Leonardo Da Vinci’s artistic style derived from a variety of different purposes and causes throughout his life. He left us only a small handful of paintings to his name, barely more than half a dozen, but he is still recognized as one of the preeminent artists of the Western World. This derives greatly from his ability to think on and produce solutions and methods for almost every problem he saw.
As for what makes his artistic output so engaging and influential despite his lack thereof, the answer largely lies in the work he did as a scientist and thinker outside of art. His fascination with the human body – its composition, form and function – is best represented in the Vitruvian Man, but goes well beyond that simple sketch. But, Leonardo’s fascination went much deeper and with that fascination came a deep understanding of the human form. The paintings of Leonardo Da Vinci are testament to that.
By understanding what it was that made the human body work, Leonardo da Vinci, with simple watercolor paints, was able to depict the absolutely subtlety that was the human form with ease, best seen in the careful placement and perspective play of the Mona Lisa. He developed a new take on perspective in his artwork that artists before him had not yet attempted. In the Mona Lisa, single point perspective was preeminent and in the Last Supper, the revised perspective, radiating from Christ, with Judas as a member of the disciples at the table has been well documented.
Many people have broken down Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings and work into three main arenas. The first of those is that of understanding the world in which he lived produced countless drawings and observations on the nature of the world, the human body and the natural world. The second is that of imagination, in which Leonardo applied his observations to the creation and imagination of new ideas such as the thousands of inventions found in his notes. The third was his theoretical phase, in which he tried to understand the greater basis of the world and how everything worked. This is where his obsession with mathematics derived from.
Da Vinci’s artistic technique was a combination of all of his interests into a single expression of his internal energies. Though a good deal of his work can be given over to the necessity of gaining commissions and making money to survive, Leonardo’s actual productions were the culmination of his entire life’s work. The geometrical beauty of his paintings resulted from his extreme interest in the topic and his human forms, so incredibly alive in their expressions were the result of his ability to understand and replicate the physical nature of things around him. For Leonardo de Vinci, pictures he created were infinitely more intricate than the words he used to describe them.
Many of Da Vinci’s paintings were of a religious nature and that was par for the day and age in which he lived. Similarly, many of the techniques witnessed in his work are most likely results of the preceding style of the day. The feminine appearance of John in the Last Supper or the superimposition of his own facial features onto the Mona Lisa – most likely because he had studied his own face – have given rise to many other theories about his inclinations because of the incredible detail that his studies lent to his work.
To say Leonardo Da Vinci invented light, shadow, foreshortening, and perspective on his own is giving one man too much credit. However, looking at the work of his contemporaries and predecessors, it can definitely be said that his attention to the detail and form of the world around him created the kind of intellect and depth needed by a single man to discover such techniques. His use of sfumato in the Mona Lisa is legendary as well as the development of single point perspective. His incredible mastery of triangulated geometry in so many of his paintings has been replicated for centuries and he was able to, more than anyone else, understand the necessity of proper ratios and perspective. Leonardo Da Vinci’s artwork and paintings are an example of what the renaissance was about, the combination of curiosity, intellect and absolute talent. Leonardo Da Vinci’s images live on today as a testimony to that.