Vincent Van Gogh Masterpieces – Lesser Known Works

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Vincent Van Gogh, in the course of only 10 short years, produced a vast and incredible body of work. Succeeding Rembrandt as the most recognizable Dutch artist, Van Gogh’s work, along with Cezanne and Gauguin, is universally recognized for extending the Impressionist work of the era and crafting the Post-Impressionist movement along with Expressionism. During his lifetime, Van Gogh broke down much of his work into themed series and groupings of paintings, including the Sunflowers, Wheat Fields and Self-Portraits for which he is so well known. However there were numerous other works, such as Van Gogh’s Yellow Chair, that have entranced scholars for decades.

Paintings by Van Gogh in Nuenen – 1883-1885

Van Gogh’s early work shows little of the impressionism that would later inform much of his work. However, in paintings such as Cottage with Decrepit Barn and Stooping Woman, completed in July of 1885 in Nuenen, Van Gogh explored his early predilection towards painting the same work many times to capture different aspects of the same subject. Numerous other paintings such as Cottage with Trees and Cottage with Peasant Woman Digging depict similar scenes under different circumstances.

During his two years in Nuenen, Van Gogh completed 192 paintings, many of them of peasants and similar settings. These works all culminated in his first unmitigated masterpiece, The Potato Eaters. Before reaching Paris in 1886, Van Gogh spent a small portion of time in Antwerp studying at the Art Academy. It is here he painted works such as the Skeleton with Cigarette while studying the human form.

Paintings by Van Gogh in Paris – 1886-1888

In the next two years, spent in Paris, Van Gogh completed another 221 paintings, while exploring the Impressionist style of the time and altering his own methods substantially. Paintings such as the Fritillaries by Van Gogh depicted still life images of simple flowers that Van Gogh would continue studying for years, engendering his interest in foliage and the depiction of life cycles. Other images, painted later during his stay in Paris included Van Gogh’s The Yellow Books and Yellow House, precursors to his latter life obsession with yellow in his paintings. After his earlier stay in Antwerp, he continued to make repeated studies of the human body including his own in the self-portraits. Other paintings such as the little girls continued this intrigue with human form.

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Paintings by Van Gogh in Arles – February 1888 – May 1889

When Van Gogh left Paris in 1888 for Arles, he made a decided change to his style. Van Gogh’s paintings in Provence focus greatly on nature and the world around him and explored the Post-Impressionist styles that would eventually define his life’s work. The field at Arles proved to be a major source of inspiration for Van Gogh, prompting numerous paintings from his window. The Sower, painted repeatedly in the fall of 1888 is a return to Van Gogh’s early life depictions of farmers and workers, yet his shift in style is clearly evident. Van Gogh’s still lifes from this period are equally famous including his three legged chair picture.

The three legged stool picture Van Gogh painted, as simple as it might appear is often the most studied of his works, both because of its simplicity and the underlying complexity that some assume is assuredly there. With The Garden of Arles, Van Gogh took to the depiction of natural wonders in varying seasons, a similar technique to his Sunflower and Wheat Field paintings. Peach Blossom in the Crau, another famous painting from a series of paintings depicting flowering in the spring is often studied for its unique use of color.

Paintings by Van Gogh in the Asylum, Saint-Remy – May 1889-May 1890

When Van Gogh had himself committed to the asylum in Saint-Remy in 1889, he did not cease painting. Rather, he kept a studio in the asylum and painted prolifically. While Starry Night and the Wheat Fields outside of his window are considered his most famous masterpieces from this period, the unique style of swirls and patterns that marked his stay in Saint Remy was put to use in numerous other works.

In depicting The Hills behind the Wall, Van Gogh repeatedly painted the same scene from his window in the asylum of the hills and farmland that rose beyond the wall surrounding the asylum. Similarly, Van Gogh painted Ravine from memory. Other paintings from this time period include Van Gogh’s Midday Rest, La Promenade and depictions of Almond Blossoms in the gardens.

After leaving the Saint Remy Asylum in May, Van Gogh traveled to Auvers-sur-Oise and to the ministrations of Dr. Gachet. The Portrait of Dr. Gachet by Van Gogh is one of the most expensive Van Gogh paintings ever sold and the dual versions of the painting have been studied extensively by scholars trying to discern the mental state of Van Gogh during those final summer months.


The Basis for Da Vinci’s Last Supper

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Regardless of the reasons for painting it, The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci was a common theme among Renaissance painters. It was considered something of a challenge to the master artist to put together a properly crafted representation of the last meal of Christ. Much has been made of that final meal, not only in art, but in the basic Sacraments of most dominations of Christianity.

When did Jesus celebrate the last supper with his apostles?

The history of the Last Supper itself relates the final meal of Jesus with his twelve disciples, as described in the New Testament of the Christian Bible and though the exact day of the Last Supper is debated, most agree it was the day before Passover began. The location of the Last Supper of Jesus was in the Upper Room on Mount Zion, located near the Old City of Jerusalem’s walls. During the course of the last Supper, Jesus spoke to his disciples while taking the bread and the wine, “Do this in remembrance of Me”. For that reason, the Eucharist was born, a tradition designed to remember that final meal of Christ. The room itself is known traditionally as the Upper Room.

The location of the Upper Room has been derived from the gospels stating that Jesus had a pair of disciples go to the city and meet a man who would lead them to a house where the teacher had a room. The room in question is described as the upper room and they are to prepare the Passover while there.

Because of the Last Supper’s time period, the actual city it takes place in is not known and could be anywhere just outside of Jerusalem. The Last Supper was the source for many of the symbolic actions taken by Christians in churches around the world. Jesus takes and divides the bread among his disciples, saying a prayer over it. He then hands the bread to his disciples and says this is my body. Then he takes his cup of wine and after offering another prayer, passes the cup around and says this is my blood of the everlasting ‘covenant’, which is poured for many. He then makes the instruction to do this in the memory of me.

It was also during this meal that Jesus offered the revelation that one of his apostles would betray him. It was truly the last supper that the disciples would have with Jesus. They each in turn refuse this claim, reasserting their loyalty, but Jesus insists that one of the men present will betray him. In both the gospels of Mark and Luke, the betrayer is not singled out. However Matthew and John specifically single out Judas Iscariot as the betrayer.
After confirming that Peter would deny Christ three times, Jesus finishes the meal with his disciples and begins a sermon, traditionally known as the Farewell Discourse. This final speech to his disciples in considered one of the most important descriptions of Christianity by Christ in the gospels.

The importance of the event lives on today in the form of the Eucharist of the Roman Catholic Church and the “Inauguration of the New Covenant” by most Christians. As a prophecy related by Jeremiah, this covenant refers to the line in which Christ told his disciples to eat of his body and drink of his blood. Other groups see the Last Supper as a symbol of change to the Passover ceremony, replacing the traditional Jewish practice with the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Generally, each of the major branches of Christianity has its own slightly different interpretation of the Last Supper. However, in the end, this final act by Jesus with his disciples is considered one of the most important and inspirational scenes in the Bible and subsequently in all of Renaissance Art.

John William Waterhouse Biography

born 1849, Rome, Italy
died 12th February, 1917, London, England

John William Waterhouse was born in Rome , and was always known by his family, and personal friends as Nino, the diminutive of the Italian Giovanino. Both his parents were artists. Today Waterhouse is possibly the most popular of all the artists on this web site. It is interesting to note, however, that little is known about his personal life today, considering he died in 1917, and was an active RA. What is known indicates he was a retiring, shy man, he left no diaries or journals, and, I suspect, quite deliberately covered his tracks. His friend, William Logsdail wrote his memoirs, but I have not been able to locate a copy of them. I set out below such information I as I have about Waterhouse.

Waterhouse became ARA in1885, and a full RA in 1895. In 1883 he married Esther Kenworthy at the parish church in Ealing in West London . There were no children. The newly married couple lived in a purpose built artistic colony in Primrose Hill, fellow residents, and close friends were Logsdail, and Maurice Greiffenhagen and his wife. The houses had studios. Around 1900 Waterhouse and his wife moved to St John’s Wood, evidence of both increasing prosperity, and the need to be part of the artistic community. He was I think one of the most accomplished British painters of the second half of the 19th century. He shared with many of them a fascination with events from antiquity and legend.

Early in his career Waterhouse established his style. It changed little, but he continually refined it, and his beautiful ladies were recognisable flesh and blood, with superb skin tones. He also painted a few excellent portraits of women, some of them being of the members of the Henderson family of Lord Faringdon, of Buscot Park fame. A lot of the pictures spent many years on the walls of prosperous Home Counties families, but the problems of Lloyds of London have, in many cases, forced their sale, just as their real value, and the artistic worth of Waterhouse’s achievement has come to be realised. He continued to do the same thing throughout his career, but he did it so well, who are we to complain?

In 1917 he died of cancer, but he had carried on working virtually to the end of his life, as evidenced by the two very late pictures bought by Lord Leverhume, still on show at the Lady Lever Gallery to this day.

Onituary – The Times Monday February 12th 1917

Mr J W Waterhouse RA died at his house in St John’s Wood on Saturday, after a long illness in his 68th year. The first of his paintings exhibited at the Royal Academy was ‘Sleep and his Half-Brother Death,’ in 1874, and since then there have been few Academies without one or two of his works. He was elected an ARA in 1885 the year of one of his best paintings ‘St Eulalia.’ ‘The Magic Circle ,’ painted in 1886 which was purchased for the Chantry Bequest Collection, and ‘The Lady of Shallot,’ which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1888 were others of his most popular works. He became an RA in 1895.

His painting ‘Hylas and the Nymphs,’ shown at the Royal Academy in 1897 passed into the collection of the Corporation of Manchester, and by them was lent for Exhibition in Glasgow in 1901, and the Franco-British Exhibition 7 years later. At other loan exhibitions in Whitechapel, Manchester , City of London Guildhall , and Earls Court examples of his work have been on view from time to time. His wife several times exhibited paintings of floral subjects at the Royal Academy.

Mr Waterhouse was an eclectic painter. He painted Pre-Raphaelite pictures in a more modern manner. He was in fact a kind of academic Burne-Jones, like him in his types and moods, but with less insistence on design and more on atmosphere. His art was always agreeable, for he had taste and learning as well as considerable accomplishments; he was one of those painters whose pictures always seem to suggest that he must have done better in some other work. This means that he never quite ‘came off,’ that he raised expectations in his art that it did not completely satisfy; and a reason for this is to be found in his eclecticism. He never quite found himself or the method which would completely express him. One feels that his figures are there to make a picture rather than they are occupied with any business of their own. They do make it very skilfully, but neither they nor the pictures seem quite alive. He was at his best, perhaps, in the ‘Martyrdom of St Eulalia,’ now in the Tate Gallery which escapes more than usual from the Burne-Jones lethargy, which though very natural and expressive in Burne-Jones himself, seems to be a mere artistic device in Waterhouse. But he was at any rate, quite free from that theatricality which is the common vice of academic and subject painters. He painted always like a scholar and a gentleman, though not like a great artist.


Waterhouse was yet another unhappy artist who had lived into the time of modernism in the early twentieth century, when in the art world the untalented became the fashionable, something, alas, still happening today. Thus newly dead Victorian artists were the subject of further attack in their obituaries. One wonders just what this reviewer would think were he alive today to see the high prices, critical praise, and popularity of the art of John William Waterhouse. On a more general point I have noticed whilst researching these obituaries, that it was felt to be intrusive to say virtually anything about the character of the deceased artist, surely one of the main purposes of any obituary.

