from the main figure in the painting and the eye of the spectator (Grack, 19). Leonardo in this painting joined this ancient principle to two distinct others including the mathematical perspective of mathematical clarity in which distant objects lose their separateness progressively and thus are not drawn using outlines and the perspective of color in which distant objects from the main scene progressively tend to take a uniform gray tone. In this painting, all the figures around the table seem to be of the same size and color tone. As the scene approaches the background, the color tone becomes darker with the front of the table taking the lightest tone
Create artwork inspired by nature
Including nature in artwork is a great way of incorporating science into art. Such inclusion requires a wide range of skills in scientific fields. Leonardo had a good foundation in physical, plant and human science which highly enhanced his painting and art work. The science of Botany involves the study of plants. Leonardo’s study of plants in his environment resulted in many good-looking drawings. The plants which appear in some of his drawings including The Virgin of the Rocks show the results of Leonardo’s scientific studies (Leonardo da Vinci). The plants featured in the Baptism of Jesus painting present a well-watered area near the river banks (Masters 19). Leonardo usually incorporated geology skills and aspects in his artistic works. His earliest dated drawing of the Arno Valley strongly emphasizes his great knowledge in geological features. In most of his earliest paintings, we see the utmost attention that is given to the small landscapes of the background view. Such include the lakes and water features in the Virgin of the Rocks painting and the misty light outside the cavern of the same painting (Grack, 21). Use of geological aspects is a particular feature the painting of The Virgin of the Rocks in which the geological aspects are shown by the cave walls that seem to bear cracks, tumbled and eroded (Masters 19).
Use of human anatomy proportions
When discussing drawing a figure, artists should possess the science of body and facial proportions.
The Baptism of Christ
Leonardo in his drawing The Baptism of Christ, painted the muscles and arms of Christ in such a manner that depicted scientific knowledge. In this painting, he collaborated with his teacher Verrocchio at which time his topographical anatomy understanding had outdone that of his teacher (Maters, 22). In the 1490s, Leonardo wrote about ways of demonstrating muscles and sinews in a drawing, “Remember that to be certain of the point of origin of any muscle, you must pull the sinew from which the muscle springs in such a way as to see that muscle move, and where it is attached to the ligaments of the bones” (Masters, 24).
St. Jerome in the Wilderness
This painting was done to depict a sorrowful mood. St. Jerome’s kneeling form is shown on a trapezoid shape, with one of his arms stretched to the outer side of the painting with his look facing the opposite direction (Masters 17). In this painting, all the body parts are proportional which forms a great artistic achievement. This combination of different muscle movements shows the link between Leonardo’s anatomical studies and their fit with his artistic work.
Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings and drawings are famous for a wide variety of qualities which could not be incorporated into artistic works by the inexperienced artists of the ancient era. Such qualities have been much imitated by artists and discussed in depth by connoisseurs and art works’ critics. Among the qualities that make Leonardo da Vinci’s art and painting work unique are the skilled and innovative art and scientific techniques that he applied in laying the paint on the pieces of art he was working on, his enhanced knowledge of anatomy, botany, light and geology. Leonardo’s great interest in the way in which human beings relate emotions and feelings with their expression and gesture, his high end innovative application of the human being form in figurative composition in art and his application of the subtle gradation of tone and color have greatly shaped today’s art and design.
Capra, Fritof. “The Science of Leonardo; Inside the Mind of the Genius of the Renaissance.” Chicago: McGraw Hill, 2008.
Douglas, Kane “Science in the art of renaissance: Ohio Journal of Science, 2011
Grack, Rachel. “Leonardo Da Vinci: Artist, Inventor, and Renaissance Man
Makers of the Middle Ages and Renaissance.” London: Chelsea House Publishers, 2006
Masters, Roger. Fortune is a River: Leonardo da Vinci and Niccolo Machiavelli’s Magnificent Dream to Change the Course of Florentine History. New York: The Free Press, 1998.