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema Biography

born January 8, 1836, Dronrijp, Netherlands
died June 25, 1912, Wiesbaden, Germany

Dutch-born painter of scenes from everyday life in the ancient world whose work was immensely popular in his time.

Alma-Tadema, the son of a Dutch notary, studied art at the Antwerp Academy (1852–58) under the Belgian historical painter Hendrik Leys, assisting the painter in 1859 with frescoes for the Stadhuis (town hall) in Antwerp. During a visit to Italy in 1863, Alma-Tadema became interested in Greek and Roman antiquity and Egyptian archaeology, and afterward he depicted imagery almost exclusively from those sources. Moving to England, he became a naturalized British subject in 1873 and was elected a member of the Royal Academy in 1879. He was knighted in 1899.

Alma-Tadema excelled at the accurate re-creation of ancient architecture and costumes and the precise depiction of textures of marble, bronze, and silk. His expert rendering of settings provides a backdrop for anecdotal scenes set in the ancient world. Alma-Tadema’s wife, Laura Epps, was also a painter.

Sandro Botticelli Biography

born 1445, Florence [Italy]
died May 17, 1510, Florence

Original name Alessandro Di Mariano Filipepi. One of the greatest painters of the Florentine Renaissance. His “The Birth of Venus” and “Primavera” are often said to epitomize for modern viewers the spirit of the Renaissance.

Early life and career

Botticelli’s name is derived from his elder brother Giovanni, a pawnbroker who was called Il Botticello (“The Little Barrel”). All our knowledge of Botticelli’s life and character derives from Giorgio Vasari’s biography of him, as supplemented and corrected from documents. Botticelli’s father was a tanner who apprenticed Sandro to a goldsmith after his schooling was finished. But since Sandro preferred painting, his father then placed him under Fra Filippo Lippi, who was one of the most admired Florentine masters.

Lippi’s painterly style, which was formed in the early Florentine Renaissance, retained certain elements of International Gothic delicacy and decorativeness. His style was fundamental to Botticelli’s own artistic formation, and his influence appears even in his pupil’s late works. Lippi taught Botticelli the techniques of panel painting and fresco and gave him an assured control of linear perspective. Stylistically, Botticelli acquired from Lippi a repertory of types and compositions, a certain graceful fancifulness in costuming, a linear sense of form, and a partiality to certain paler hues that are still visible even after Botticelli had developed his own strong and resonant colour schemes.

By 1470 Botticelli was already established in Florence as an independent master with his own workshop. Absorbed in his art, he never married, and he lived with his family. The figure style of Botticelli’s teacher, Lippi, was softer and frailer than the sculptural style of Antonio Pollaiuolo and Andrea del Verrocchio, the leading Florentine painters of the 1460s, and under their influence, Botticelli transformed the forms he had learned from Lippi into figures of sculptural roundness and strength. He also replaced Lippi’s International Gothic delicacy with a robust and vigorous naturalism, shaped always by conceptions of ideal beauty.

These transitions in Botticelli’s style can be seen in the two small panels of “Judith and Holofernes” (c. 1469; Uffizi Gallery, Florence ) and the “Chigi Madonna” and are fully realized in his first dated work, “Fortitude” (1470; Uffizi), which was painted for the hall of the Tribunale del la Mercanzia, or merchants’ tribunal, in Florence . Botticelli’s art now shows a use of ochre in the shadowed areas of flesh tones that gives a brown warmth very different from Lippi’s pallor. The forms in his paintings are defined with a line that is at once incisive and flowing, and there is a growing ability to suggest the character and even the mood of the figures by action, pose, and facial expression.

About 1478-81 Botticelli entered his artistic maturity: all tentativeness in his work disappears and is replaced by a consummate mastery. He is able to integrate figure and setting into harmonious compositions and to draw the human form with a compelling vitality. He would later display unequalled skill at rendering narrative texts, whether biographies of saints or stories from Boccaccio’s Decameron or Dante’s Divine Comedy, into a pictorial form that is at once exact, economical, and eloquent.

Devotional paintings

Botticelli worked in all the current genres of Florentine art. He painted altarpieces in fresco and on panel, tondi (circular paintings),small panel pictures, and small devotional triptychs. His altarpieces include narrow vertical panels such as the “St. Sebastian” (1474; Berlin); small oblong panels such as the famous “Adoration of the Magi” (c. 1476; Uffizi) from the Church of Santa Maria Novella; medium-sized altarpieces, of which the finest is the beautiful Bardi altarpiece (1484-85; Berlin); and large-scale works such as the St. Barnabas altarpiece (c. 1488; Uffizi) and the “Coronation of the Virgin” (c. 1490; Uffizi). His early mastery of fresco is clearly visible in his ” St. Augustine ” (1480) in the Church of Ognissanti , in which the saint’s cogent energy and vigour express both intellectual power and spiritual devotion. Three of Botticelli’s finest religious frescos (completed 1482) were part of the decorations of the Sistine Chapel undertaken by a team of Florentine and Umbrian artists who had been summoned to Rome in July 1481. The theological themes of the frescos were chosen to illustrate papal supremacy over the church; Botticelli’s are remarkable for their brilliant fusion of sequences of symbolic episodes into unitary compositions.

Florentine tondi were often large, richly framed paintings, and Botticelli produced major works in this format, beginning with the “Adoration of the Magi” (c. 1473; National Gallery, London ) that he painted for Antonio Pucci. Prior to Botticelli, tondi had been conceived essentially as oblong scenes, but Botticelli suppressed all superfluity of detail in them and became adept at harmonizing his figures with the circular form. His complete mastery of the tondo format is evident in two of his most beautiful paintings, “The Madonna of the Magnificat” (c. 1485; Uffizi) and “The Madonna of the Pomegranate” (c. 1487; Uffizi). Botticelli also painted a few small oblong Madonnas, notably the “Madonna of the Book” (c. 1480; Poldi-Pezzoli Museum , Milan ), but he mostly left the painting of Madonnas and other devotional subjects to his workshop, which produced them in great numbers. In his art the Virgin Mary is always a tall, queenly figure wearing the conventional red robe and blue cloak, but enriched in his autograph works by sensitively rendered accessories. She often has an inner pensiveness of expression, the same inwardness of mood that is communicated by Botticelli’s saints.

Secular patronage and works

Botticelli is the earliest European artist whose paintings of secular historical subjects survive in some number and are equal or superior in importance to his religious paintings. Nevertheless, much of his secular work is lost: from a working life of some 40 years, only eight examples by him survive in an already well-established genre, the portrait. One of these, the portrait of a young man holding a medal of Cosimo de’ Medici (c. 1474; Uffizi), is especially significant because init Botticelli copied the Flemish painter Hans Memling’s recently invented device of setting the figure before a landscape seen from a high vantage point. This is the earliest instance of the influence on Botticelli of contemporary Flemish landscape art, which is clearly visible in a number of his landscape settings.

Perhaps it was Botticelli’s skill in portraiture that gained him the patronage of the Medici family, and in particular of Lorenzo de’ Medici and his brother Giuliano, who then dominated Florence . Botticelli painted a portrait of Giuliano and posthumous portraits of his grandfather Cosimo and father Piero. Portraits of all four Medici appear as the Three Magi and an attendant figure in the “Adoration of the Magi” from Santa Maria Novella. Botticelli is also known to have painted (1475) for Giuliano a banner of Pallas trampling on the flames of love and Cupid bound to an olive tree. This work, though lost, is important as a key to Botticelli’s use of classical mythology to illustrate the sentiment of medieval courtly love in his great mythological paintings.

After Giuliano de’ Medici’s assassination in the Pazzi conspiracy of 1478, it was Botticelli who painted the defamatory fresco of the conspirators on a wall of the Palazzo Vecchio. Lorenzo certainly always favoured Botticelli, as Vasari claims, but even more significant in the painter’s career was the lasting friendship and patronage of Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici, head of the junior Medici line and at first a covert and then from 1494 an open opponent of the senior line. Tommaso Soderini, who secured for Botticelli in 1470 the commission for the “Fortitude,” and Antonio Pucci, for whom he painted his earliest surviving tondo, were both prominent Medicean partisans, as was Giovanni Tornabuoni, who about 1486-87 commissioned Botticelli’s most important surviving secular frescos.

Mythological paintings

Many of the commissions given to Botticelli by these rich patrons were linked to Florentine customs on the occasion of a marriage, which was by far the most important family ceremony of that time. A chamber was usually prepared for the newly married couple in the family palace of the groom, and paintings were mounted within it. The themes of such paintings were either romantic, exalting love and lovers, or exemplary, depicting heroines of virtuous fame. Botticelli’s earliest known commission of this kind was for the marriage of Antonio Pucci’s son Giannozzo in 1483, a set of four panels narrating a story from Boccaccio. Mythological figures had been used in earlier Renaissance secular art, but the complex culture of late Medicean Florence, which was simultaneously infused with the romantic sentiment of courtly love and with the humanist enthusiasm for classical antiquity and its vanished artistic traditions, employed these mythological figures more fully and in more correctly antiquarian fashion. A new mythological language became current, inspired partly by classical literature and sculpture and by descriptions of lost ancient paintings and partly by the Renaissance search for the full physical realization of the ideal human figure.

Among the greatest examples of this novel fashion in secular painting are four of Botticelli’s most famous works: the “Primavera” (c. 1477-78; Uffizi; see photograph), “Pallas and the Centaur” (c. 1485; Uffizi), “Venus and Mars” (c. 1485; National Gallery, London ), and “The Birth of Venus” (c. 1485; Uffizi [see photograph]). The “Primavera,” or “Allegory of Spring,” and “The Birth of Venus” were painted for the villa of Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici at Castello. All four of these panel paintings have been variously interpreted by modern scholarship. The figures certainly do not enact a known myth but rather are used allegorically to illustrate various aspects of love: in the “Primavera,” its kindling and its fruition in marriage; in “Pallas,” the subjugation of male lust by female chastity; in “Venus and Mars,” a celebration of woman’s calm triumph after man’s sexual exhaustion; and in “The Birth of Venus,” the birth of love in the world. The “Primavera” and “The Birth of Venus” contain some of the most sensuously beautiful nudes and semi-nudes painted during the Renaissance, though medieval decorum still regulates some of their costuming. The four paintings’ settings, which are partly mythological-that of the “Primavera” is the Garden of the Hesperides-and partly symbolic, are pastoral and idyllic in sentiment.

Botticelli’s frescos from a chamber in the Villa Tornabuoni, celebrating the marriage of Lorenzo Tornabuoni and Giovanna degli Albizzi in 1486, also draw on classical mythology for their subject matter. In these frescos, real personages mingle with mythological figures: Venus, attended by her Graces, gives flowers to Giovanna degli Albizzi, while Lorenzo Tornabuoni, who is called to a mercantile life, is brought before Prudentia and the Liberal Arts.

The influence of the Renaissance humanist Leon Battista Alberti’s art theories is apparent in Botticelli’s classical borrowings and his meticulous use of linear perspective. In fact, Botticelli took himself so seriously as the reviver of the lost glories of classical painting that he inserted miniature reproductions of his own works into “The Calumny of Apelles” (c. 1495; Uffizi), a subject recommended by Alberti, who took it from a description of a work by the ancient Greek painter Apelles. Botticelli also drew inspiration from classical art more directly. While in Rome in 1481-82, for example, he reproduced that city’s Arch of Constantine in one of his Sistine frescoes. Three of the figures in the “Primavera” are taken from a classical statue of the Three Graces, while the figure of Venus in “The Birth of Venus” derives from an ancient statue of “Venus Pudica.”

Late works

An incipient mannerism appears in Botticelli’s latest works of the 1480s, but the magnificent Cestello “Annunciation” (1490; Uffizi) and the small “Pietà” now in the Poldi-Pezzoli Museum prove that he could still produce masterpieces. But after the early 1490s his style changed markedly: the paintings are smaller in scale, the figures in them are now slender to the point of idiosyncrasy, and the painter, by accentuating their gestures and expressions, concentrates attention on their passionate urgency of action. This mysterious retreat from the idealizing naturalism of the 1480s perhaps resulted from Botticelli’s involvement with the fiery reformist preacher Girolamo Savonarola in the 1490s. The years from 1494 were dramatic ones in Florence : its Medici rulers fell, and a republican government under Savonarola’s dominance was installed. Savonarola was an ascetic idealist who attacked the church’s corruption and prophesied its future renewal. According to Vasari, Botticelli was a devoted follower of Savonarola, even after the friar was executed in 1498. The spiritual tensions of these years are reflected in two religious paintings, the apocalyptic “Mystic Crucifixion” (1497; Fogg Art Museum , Cambridge , Mass. ) and the “Mystic Nativity” (1501; National Gallery, London ), which expresses Botticelli’s own faith in the renewal of the church. “The Tragedy of Lucretia” (c. 1499) and “The Story of Virginia Romana” (1499) appear to condemn the Medici’s tyranny and to celebrate republicanism.

Botticelli, according to Vasari, took an enduring interest in the study and interpretation of Dante’s Divine Comedy. He made some designs to illustrate the first printed edition of 1481 and worked intermittently over the following years on an uncompleted set of large drawings that matched each canto with a complete visual commentary. He was also much in demand by engravers, embroiderers, and tapestry workers as a designer; among his few surviving drawings are some that can be associated with these techniques.

Although Vasari describes Botticelli as impoverished and disabled in his last years, other evidence suggests that he and his family remained fairly prosperous. He received commissions throughout the 1490s and was still paying his dues, if belatedly, to the Company of Saint Luke, the Florentine artists’ guild, in 1505. But the absence of any further commissions and the tentativeness of the very last Dante drawings suggest that he was perhaps overtaken by ill health. Upon his death in 1510 he was buried in the Ognissanti. About 50 paintings survive that are either wholly or partly from his own hand. The Uffizi Gallery’s magnificent collection of his works includes many of his masterpieces.

William-Adolphe Bouguereau Biography

born Nov. 30, 1825, La Rochelle, Fr.
died Aug. 19, 1905, La Rochelle

French painter, a dominant figure in his nation’s academic painting during the second half of the 19th century.

Bouguereau entered the École des Beaux-Arts in 1846 and was awarded the Prix de Rome in 1850. Upon his return to France from fouryears’ study in Italy, he attracted a wide following with his mythologicaland allegorical paintings, although his portrait paintings are perhaps held in higher esteem today. His work was characterized by a highly finished, technically impeccable realism and a sentimental interpretation of his subject matter. Bouguereau received many honours in the 1860s and ’70s as his career progressed; he exhibited regularly at the Salon for several decades and became for a time the most famous French painter of his day. As a proponent of official orthodoxy in painting, he playeda major role in the exclusion of the works of the Impressionists and other experimental painters from the Salon. In his later years he decorated the chapels of several Parisian churches and painted religious compositions in a Pre-Raphaelite style. He exerted a wide influence, not only in France but inother countries, particularly the United States. In 1876 he was made a member of the Academy of Fine Arts.

Modern critics tend to assess Bouguereau as a painter who sacrificed boldness of technique and originality of outlook for a highly polished but conventional treatment of the human form.

Paul Cézanne Biography

born January 19, 1839 , Aix-en-Provence , France
died October 22, 1906 , Aix-en-Provence

French painter, one of the greatest of the Post-Impressionists, whose works and ideas were influential in the aesthetic development of many 20th-century artists and art movements, especially Cubism. Cézanne’s art, misunderstood and discredited by the public during most of his life, grew out of Impressionism and eventually challenged all the conventional values of painting in the 19th century because of his insistence on personal expression and on the integrity of the painting itself, regardless of subject matter.

Early life and work

Cézanne was the son of a well-to-do bourgeois family. He received a classical education at the Collège Bourbon in Aix. In 1858, under the direction of his father-a successful banker determined to have his son enter the same profession-Cézanne entered the law school of the University of Aix-en-Provence . He had no taste for the law, however, having decided at an early age to pursue some kind of artistic career, and after two years he persuaded his father, with the support of his mother’s entreaties, to allow him to study painting in Paris .

Cézanne’s first stay in Paris lasted only five months. The instability of his personality gave way to severe depression almost immediately when he found that he was not as proficient technically as some of the students at the Académie Suisse, the studio where he began his instruction. He stayed as long as he did only because of the encouragement of the writer Émile Zola, with whom he had formed a close friendship at the Collège Bourbon. Returning to Aix, Cézanne made a new attempt to content himself with working at his father’s bank, but after a year he returned to Paris with strengthened resolution to stay. During his formative period, from about 1858 to 1872, Cézanne alternated between living in Paris and visiting Aix.

The early 1860s was a period of great vitality for Parisian literary and artistic activity. The conflict had reached its height between the Realist painters, led by Gustave Courbet, and the official Académie des Beaux-Arts, which rejected from its annual exhibition-and thus from public acceptance-all paintings not in the academic Neoclassical or Romantic styles. In 1863 the emperor Napoleon III decreed the opening of a Salon des Refusés to counter the growing agitation in artistic circles over painters refused by the Salon of the Académie. The works of the Refusés were almost universally denounced by critics-a reaction that consolidated the revolutionary spirit of these painters. Cézanne, whose tastes had soon shifted away from the academic, became associated with the most advanced members of this group, including Édouard Manet, Camille Pissarro, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Edgar Degas. Most of these artists were only in their 20s (as was Cézanne) and were just forming their styles; they were to become, with the exception of Manet, the Impressionist school. Cézanne’s friend Zola was passionately devoted to their cause, but Cézanne’s friendship with the other artists was at first inhibited by his touchiness and deliberate rudeness, born of extreme shyness and a moodiness that was offended by their convivial ways. Nevertheless, he was inspired by their revolutionary spirit as he sought to synthesize the influences of Courbet, who pioneered the unsentimental treatment of commonplace subjects, and of the Romantic painter Eugène Delacroix, whose compositions, emphasizing colour instead of line, greatly impressed Cézanne.

During this period Cézanne began to develop a style that was violent and dark; he painted scenes with harsh extremes of light and shadow and with a looseness and vigour that are remarkable for the time but that can be traced to the influence of Delacroix’s swirling compositions. The sensitive dynamism of this youthful period, with the inner feverishness that it reveals, foreshadows the daring innovations of Fauvism and of modern Expressionism, particularly the works of Maurice de Vlaminck and Georges Rouault.

Impressionist years

In July 1870, with the outbreak of the Franco-German War, Cézanne left Paris for Provence , partly to avoid being drafted. He took with him Marie-Hortense Fiquet, a young woman who had become his mistress the previous year and whom he married in 1886. The Cézannes settled at Estaque, a small village on the coast of southern France , not far from Marseille. There he began to paint landscapes, exploring ways to depict nature faithfully and at the same time to express the feelings it inspired in him. He began to approach his subjects the way his Impressionist friends did; in two landscapes from this time, Snow at Estaque (1870-71) and The Wine Market (1872), the composition is that of his early style, but already more disciplined and more attentive to the atmospheric, rather than dramatic, quality of light.

In January 1872 Marie-Hortense gave birth to a son. Soon afterward, at the invitation of Camille Pissarro, Cézanne took his family to live at Pontoise in the valley of the Oise River . There and at the nearby town of Auvers he began seriously to learn the techniques and theories of Impressionism from Pissarro, who of his painter friends was the only one patient enough to teach him despite his difficult personality. The two artists painted together intermittently through 1874, taking their canvases all over the countryside and painting out-of-doors, a technique that was still considered radical. From this time on, Cézanne was to devote himself almost exclusively to landscapes, still life, and, later, portraits. Pissarro persuaded Cézanne to lighten his colours and showed him the advantages of using the broken bits of colour and short brushstrokes that were the trademark of the Impressionists and that Cézanne came to use regularly, although with a different effect, in his later work. Even while under Pissarro’s guidance, however, Cézanne painted pictures clearly indicating that his vision was unique and that his purpose was quite different from that of the Impressionists. Although he used the techniques of these young artists, he did not share their concern with emphasizing the objective vision presented by the light emanating from an object; rather, his explorations emphasized the underlying structure of the objects he painted. Already he was composing with cubic masses and architectonic lines; his strokes, unlike those of the Impressionists, were not strewn with colour, but they complemented each other in a chromatic unity. His most famous painting of this period, The House of the Suicide (1873), illustrates these forces at work.

In 1874 Cézanne returned to Paris and participated in the first official show of the Impressionists. Although the paintings that Cézanne showed there and at the third show in 1877 were the most severely criticized of any works exhibited, he continued to work diligently, periodically going back to soak up the light of Provence. He made sojourns to Estaque in 1876, and in 1878 to Aix-en-Provence , where he had to endure the insults of his tyrannical father, whose financial help he needed to survive since his canvases were still not finding buyers. The single exception to this lack of patronage was the connoisseur Victor Chocquet, whose portrait he painted in 1877. After the second Impressionist show Cézanne broke professionally with Impressionism, although he continued to maintain friendly relations with “the humble and colossal Pissarro,” with Monet, “the mightiest of us all,” and with Renoir, whom he also admired. Dismayed by the public’s reaction to his works, however, he isolated himself more and more in both Paris and Aix, and he effectively ended his long friendship with Zola, as much because of neurotic distrust and jealousy as from disappointment at Zola’s “popular” writing, which his antisocial and single-minded disposition found incomprehensible.

Development of his mature style

During this period of isolation, from the late 1870s to the early ’90s, Cézanne developed his mature style. His landscapes from this period, such as The Sea at L’Estaque (1878-79), are perhaps the first masterpieces of the mature Cézanne. These landscapes contain compositions of grand and calm horizontals in which the even up-and-down strokes create a clean prismatic effect and an implacable blue sea spreads wide across the canvases. Like all his mature landscapes, these paintings have the exciting and radically new quality of simultaneously representing deep space and flat design. Cézanne knew well how to portray solidity and depth; his method was that used by the Impressionists to indicate form. In his own words, “I seek to render perspective only through colour.” The painter’s intelligence and eye were able to strip away that which was diffused and superimposed in the view of a given mass, in order to analyze its constituent elements. In works such as these, he chose to rediscover a more substantial reality of simple forms behind the glimmering veil of appearances: “Everything in Nature is modelled after the sphere, the cone, and the cylinder. One must learn to paint from these simple figures.” At the same time, such pictures present shimmering harmonies of colour that can be seen as totally flat designs, without depth. Other striking landscapes from this period are the prismatic landscapes of Gardanne (The Mills of Gardanne, c. 1885) and the series of monumental compositions in which Mont Sainte-Victoire near Aix becomes a mythical presence.

Cézanne was to use essentially the same approach in his portraits. Some of the best known are Madame Cézanne in a Yellow Armchair (1890-94), Woman with Coffee-Pot (1890-94), and The Card Players (1890-92). This last painting portrays a theme that Cézanne treated in five different versions. Except for the card-player paintings, in which the sober dignity of the men is well expressed, there is no attempt in Cézanne’s portraits to hint at the sitter’s character. In most cases he treats the background with the same care as the subject and often violently distorts facial colour to bring it in harmony with the total composition. Cézanne also applied his principles of representation to his extraordinary still life, of which he painted more than 200. He organized them as though they were architectural drawings, giving the most familiar objects significance and force through the intensity of the colour and the essential simplicity of the form.

Full of the intensity of feeling aroused by his surroundings, Cézanne’s art was also deeply cerebral, a conscious search for intellectual solutions to problems of representation. Although he had great admiration for many other painters, he disagreed with the objectives of all but himself; painters who narrated events, as did the Romantics and the Old Masters, and painters who only represented nature-as did the Impressionists-seemed to him to lack a standard of purpose that only his own art possessed. At the same time, he was not a truly abstract painter, for the ideas of structure that he wished to express were about reality, not design. In this, he was the major source of inspiration for the Cubist painters.

After his father’s death in 1886, Cézanne became financially independent. He had married Marie-Hortense six months earlier, and, after a year in Paris in 1888, Marie-Hortense and their son moved there permanently. Cézanne himself then settled in Aix except for a few visits to the capital, to Fontainebleau , to Jura in Switzerland , and to the home of Monet in Giverny, where he met the sculptor Auguste Rodin. In 1895 the art dealer Ambroise Vollard set up the first one-man exhibition of Cézanne’s work (more than 100 canvases), but, although young artists and some art lovers were beginning to show enthusiasm for his painting, the public remained unreceptive.

Final years

As the 19th century came to a close, Cézanne’s art was increasing in depth, in concentrated richness of colour, and in skill of composition. He felt capable of creating a new vision. From 1890 to 1905 he produced masterpieces, one after another: 10 variations of the Mont Sainte-Victoire, 3 versions of the Boy in a Red Waist-Coat, countless still-life images, and the Bathers series, in which he attempted to return to the classic tradition of the nude and explore his concern for its sculptural effect in relation to the landscape. He was obsessed with his work, which was time-consuming since he painted slowly.

Cézanne had always found it difficult to get along with people, and, deeply upset by the death of his mother in 1897, he withdrew gradually from his wife and from the friends of his youth. By the turn of the century his fame had begun to spread, and, since he was rarely seen by anyone, he became something of a legendary figure. He exhibited at the widely attended annual Salon des Indépendants in 1899 and at the Universal Exposition held in Paris in 1900, and his works were finally sought after by galleries. The Caillebotte collection opened at the Luxembourg Gallery in Paris with two Cézannes. The National Gallery in Berlin purchased a landscape as early as 1900. Young artists esteemed him; in 1901, the young Symbolist Maurice Denis painted Homage à Cézanne, a picture of artists admiring one of his still lifes.

Cézanne’s last period, the fruit of intense meditation in solitude, reached the heights of lyricism, achieving in its revelation of life in nature what only the greatest artists can attain in their lifetime. “The landscape,” he said, “becomes human, becomes a thinking, living being within me. I become one with my picture..We merge in an iridescent chaos.” In the apparent immobility of the Provençal countryside, he found geologic forces trapped in the rocks, powerful saps coursing through the trees. With a few light brushstrokes, this sick and misanthropic old man, shut up in hisstudio, was able to breathe life into the last Mont Sainte-Victoire paintings (1898-1902) and the views of Château-Noir. In the last of the great Bathers paintings (1900-05) he succeeded in integrating monumental nudes with a landscape in his structural vision of reality.

The diabetes from which Cézanne had been suffering for a long time became more serious, and in October 1906 he finally succumbed to a harsh chill caught while working in the fields. He died a few days later and was buried in Aix-en-Provence .


Although critical sympathy and public acceptance came to Cézanne only in the last decade of his career, his quest to see through appearances to the logic of underlying formal structure always drew admiration among his colleagues. His hope that his paintings would serve as a form of education for other artists was achieved when a number of important painters purchased his work, including Paul Gauguin, Pablo Picasso, Pierre Bonnard, Kazimir Malevich, Henri Matisse, and Marcel Duchamp. A 1907 retrospective showing of his works (56 paintings) was held at the Salon d’Automne in Paris and won considerable acclaim. That same year Picasso created his seminal Demoiselles d’Avignon (“Women of Avignon”), clearly inspired by Cézanne’s groundbreaking Bathers of 1900-05. Indeed, Cézanne’s intellectual approach to formal issues-particularly his spatial explorations-laid the foundation for Picasso and other artists’ subsequent explorations with Cubism, while his investigations of colour and brushstroke influenced Matisse and other Fauve artists in the first decade of the century.

Over the years the public has also embraced his work, although, as his first biographer, Julius Meier-Graef, observed in 1904, “Except for Van Gogh, no one in modern art has made stronger demands on aesthetic receptivity than Cézanne.” Cézanne is now recognized as the most significant precursor of 20th-century formal abstraction in painting, as he developed a purely pictorial language that balanced analysis with emotion and structure with lyricism. Picasso offered the most succinct assessment of Cézanne’s role for subsequent generations of artists, declaring that he was “the father of us all.”

John Constable Biography

born June 11, 1776 , East Bergholt , Suffolk , Eng.
died March 31, 1837 , London

Painter who, with J.M.W. Turner, dominated English landscape painting in the 19th century. He is famous for his precise and loving paintings of the English countryside (e.g., “The Hay-Wain,” 1821), which he sketched constantly from nature. After about 1828, he experimented with a freer and more colourful manner of painting (e.g., in ” Hadleigh Castle ,” 1829). He was elected to the Royal Academy in 1829.

Early days

Constable’s birthplace was, and remains, a small village, standing on a ridge a short distance from the River Stour, which separates Suffolk from Essex . The Stour valley in this region is rich in wheat, pastureland, and fine trees and was known in the late 18th century for its efficient agriculture and its natural beauty. The men of Suffolk felt a jealous patriotism for their own county, and Constable remained at heart a Suffolk man, although he constantly crossed the bridge over the River Stour at Flatford into Essex .

The artist’s father, Golding Constable, was a wealthy man who owned mills at Flatford and Dedham , on the Suffolk and Essex banks of the Stour , respectively. His business consisted of grinding wheat raised in the local fields and shipping it around the coast of East Anglia to the London market. The Stour had been made into a canal, navigable beyond these mills, and the grain was transported on its waters in broad, flat-bottomed barges. The fact that Constable was born into the midst of the practical realities of country life has a direct bearing on his career and is reflected throughout his painting. He showed intellectual promise as a child and was brought up for the church; when this idea was abandoned, he was trained to enter his father’s business. By this time he had already conceived an enthusiasm for painting. This interest was fostered by his friendship with an amateur painter, John Dunthorne, a local plumber and glazier, and was further encouraged by the landscape painter Sir George Beaumont, a patron of the arts. Constable’s determination to make painting his profession was sealed by his acceptance as a probationer in the Royal Academy Schools in 1799, when he was 23.

Artistic development

At this time his performance did not reveal any marked promise; his execution was laboured and his drawing from life weakly academic. But he already had a clear mental image of the type of pictures he wanted to paint and worked doggedly to overcome his technical defects. Seven or eight years after he had started his formal training, he discovered how to embody his idea of the English countryside in a manner both more realistic and more spirited than his predecessors. There were some modest successes to record in this period of self-training. He exhibited at the Royal Academy shows annually from 1802, with one single exception in 1804. He went on two of the sketching expeditions that it was then the practice for landscape painters to undertake, going to the Peak District, Derbyshire, in 1801 and the Lake District in 1806. He painted portraits of the Suffolk and Essex farmers and their wives and in 1805 attempted an altarpiece of “Christ Blessing the Children,” in the manner of the American expatriate painter Benjamin West. When he took stock of his progress after his return from the Lake District , however, he realized that he had been attempting too wide a range of subject and style, thus dissipating his energies. He then determined to concentrate on the scenes that had delighted him as a boy: the village lanes, the fields and meadows running down to the Stour , the slow progress of barges drawn by tow horses, the bustle of vessels passing the locks at Flatford or Dedham .

In the years 1809 to 1816 he established his mastery and evolved his individual manner; but these were years of personal stress. He was obliged to live much of each year in London , where his professional associates were to be found and where he could participate in exhibitions. Constable was uneasy at these enforced absences from the countryside, in which he felt most at home, and tried to pay yearly visits to Suffolk . The assiduity with which he studied the landscape on these visits is shown by two pocket sketchbooks, one of 1813 and one of 1814, which are still intact. These contain between them more than 200 small sketches made in a limited area around his home village and reflect most aspects of the summer life of the fields and the river.

Deeper than the strain of exile from these scenes was the unhappy progress of his courtship of Maria Bicknell, with whom he had fallen in love in 1809 but whose grandfather, the elderly and tyrannical rector of East Bergholt , opposed her marriage to an impecunious artist. Nevertheless, Constable stuck to his purpose with a tenacity equal to that which he displayed in his art, and, in her non-aggressive way, Maria was just as determined. A further anxiety for Constable came from the failing health of his parents; his mother died in 1815 and his father the following year. He was genuinely devoted to them and spent prolonged periods at home during their illnesses. His father’s death in 1816 provided a sufficient measure of economic independence for him to marry Maria Bicknell and to settle into the domestic life that was a prerequisite for his calm development and the full maturing of his art.

Once he had married, on Oct. 2, 1816 , and had established himself and his wife in a London home, Constable set to work to show what he could achieve in his art. He was 40 years old and had painted a handful of accomplished pictures, which were original but on a small scale. These included “Dedham Vale: Morning” (1811; Sir Richard Proby Collection, Elton Hall, Huntingdonshire); “Boatbuilding near Flatford Mill” (1815; Victoria and Albert Museum , London ); “The Stour Valley and Dedham Village ” (1815; Museum of Fine Arts , Boston ). These paintings were still products of the years of preparation, however. Most significant was the large number of small oil sketches and drawings that were to form the basis of his future and more ambitious painting. These sketches, of which he made a considerable number after 1808, were painted in the open air in front of the subject. They are most frequently in oils on paper about 12 inches wide, and they record the form of the landscape, the colours that predominate, and also the more evanescent qualities of atmosphere and the reflection of light on particular details. The sketches are now recognized to be among Constable’s most individual achievements and to have been unique at the time they were painted. To the artist, however, they were means to an end. His main ambition was to embody his concept of the Suffolk countryside in a series of larger canvases monumental enough to make an impression in the annual summer exhibitions of the Royal Academy . The first attempt was the “Flatford Mill on the River Stour” which he exhibited in 1817. It shows a reach of the river running up to the mill, in which Golding Constable had lived until within two years of Constable’s birth, bordered by a meadow that has just been scythed.

Mature works

This work was succeeded by a series of six paintings that are now among his best known and most highly regarded works. In order of exhibition they are “The White Horse”; “Stratford Mill”; “The Hay-Wain”; “View on the Stour near Dedham”; “The Lock”; “The Leaping Horse.” These six canvases portray scenes on the River Stour that were easily within the compass of Constable’s childhood walks; between the most easterly, “The Hay-Wain,” and the most westerly, “Stratford Mill,” there is hardly more than two miles distance in a direct line. To this unity of place is joined a unity of subject matter. With the exception of “The Hay-Wain,” all show barges being manoeuvred along the canals. The appearance in these works of the fruits of Constable’s deep, unprecedented study of the formation of clouds, the colour of meadows and trees, and the effect of light glistening on leaves and water enables them to communicate the concrete actuality of these everyday-life country scenes, as well as the feeling they evoked in him.

This series of Stour scenes was interrupted in 1823, when Constable’s chief exhibit was a view of “Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s Grounds,” which was intended to be a record of an architectural monument, transmuted into the artist’s own idiom by framing the spire between overarching trees, by emphasizing the play of light and shade on the Gothic stonework, and by setting the whole under a sky in which rain is impending. This romantic treatment did not please the Bishop but was admired by the Bishop’s nephew and Constable’s old friend, Archdeacon John Fisher, who had already shown his faith in the artist by buying “The White Horse” at the exhibition of 1819.

A revealing correspondence between Constable and Bishop Fisher-who commissioned the painting of the Salisbury Cathedral-has been preserved. In it the painter gives his most intimate thoughts on his art without concealment or false modesty. There was much he could be satisfied with at this time. He was aware that he had achieved in his art a great deal of what he had set out to do. In addition, his work had deeply impressed the painters of the French Romantic school. Théodore Géricault had admired “The Hay-Wain” on its first exhibition in 1821; and when this work (along with the “View on the Stour near Dedham “) was shown at the Paris Salon in 1824, it not only created a sensation but inspired Eugène Delacroix to repaint parts of his “Massacre at Chios .” In England recognition was slower in coming. Although Constable had been made an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1819, full membership was delayed for 10 years.

Meanwhile the presence, from 1819, of Hampstead scenes and, from 1824, of Brighton scenes among his repertoire of subjects indicates a deepening shadow over his domestic happiness. Mrs. Constable had long been delicate, and Constable took houses in these places in search of purer air. Her death from consumption in 1828, at the age of 41, was a loss from which he never fully recovered, though he bestirred himself into activity for the sake of his seven children, in whom he delighted. His financial situation had been eased by a large legacy from his father-in-law, but from this time an increased restlessness is to be found in his paintings. ” Hadleigh Castle ” and “Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows” show his growing recourse to broken accents of colour, sombre tones, and stormy skies. It was in 1829 also that he began his preparations for the publication of English Landscape Scenery, a selection of mezzotints executed by David Lucas from Constable’s paintings and sketches in which the same dramatic qualities of light and shade are translated into a black-and-white medium. The admiration of his friend, the American-born artist C.R. Leslie, prompted the writing of the Memoirs of the Life of John Constable, R.A. This biography was first published in 1843 and still remains an indispensable source of information on Constable.

In the 1820s the use of colour by Constable’s great contemporary and rival in landscape painting, J.M.W. Turner, was becoming bolder and even more uninhibited. This may have contributed to the greater readiness for change that we see in Constable’s late works. His ” Waterloo Bridge from Whitehall Stairs” is a monumental record of the opening ceremonial, painted in a high key of colour. His use of watercolour became more frequent, and in 1834, after he had been seriously ill, he sent no oils at all to the Royal Academy , depending for his principal exhibit on a large and remarkable watercolour, “Old Sarum” (Victoria and Albert Museum , London ). A visit to Arundel in the same summer imbued him with enthusiasm for a new type of countryside dominated by steep wooded slopes.

In 1836 Constable sent “The Cenotaph at Coleorton” to the Royal Academy exhibition. It was the last painting he showed in his lifetime. When he died, the painting on which he had been working the day before, “Arundel Mill and Castle” (Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo , Ohio ), was sufficiently completed to be shown posthumously at the next Academy exhibition. At his death his reputation was limited, but those who admired his work did so intensely. This admiration grew slowly throughout the 19th century, becoming more widespread as his sketches became available and their freshness and spontaneity were recognized. In 1843 his first biographer, C.R. Leslie, wrote that he was “the most genuine painter of English landscape,” and that is a judgment now almost universally reaffirmed.

Gustave Courbet Biography

born June 10, 1819 , Ornans , France
died December 31, 1877 , La Tour-de-Peilz , Switzerland

French painter and leader of the Realist movement. Courbet rebelled against the Romantic painting of his day, turning to everyday events for his subject matter. His huge shadowed canvases with their solid groups of figures, such as The Artist’s Studio (1855), drew sharp criticism from the establishment. From the 1860s a more sensuous and colourful manner prevailed in his work.

Early life and work

Courbet was born in eastern France, the son of Eléonor-Régis, a prosperous farmer, and Sylvie Courbet. After attending both the Collège Royal and the college of fine arts at Besançon, he went to Paris in 1841, ostensibly to study law. He devoted himself more seriously, however, to studying the paintings of the masters in the Louvre. Father and son had great mutual respect, and, when Courbet told his father he intended to become a painter rather than a provincial lawyer, his father consented, saying, “If anyone gives up, it will be you, not me,” adding that, if necessary, he would sell his land and vineyards and even his houses to help his son.

Freed from all financial worry, young Courbet was able to devote himself entirely to his art. He gained technical proficiency by copying the pictures of Diego Velázquez, José de Ribera, and other 17th-century Spanish painters. In 1844, when he was 25, after several unsuccessful attempts, his self-portrait Courbet with a Black Dog, painted in 1842, was accepted by the Salon-the only annual public exhibition of art in France, sponsored by the Académie des Beaux-Arts. When in the following years the jury for the Salon thrice rejected his work because of its unconventional style and bold subject matter, he remained undaunted and continued to submit it.

The development of Realism

The Revolution of 1848 ushered in the Second Republic and a new liberal spirit that, for a brief while, greatly affected the arts. The Salon held its exhibition not in the Louvre itself but in the adjoining galleries of the Tuileries. Courbet exhibited there in 1849, and his early work was greeted with considerable critical and public acclaim.

In 1849 he visited his family at Ornans to recover from his hectic lifestyle in Paris and, inspired again by his native countryside, produced two of his greatest paintings: The Stone-Breakers and Burial at Ornans . Painted in 1849, The Stone-Breakers is a realistic rendering of two figures doing physical labour in a barren rural setting. The Burial at Ornans, from the following year, is a huge representation of a peasant funeral, containing more than 40 life-size figures. Both works depart radically from the more controlled, idealized pictures of either the Neoclassical or the Romantic school; they portray the life and emotions not of aristocrats but of humble peasants, and they do so with a realistic urgency. The fact that Courbet did not glorify his peasants but presented them boldly and starkly assaulted the prevailing conventions of the art world.

Leader of the new school of Realism

Courbet, an intimate of many writers and philosophers of his day, including the poet Charles Baudelaire and the social philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, became the leader of the new school of Realism , which in time prevailed over other contemporary movements. One of the decisive elements in his development of Realism was his lifelong attachment to the traditions and customs of his native province, the Franche-Comté, and of his birthplace, Ornans, one of the most beautiful towns in the province. After a brief visit to Switzerland , he returned to Ornans, and in late 1854 he began an immense canvas, which he completed in six weeks: The Artist’s Studio, an allegory of all the influences on Courbet’s artistic life, which are portrayed as human figures from all levels of society. Courbet himself presides over all the figures with ingenuous conceit, working on a landscape and turning his back to a nude model, a symbolic representation of academic tradition. When the painting was refused by the jury for the 1855 Universal Exposition, Courbet, with the financial support of a friend, opened his own pavilion of Realism to exhibit his works in a site close to the official exposition. The enterprise failed; the painter Eugène Delacroix alone, in his journal, praised the audacity and talent of Courbet.

In 1856 Courbet visited Germany , where he was warmly welcomed by his fellow artists. Three years later, at the age of 40 and still working in defiance of severe criticism in his own country, he was the undisputed model for a new generation of painters who had turned away from the traditional schools of painting, which they considered only barriers to artistic inspiration. Courbet worked in all genres. A lover of women, he glorified the female nude in paintings of stunning warmth and sensuality. He executed admirable portraits, but above all he celebrated the Franche-Comté, the forests, springs, rocks, and cliffs of which were immortalized by his vision. In 1865 he set up his easel before the cliffs of Étretat, Deauville , Trouville , and other resorts fashionable during the Second Empire . Carefully observing air currents and storm skies, he successfully depicted the architecture of a tempest in a series of seascapes. These pictures were an extraordinary achievement that amazed the world of art and opened the way for Impressionism, which was to achieve an even greater sensuousness by reproducing the colour and light reflected by an object rather than its strict linear shape.

Political activities

The Franco-German War broke out in 1870, the Second Empire collapsed, and the Third Republic was proclaimed. On March 18, 1871 , the republican Paris Commune was established to fight the Germans in France as well as to fight the Army of Versailles, which had remained loyal to Napoleon III and had concluded an armistice with the Germans that the members of the Commune judged to be dishonourable. Courbet, who had been recently elected president of the artists’ federation and was charged with reopening the museums and organizing the annual Salon, took part in the revolutionary activities of the Commune. Instead of opening the museums, he decided to protect the major public monuments, especially the Sèvres porcelain factory and the palace at Fontainebleau , for Paris had been under constant bombardment by the Germans. Alarmed by the excesses of the Commune, he resigned May 2.

The Commune had voted to destroy the column in the Place Vendôme commemorating the Grand Army of Napoleon Bonaparte, and it carried out the decision on May 16. But on May 28 the Commune was crushed by the Army of Versailles, and on June 7 Courbet was arrested at the home of a friend. Because he was thought to have been responsible for the demolition of the column, he was brought before a military court. As he had often made known his disgust of the militarism represented by the monument, he was charged with having been the instigator, although he had in no way participated in its destruction. A scapegoat was needed, and Courbet was arbitrarily chosen, despite his protests and those of the persons actually responsible for the demolition, who had fled to England . He was sentenced to six months in prison, and, thanks to the intervention of Adolphe Thiers, head of the provisional government of the French Republic , he was given a minimum fine of 500 francs. He served his sentence first at the Sainte-Pélagie prison, and, when he became seriously ill, he was moved to a clinic near Paris . Once freed, he hastened to Ornans in the hope of regaining his strength.

When Thiers resigned in 1872, the Bonapartist deputies reopened Courbet’s case and sued him for the cost of rebuilding the column. His entire personal property and all his paintings were seized, and he was fined 500,000 gold francs. Having no alternative but to leave France because he could not pay the fine, he crossed the border into Switzerland on July 23, 1873 , and settled in the small town of Fleurier . He set to work again, but, feeling unsafe so close to France , he first went to Vevey and then to La Tour-de-Peilz, where he bought an old inn, appropriately named the Bon-Port (“Safe Arrival”). There he died at the age of 58, physically and morally exhausted.


Courbet’s reputation has continued to grow since his death. His detractors often judge his art only on the basis of his socialism, ignoring the fact that his political beliefs grew out of his generosity and compassion. His work, however, exerted much influence on the modern movements that followed him. He offered succeeding generations of painters not so much a new technique as a whole new philosophy. The aim of his painting was not, as previous schools had maintained, to embellish or idealize reality but to reproduce it accurately. Courbet succeeded in ridding his painting of artistic clichés, contrived idealism, and timeworn models.

Leonardo da Vinci Biography

born: April 15, 1452 , Anchiano, near Vinci, Republic of Florence [Italy]
died: May 2, 1519 , Cloux [now Clos-Lucé], France

Italian painter, draftsman, sculptor, architect, and engineer whose genius, perhaps more than that of any other figure, epitomized the Renaissance humanist ideal. His Last Supper (1495-98) and Mona Lisa (c. 1503-06) are among the most widely popular and influential paintings of the Renaissance. His notebooks reveal a spirit of scientific inquiry and a mechanical inventiveness that were centuries ahead of their time.

The unique fame that Leonardo enjoyed in his lifetime and that, filtered by historical criticism, has remained undimmed to the present day rests largely on his unlimited desire for knowledge, which guided all his thinking and behaviour. An artist by disposition and endowment, he considered his eyes to be his main avenue to knowledge; to Leonardo, sight was man’s highest sense because it alone conveyed the facts of experience immediately, correctly, and with certainty. Hence, every phenomenon perceived became an object of knowledge, and saper vedere (“knowing how to see”) became thegreat theme of his studies. He applied his creativity to every realm in which graphic representation is used: he was a painter, sculptor, architect, and engineer. But he went even beyond that. He used his superb intellect, unusual powers of observation, and mastery of the art of drawing to study nature itself, a line of inquiry that allowed his dual pursuits of art and science to flourish.

Life and works

Early period: Florence

Leonardo’s parents were unmarried at the time of his birth. His father, Ser Piero, was a Florentine notary and landlord, and his mother, Caterina, was a young peasant woman who shortly thereafter married anartisan. Leonardo grew up on his father’s family’s estate, where he was treated as a “legitimate” son and received the usual elementary education of that day: reading, writing, and arithmetic. Leonardo did not seriously study Latin, the key language of traditional learning, until much later, when he acquired a working knowledge of it on his own. He also did not apply himself to higher mathematics-advanced geometry and arithmetic-until he was 30 years old, when he began to study it with diligent tenacity.

Leonardo’s artistic inclinations must have appeared early. When he was about 15, his father, who enjoyed a high reputation in the Florence community, apprenticed him to artist Andrea del Verrocchio. In Verrocchio’s renowned workshop Leonardo received a multifaceted training that included painting and sculpture as well as the technical-mechanical arts.He also worked in the next-door workshop of artist Antonio Pollaiuolo. In 1472 Leonardo was accepted into the painters’ guild of Florence , but he remained in his teacher’s workshop for five more years, after which time he worked independently in Florence until 1481. There are a great many superb extant pen and pencil drawings from this period, including many technical sketches-for example, pumps, military weapons, mechanical apparatus-that offer evidence of Leonardo’s interest in and knowledge of technical matters even at the outset of his career.

First Milanese period (1482-99)

In 1482 Leonardo moved to Milan to work in the service of the city’s duke-a surprising step when one realizes that the 30-year-old artist had just received his first substantial commissions from his native city of Florence: the unfinished panel painting The Adoration of the Magi for the monastery of San Donato a Scopeto and an altar painting for the St. Bernard Chapel in the Palazzo della Signoria, whichwas never begun. That he gave up both projects seems to indicate that he had deeper reasons for leaving Florence . It may have been that the rather sophisticated spirit of Neoplatonism prevailing in the Florence of the Medici went against the grain of Leonardo’s experience-oriented mind and that the more strict, academic atmosphere of Milan attracted him. Moreover, he was no doubt enticed by Duke Ludovico Sforza’s brilliant court and the meaningful projects awaiting him there.

Leonardo spent 17 years in Milan , until Ludovico’s fall from power in 1499. He was listed in the register of the royal household as pictor et ingeniarius ducalis (“painter and engineer of the duke”). Leonardo’s gracious but reserved personality and elegant bearing were well-received in court circles. Highly esteemed, he was constantly kept busy as a painter and sculptor and as a designer of court festivals. He was also frequently consulted as a technical adviser in the fields of architecture, fortifications, and military matters, and he served as a hydraulic and mechanical engineer. As he would throughout his life, Leonardo set boundless goals for himself; if one traces the outlines of his work for this period, or for his life as a whole, one is tempted to call it a grandiose “unfinished symphony.”

As a painter, Leonardo completed six works in the 17 years in Milan . (According to contemporary sources, Leonardo was commissioned to create three more pictures, but these works have since disappeared or were never done.) From about 1483-86, he worked on the altar painting The Virgin of the Rocks, a project that led to 10 years of litigation between the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception, who commissioned it, and Leonardo; for uncertain purposes, this legal dispute led Leonardo to create another version of the work in about 1508. During this first Milanese period he also made one of his most famous works, the monumental wall painting The Last Supper (1495-98) in the refectory of the monastery of Santa Maria del le Grazie (for more analysis of this work, see section The Last Supper , below). Also of note is the decorative ceiling painting (1498) he made for the Sala delle Asse in the Milan Castello Sforzesco.

During this period Leonardo worked on a grandiose sculptural project that seems to have been the real reason he was invited to Milan : a monumental equestrian statue in bronze to be erected in honour of Francesco Sforza, the founder of the Sforza dynasty. Leonardo devoted 12 years-with interruptions-to this task. In 1493 the clay model of the horse was put on public display on the occasion of the marriage of Emperor Maximilian to Bianca Maria Sforza, and preparations were made to cast the colossal figure, which was to be 16 feet (5 metres) high. But, because of the imminent danger of war, the metal, ready to be poured, was used to make cannons instead, causing the project to come to a halt. Ludovico’s fall in 1499 sealed the fate of this abortive undertaking, which was perhaps the grandest concept of a monument in the 15th century. The ensuing war left the clay model a heap of ruins.

As a master artist Leonardo maintained an extensive workshop in Milan , employing apprentices and students. Among Leonardo’s pupils at this time were Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, Ambrogio de Predis, Bernardino de’ Conti, Francesco Napoletano, Andrea Solari, Marco d’Oggiono, and Salai. The role of most of these associates is unclear, leading to the question of Leonardo’s so-called apocryphal works, on which the master collaborated with his assistants. Scholars have been unable to agree in theirattributions of these works.

Second Florentine period (1500-08)

In December 1499 or, at the latest, January 1500-shortly after the victorious entry of the French into Milan -Leonardo left that city in the company of mathematician Lucas Pacioli. After visiting Mantua in February 1500, in March he proceeded to Venice , where the Signoria (governing council) sought his advice on how to ward off a threatened Turkish incursion in Friuli . Leonardo recommended that they prepare to flood the menaced region. From Venice he returned to Florence , where, after a long absence, he was received with acclaim and honoured as a renowned native son. In that same year he was appointed an architectural expert on a committee investigating damages to the foundation and structure of the church of San Francesco al Monte. A guest of the Servite order in the cloister of Santissima Annunziata, Leonardo seems to have been concentrating more on mathematical studies than painting, or so Isabella d’Este, who sought in vain to obtain a painting done by him, was informed by Fra Pietro Nuvolaria, her representative in Florence .

Perhaps because of his omnivorous appetite for life, Leonardo left Florence in the summer of 1502 to enter the service of Cesare Borgia as “senior military architect and general engineer.” Borgia, the notorious son of Pope Alexander VI, had, as commander in chief of the papal army, sought with unexampled ruthlessness to gain control of the Papal States of Romagna and the Marches . When he enlisted the services of Leonardo, he was at the peak of his power and, at age 27, was undoubtedly the most compelling and most feared person of his time. Leonardo, twice his age, must have been fascinated by his personality. For 10 months Leonardo travelled across the condottiere’s territories and surveyed them. In the course of his activity he sketched some of the city plans and topographical maps, creating early examples of aspects of modern cartography. At the court of Cesare Borgia, Leonardo also met Niccolò Machiavelli, who was temporarily stationed there as a political observer for the city ofFlorence .

In the spring of 1503 Leonardo returned to Florence to make an expert survey of a project that attempted to divert the Arno River behind Pisa , so that the city, then under siege by the Florentines, would be deprived of access to the sea. The plan proved unworkable, but Leonardo’s activity led him to consider a plan, first advanced in the 13th century, to build a large canal that would bypass the unnavigable stretch of the Arno and connect Florence by water with the sea. Leonardo developed his ideas in a series of studies; using his own panoramic views of the river bank, which can be seen as landscape sketches of great artistic charm, and using exact measurements of the terrain, he produced a map in which the route of the canal (with its transit through the mountain pass of Serravalle) was shown. The project, considered time and again in subsequent centuries, was never carried out, but centuries later the express highway from Florence to the sea was built over the exact route Leonardo chose for his canal.

Also in 1503 Leonardo received a prized commission to paint a mural for the council hall in Florence ‘s Palazzo Vecchio; a historical scene of monumental proportions (at 23 × 56 feet [7 × 17 metres], it would have been twice as large as The Last Supper). For three years he worked on this Battle of Anghiari ; like its intended complementary painting, Michelangelo’s Battle of Cascina, it remained unfinished. During these same years Leonardo painted the Mona Lisa (c. 1503-06) (for more analysis of the work, see section The Mona Lisa and other works, below).

The second Florentine period was also a time of intensive scientific study. Leonardo did dissections in the hospital of Santa Maria Nuova and broadened his anatomical work into a comprehensive study of the structure and function of the human organism. He made systematic observations of the flight of birds, about which he planned a treatise. Even his hydrological studies, “on the nature and movement of water,” broadened into research on the physical properties of water, especially the laws of currents, which he compared with those pertaining to air. These were also set down in his own collection of data, contained in the so-called Codex Hammer (formerly known as the Leicester Codex, now in the property of software entrepreneur Bill Gates in Seattle , Washington , U.S. ).

Second Milanese period (1508-13)

In May 1506 Charles d’Amboise, the French governor in Milan , asked the Signoria in Florence if Leonardo could travel to Milan . The Signoria let Leonardo go, and the monumental Battle of Anghiari remained unfinished. Unsuccessful technical experiments with paints seem to have impelled Leonardo to stop working on the mural; one cannot otherwise explain his abandonment of this great work. In the winter of 1507-08 Leonardo went to Florence , where he helped the sculptor Giovanni Francesco Rustici execute his bronze statues for the Florence Baptistery, after which time he settled in Milan .

Honoured and admired by his generous patrons in Milan , Charles d’Amboise and King Louis XII, Leonardo enjoyed his duties, which were limited largely to advice in architectural matters. Tangible evidence of such work exists in plans for a palace-villa for Charles, and it is believed that he made some sketches for an oratory for the church of Santa Maria alla Fontana , which Charles funded. Leonardo also looked into an old project revived by the French governor: the Adda canal that would link Milan with Lake Como by water.

During this second period in Milan , Leonardo created very little as a painter. Again Leonardo gathered pupils around him. Of his older disciples, Bernardino de’ Conti and Salai were again in his studio; new students came, among them Cesare da Sesto, Giampetrino, Bernardino Luini, and the young nobleman Francesco Melzi, Leonardo’s most faithful friend and companion until the artist’s death.

An important commission came Leonardo’s way during this time. Gian Giacomo Trivulzio had returned victoriously to Milan as marshal of the French army and as a bitter foe of Ludovico Sforza. He commissioned Leonardo to sculpt his tomb, which was to take the form of an equestrian statue and be placed in the mortuary chapel donated by Trivulzio to the church of San Nazaro Maggiore . After years of preparatory work on the monument, for which a number of significant sketches have survived, the marshal himself gave up the plan in favour of a more modest one. This was the second aborted project Leonardo faced as a sculptor.

Leonardo’s scientific activity flourished during this period. His studies in anatomy achieved a new dimension in his collaboration with Marcantonio della Torre, a famous anatomist from Pavia . Leonardo outlined a plan for an overall work that would include not only exact, detailed reproductions of the human body and its organs but would also include comparative anatomy and the whole field of physiology. He even planned to finish his anatomical manuscript in the winter of 1510-11. Beyond that, his manuscripts are replete with mathematical, optical, mechanical, geological, and botanical studies. These investigations became increasingly driven by a central idea: the conviction that force and motion as basic mechanical functions produce all outward forms in organic and inorganic nature and give them their shape. Furthermore, he believed that these functioning forces operate in accordance with orderly, harmonious laws.

Last years (1513-19)

In 1513 political events-the temporary expulsion of the French from Milan -caused the now 60-year-oldLeonardo to move again. At the end of the year he went to Rome, accompanied by his pupils Melzi and Salai as well as by two studio assistants, hoping to find employment there through his patron, Giuliano de’ Medici, brother of the new pope, Leo X. Giuliano gave him a suite of rooms in his residence, the Belvedere, in the Vatican. He also gave Leonardo a considerable monthly stipend, but no large commissions followed. For three years Leonardo remained in Rome at a time of great artistic activity: Donato Bramante was building St. Peter’s, Raphael was painting the last rooms of the pope’s new apartments, Michelangelo was struggling to complete the tomb of Pope Julius, and many younger artists such as Timoteo Viti and Sodoma were also active. Drafts of embittered letters betray the disappointment of the aging master, who kept a low profile while he worked in his studio on mathematical studies and technical experiments or surveyed ancient monuments as he strolled through the city. Leonardo seems to have spent time with Bramante, but the latter died in 1514, and there is no record of Leonardo’s relations with any other artists in Rome . A magnificently executed map of the Pontine Marshes suggests that Leonardo was at least a consultant for a reclamation project that Giuliano de’ Medici ordered in 1514. He also made sketches for a spacious residence to be built in Florence for the Medici, who had returned to power there in 1512. However, the structure was never built.

Perhaps stifled by this scene, at age 65 Leonardo accepted the invitation of the young king Francis I to enter his service in France . At the end of 1516 he left Italy forever, together with Melzi, his most devoted pupil. Leonardo spent the last three years of his life in the small residence of Cloux (later called Clos-Lucé), near the king’s summer palace at Amboise on the Loire . He proudly bore the title Premier peintre, architecte et méchanicien du Roi (“First painter, architect, and engineer to the King”). Leonardo still made sketches for court festivals, but the king treated him in every respect as an honoured guest and allowed him freedom of action. Decades later, Francis I talked with the sculptor Benvenuto Cellini about Leonardo in terms of the utmost admiration and esteem. For the king, Leonardo drew up plans for the palace and garden of Romorantin , which was destined to be the widow’s residence of the Queen Mother. But the carefully worked-out project, combining the best features of Italian-French traditions in palace and landscape architecture, had to be halted because the region was threatened with malaria.

Leonardo did little painting while in France , spending most of his time arranging and editing his scientific studies, his treatise on painting, and a few pages of his anatomy treatise. In the so-called Visions of the End of the World, or Deluge, series (c. 1514-15), he depicted with overpowering imagination the primal forces that rule nature, while also perhaps betraying his growing pessimism.

Leonardo died at Cloux and was buried in the palace church of Saint-Florentin. The church was devastated during the French Revolution and completely torn down at the beginning of the 19th century; his grave can no longer be located. Melzi was heir to Leonardo’s artistic and scientific estate.

Art and accomplishment

Painting and drawing

Leonardo’s total output in painting is really rather small; only 17 of the paintings that have survived can be definitely attributed to him, and several of them are unfinished. Two of his most important works-the Battle of Anghiari and the Leda, neither of them completed-have survived only in copies. Yet these few creations have established the unique fame of a man whom Giorgio Vasari, in his seminal Lives of the Most Eminent Italian Architects, Painters and Sculptors (1550, 2nd ed., 1568), described as the founder of the High Renaissance. Leonardo’s works, unaffected by the vicissitudes of aesthetic doctrines in subsequent centuries, have stood out in all subsequent periods and all countries as consummate masterpieces of painting.

The many testimonials to Leonardo, ranging from Vasari to Peter Paul Rubens to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to Eugène Delacroix, praise in particular the artist’s gift for expression-his ability to move beyond technique and narrative to convey an underlying sense of emotion. The artist’s remarkable talent, especially his keenness of observation and creative imagination, was already revealed in the angel he contributed to Verrocchio’s Baptism of Christ (c. 1472-75): Leonardo endowed the angel with natural movement, presented it with a relaxed demeanour, and gave it anenigmatic glance that both acknowledges its surroundings while remaining inwardly directed. In Leonardo’s landscape segment in the same picture, he also found a new expression for what he called “nature experienced”: he reproduced the background forms in a hazy fashion as if through a veil of mist.

In the Benois Madonna (1475-78) Leonardo succeeded in giving a traditional type of picture a new, unusually charming, and expressive mood by showing the child Jesus reaching, in a sweet and tender manner, for the flower in Mary’s hand. In his Portrait of Ginevra de’ Benci (c. 1480) Leonardo opened new paths for portrait painting with his singular linking of nearness and distance and his brilliant rendering of light and texture. He presented the emaciated body of his St. Jerome (unfinished; begun 1480) in a sobering light, imbuing it with a realism that stemmed from his keen knowledge of anatomy; Leonardo’s mastery of gesture and facial expression gave his Jerome an unrivalled expression of transfigured sorrow.

The interplay of masterful technique and affective gesture-“physical and spiritual motion,” in Leonardo’s words-is also the chief concern of his first large creation containing many figures, The Adoration of the Magi (begun 1481). Never finished, the painting nonetheless affords rich insight into the master’s subtle methods. The various aspects of the scene are built up from the base with very delicate, paper-thin layers of paint in sfumato (the smooth transition from light to shadow) relief. The main treatment of the Virgin and Child group and the secondary treatment of the surrounding groups are clearly set apart with a masterful sense of composition-the pyramid of the Virgin Mary and Magi is demarcated from the arc of the adoring followers. Yet thematically they are closely interconnected: the bearing and expression of the figures-most striking in the group of praying shepherds-depict many levels of profound amazement.

The Virgin of the Rocks in its first version (1483-86) is the work that reveals Leonardo’s painting at its purest. It depicts the apocryphal legend of the meeting in the wilderness between the young John the Baptist and Jesus returning home from Egypt . The secret of the picture’s effect lies in Leonardo’s use of every means at his disposal to emphasize the visionary nature of the scene: the soft colour tones (through sfumato), the dim light of the cave from which the figures emerge bathed in light, their quiet attitude, the meaningful gesture with which the angel (the only figure facing the viewer) points to John as the intercessor between the Son of God and humanity-all this combines, in a patterned and formal way, to create a moving and highly expressive work of art.

The Last Supper

Leonardo’s Last Supper (1495-98) is among the most famous paintings in the world. In its monumental simplicity, the composition of the scene is masterful; the power of its effect comes from the striking contrast in the attitudes of the 12 disciples as counter posed to Christ. Leonardo portrayed a moment of high tension when, surrounded by the Apostles as they share Passover, Jesus says, “One of you will betray me.” All the Apostles-as human beings who do not understand what is about to occur-are agitated, whereas Christ alone, conscious of his divine mission, sits in lonely, transfigured serenity. Only one other being shares the secret knowledge: Judas, who is both part of and yet excluded from the movement of his companions. In this isolation he becomes the second lonely figure-the guilty one-of the company.

In the profound conception of his theme, in the perfect yet seemingly simple arrangement of the individuals, in the temperaments of the Apostles highlighted by gesture, facial expressions, and poses, in the drama and at the same time the sublimity of the treatment, Leonardo attained a height of expression that has remained a model of its kind. Countless painters in succeeding generations, among them great masters such as Rubens and Rembrandt, marvelled at Leonardo’s composition and were influenced by it and by the painting’s narrative quality. The work also inspired some of Goethe’s finest pages of descriptive prose. It has become widely known through countless reproductions and prints, the most important being that produced by Raffaello Morghen in 1800. Thus, The Last Supper has become part of humanity’s common heritage and remains today one of the world’s outstanding paintings.

Technical deficiencies in the execution of the work have not lessened its fame. Leonardo was uncertain about the technique he should use. He bypassed traditional fresco painting, which, because it is executed on fresh plaster, demands quick and uninterrupted painting, in favour of another technique he had developed: tempera on a base, which he mixed himself, on the stone wall. This procedure proved unsuccessful, inasmuch as the base soon began to loosen from the wall. Damage appeared by the beginning of the 16th century, and deterioration soon set in. By the middle of the century the work was called a ruin. Later, inadequate attempts at restoration only aggravated the situation, and not until the most modern restoration techniques were applied after World War II was the process of decay halted. A major restoration campaign begun in 1980 and completed in 1999 restored the work to brilliance but also revealed that very little of the original paint remains.

Art and science: the notebooks

In the years between 1490 and 1495, the great program of Leonardo the writer (author of treatises) began. During this period, his interest in two fields-the artistic and the scientific-developed and shaped his future work, building toward a kind of creative dualism that sparked his inventiveness in both fields. He gradually gave shape to four main themes that were to occupy him for the rest of his life: a treatise on painting, a treatise on architecture, a book on the elements of mechanics, and a broadly outlined work on human anatomy. His geophysical, botanical, hydrological, and aero logical researches also began in this period and constitute parts of the “visible cosmology” that loomed before him as a distant goal. He scorned speculative book knowledge, favouring instead the irrefutable facts gained from experience-from saper vedere.

From this approach came Leonardo’s far-reaching concept of a “science of painting.” Leon Battista Alberti and Piero della Francesca had already offered proof of the mathematical basis of painting in their analysis of the laws of perspective and proportion, thereby buttressing his claim of painting being a science. But Leonardo’s claims went much further: he believed that the painter, doubly endowed with subtle powers of perception and the complete ability to pictorialise them, was the person best qualified to achieve true knowledge, as he could closely observe and then carefully reproduce the world around him. Hence, Leonardo conceived the staggering plan of observing all objects in the visible world, recognizing their form and structure, and pictorially describing them exactly as they are.

It was during his first years in Milan that Leonardo began the earliest of his notebooks. He would first make quick sketches of his observations on loose sheets or on tiny paper pads he kept in his belt; then he would arrange them according to theme and enter them in order in the notebook. Surviving in notebooks from throughout his career are a first collection of material for a painting treatise, a model book of sketches for sacred and profane architecture, a treatise on elementary theory of mechanics, and the first sections of a treatise on the human body.

Leonardo’s notebooks add up to thousands of closely written pages abundantly illustrated with sketches-the most voluminous literary legacy any painter has ever left behind. Of more than 40 codices mentioned-sometimes inaccurately-in contemporary sources, 21 have survived; these in turn sometimes contain notebooks originally separate but now bound so that 32 in all have been preserved. To these should be added several large bundles of documents: an omnibus volume in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan, called Codex Atlanticus because of its size, was collected by the sculptor Pompeo Leoni at the end of the 16th century; after a roundabout journey, its companion volume fell into the possession of the English crown in the 17th century and was placed in the Royal Library in Windsor Castle. Finally, the Arundel Manuscript in the British Museum in London contains a number of Leonardo’s fascicles on various themes.

One special feature that makes Leonardo’s notes and sketches unusual is his use of mirror writing. Leonardo was left-handed, so mirror writing came easily and naturally to him-although it is uncertain why he chose to do so. While somewhat unusual, his script can be read clearly and without difficulty with the help of a mirror-as his contemporaries testified-and should not be looked on as a secret handwriting. But the fact that Leonardo used mirror writing throughout the notebooks, even in his copies drawn up with painstaking calligraphy, forces one to conclude that, although he constantly addressed an imaginary reader in his writings, he never felt the need to achieve easy communication by using conventional handwriting. His writings must be interpreted as preliminary stages of works destined for eventual publication that Leonardo never got around to completing. In a sentence in the margin of one of his late anatomy sketches, he implores his followers to see that his works are printed.

Another unusual feature in Leonardo’s writings is the relationship between word and picture in the notebooks. Leonardo strove passionately for a language that was clear yet expressive. The vividness and wealth of his vocabulary were the result of intense independent study and represented a significant contribution to the evolution of scientific prose in the Italian vernacular. Despite his articulateness, Leonardo gave absolute precedence to the illustration over the written word in his teaching method. Hence, in his notebooks, the drawing does not illustrate the text; rather, the text serves to explain the picture. In formulating his own principle of graphic representations-which he called dimostrazione (“demonstrations”)-Leonardo’s work was a precursor of modern scientific illustration.

The Mona Lisa and other works

In the Florence years between 1500 and 1506, Leonardo began three great works that confirmed and heightened his fame: Virgin and Child with St. Anne (c. 1502-16), Mona Lisa (c. 1503-06), and Battle of Anghiari (unfinished; begun 1503). Even before it was completed, the Virgin and Child with St. Annewon the critical acclaim of the Florentines; the monumental, three-dimensional quality of the group and the calculated effects of dynamism and tension in the composition made it a model that inspired Classicists and Mannerists in equal measure.

The Mona Lisa set the standard for all future portraits. The painting presents a woman believed to have been the wife of Francesco del Giocondo, a prominent figure in Florentine government-hence, the alternative title to the work, “La Gioconda.” The portrait presents the subject from just above the bust, with a distant landscape visible as a backdrop. Although utilizing a seemingly simple formula for portraiture, the expressive synthesis that Leonardo achieved between sitter and landscape has placed this work in the canon of the most popular and most analyzed paintings of all time. The sensuous curves of the woman’s hair and clothing, created through sfumato, are echoed in the undulating valleys and rivers behind her. The sense of overall harmony achieved in the painting-especially apparent in the sitter’s faint smile-reflects Leonardo’s idea of the cosmic link connecting humanity and nature, making this painting an enduring record of Leonardo’s vision and genius. The young Raphael sketched the work in progress, and it served as a model for his Portrait of Maddalena Doni (c. 1506).

Leonardo’s art of expression reached another high point in the unfinished Battle of Anghiari. The preliminary drawings-many of which have been preserved-reveal Leonardo’s lofty conception of the “science of painting”; he put to artistic use the laws of equilibrium that he had probed in his studies of mechanics. The “centre of gravity” in the work lies in the group of flags fought for by all the horsemen. For a moment the intense and expanding movement of the swirl of riders seems frozen. Leonardo’s studies in anatomy and physiology influenced his representation of human and animal bodies, particularly when they are in a state of excitement. He studied and described extensively the baring of teeth and puffing of lips as signs of animal and human anger. On the painted canvas, rider and horse, their features distorted, are remarkably similar in expression.

The highly imaginative trappings of the painting take the event out of the sphere of the historical and put it into a timeless realm. The cartoon and the copies showing the main scene of the battle were for a long time influential to other artists; to quote the sculptor Benvenuto Cellini, the works became “the school of the world.” Its composition has influenced many painters: from Rubens in the 17th century, who made the most impressive copy of the scene from Leonardo’s now-lost cartoon, to Delacroix in the 19th century.

Later painting and drawing

After 1507-in Milan , Rome , and France -Leonardo did very little painting. During his years in Milan he returned to the Leda theme-which had been occupying him for a decade-and probably finished a standing version of Leda about 1513 (the work survives only through copies). This painting became a model of the figura serpentinata (“sinuous figure”)-that is, a figure built up from several intertwining views. It influenced classical artists such as Raphael, who drew it, but it had an equally strong effect on Mannerists such as Jacopo da Pontormo. The drawings he prepared-revealing examples of his late style-have a curious, enigmatic sensuality. Perhaps in Rome he began the painting St. John the Baptist, which he completed in France . Leonardo radically used light and shade to achieve sculptural volume and atmosphere; John emerges from darkness into light and seems to emanate light and goodness. Moreover, in painting the saint’s enigmatic smile, he presented Christ’s forerunner as the herald of a mystic oracle. Leonardo’s was an art of expression that seemed to strive consciously to bring out the hidden ambiguity of the theme. Consummate drawings from this period, such as the Pointing Lady (c. 1516), also are testaments to his undiminished genius.

The last manifestation of Leonardo’s art of expression was in his series of pictorial sketches Visions of the End of the World (c. 1514-15). There Leonardo’s power of imagination-born of reason and fantasy-attained its highest level. Leonardo suggested that the immaterial forces in the cosmos, invisible in themselves, appear in the material things they set in motion. What he had observed in the swirling of water and eddying of air, in the shape of a mountain boulder and in the growth of plants, now assumed gigantic shape in cloud formations and rainstorms. He depicted the framework of the world as splitting asunder, but even in its destruction there occurs-as the monstrously “beautiful” forms of the unleashed elements show-the self-same laws of order, harmony, and proportion that presided at the world’s creation. These rules govern the life and death of every created thing in nature. Without any precedent, these “visions” are the last and most original expressions of Leonardo’s art-an art in which his perception based on saper vedere seems to have come to fruition.


Leonardo worked as a sculptor from his youth on, as shown in his own statements and those of other sources. A small group of generals’ heads in marble and plaster, works of Verrocchio’s followers, are sometimes linked with Leonardo because a lovely drawing attributed to him that is on the same theme suggests such a connection. But the inferior quality of this group of sculpture rules out an attribution to the master. No trace has remained of the heads of women and children that, according to Vasari, Leonardo modelled in clay in his youth.

The two great sculptural projects to which Leonardo devoted himself wholeheartedly were not realized; neither the huge, bronze equestrian statue for Francesco Sforza, on which he worked from about 1489 to 1494, nor the monument for Marshal Trivulzio, on which he was busy in the years 1506-11, were brought to completion. Many sketches of the work exist, but the most impressive were found in 1965 when two of Leonardo’s notebooks-the so-called Madrid Codices-were discovered in the National Library of Madrid. These notebooks reveal the sublimity but also the almost unreal boldness of his conception. Text and drawings both show Leonardo’s wide experience in the technique of bronze casting, but at the same time they reveal the almost utopian nature of the project. He wanted to cast the horse in a single piece, but the gigantic dimensions of the steed presented insurmountable technical problems. Indeed, Leonardo remained uncertain of the problem’s solution to the very end.

The drawings for these two monuments reveal the greatness of Leonardo’s vision of sculpture. Exact studies of the anatomy, movement, and proportions of a live horse preceded the sketches for the monuments; Leonardo even seems to have thought of writing a treatise on the horse. He pondered the merits of two positions for the horse-galloping or trotting-and in both commissions decided in favour of the latter. These sketches, superior in the suppressed tension of horse and rider to the achievements of Donatello’s statue of Gattamelata and Verrocchio’s statue of Colleoni, are among the most beautiful and significant examples of Leonardo’s art. Unquestionably-as ideas-they exerted a very strong influence on the development of equestrian statues in the 16th century.

A small bronze statue of a galloping horseman in Budapest is so close to Leonardo’s style that, if not from his own hand, it must have been done under his immediate influence (perhaps by Giovanni Francesco Rustici). Rustici, according to Vasari, was Leonardo’s zealous student and enjoyed his master’s help in sculpting his large group in bronze, St. John the Baptist Teaching, over the north door of the Baptistery in Florence . There are, indeed, discernible traces of Leonardo’s influence in John’s stance, with the unusual gesture of his upward pointing hand, and in the figure of the bald-headed Levite. While there are few extant examples to study of Leonardo’s sculptural work, the elements of motion and volume he explored in the medium no doubt influenced his drawing and painting, and vice versa.


Applying for service in a letter to Ludovico Sforza, Leonardo described himself as an experienced architect, military engineer, and hydraulic engineer; indeed, he was concerned with architectural matters all his life. But his effectiveness was essentially limited to the role of an adviser. Only once-in the competition for the cupola of the Milan cathedral (1487-90)-did he actually consider personal participation, but he gave up this idea when the model he had submitted was returned to him. In other instances, his claim to being a practicing architect was based on sketches for representative secular buildings: for the palace of a Milanese nobleman (about 1490), for the villa of the French governor in Milan (1507-08), and for the Medici residence in Florence (1515). Finally, there was his big project for the palace and garden of Romorantin in France (1517-19). Especially in this last project, Leonardo’s pencil sketches clearly reveal his mastery of technical as well as artistic architectural problems; the view in perspective gives an idea of the magnificence of the site.

But what really characterizes and immortalized Leonardo’s architectural studies is their comprehensiveness; they range far afield and embrace every type of building problem of his time and even involve urban planning. Furthermore, there frequently appears evidence of Leonardo’s impulse to teach: he wanted to collect his writings on this theme in a theory of architecture. This treatise on architecture-the initial lines of which are in Codex B in the Institut de France in Paris, amodel book of the types of sacred and profane buildings-was to deal with the entire field of architecture as well as with the theories of forms and construction and was to include such items as urbanism, sacred and profane buildings, and a compendium of important individual elements (for example, domes, steps, portals, and windows).

In the fullness and richness of their ideas, Leonardo’s architectural studies offer an unusually wide-ranging insight into the architectural achievements of his epoch. Like a seismograph, his observations sensitively register all themes and problems. For almost 20 years he was associated with Bramante at the court of Milan and again met him in Rome in 1513-14; he was closely associated with other distinguished architects such as Francesco di Giorgio, Giuliano da Sangallo, Giovanni Antonio Amadeo, and Luca Fancelli. Thus, he was brought in closest touch with all of the most significant building undertakings of the time. Since Leonardo’s architectural drawings extend over his whole life, they span precisely that developmentally crucial period-from the 1480s to the second decade of the 16th century-in which the principles of the High Renaissance style were formulated and came to maturity. That this genetic process can be followed in the ideas of one of the greatest men of the period lends Leonardo’s studies their distinctive artistic value and their outstanding historical significance.


Science of painting

Leonardo’s advocacy of a science of painting is best displayed in his notebook writings under the general heading “On Painting.” The notebooks provide evidence that, among many projects he planned, he intended to write a treatise discussing painting. After inheriting Leonardo’s vast manuscript legacy in 1519, it is believed that, sometime before 1542, Melzi extracted passages from them and organized them into the Trattato della pittura (“Treatise on Painting”) that is attributed to Leonardo. Only about a quarter of the sources for Melzi’s manuscript-known as the Codex Urbinas, in the Vatican Library-have been identified and located in the extant notebooks, and it is impossible to assess how closely Melzi’s presentation of the material reflected Leonardo’s specific intentions.

Abridged copies of Melzi’s manuscript appeared in Italy during the late 16th century, and in 1651 the first printed editions were published in French and Italian in Paris by Raffaelo du Fresne, with illustrations after drawings by Nicolas Poussin. The first complete edition of Melzi’s text did not appear until 1817, published in Rome . The two standard modern editions are those of Emil Ludwig (1882; in 3 vol. with German translation) and A. Philip McMahon (1956; in 2 vol., a facsimile of the Codex Urbinas with English translation).

Despite the uncertainties surrounding Melzi’s presentation of Leonardo’s ideas, the passages in Leonardo’s extant notebooks identified with the heading “On Painting” offer an indication of the treatise Leonardo had in mind. As was customary in treatises of the time, Leonardo planned to combine theoretical exposition with practical information, in this case offering practical career advice to other artists. But his primary concern in the treatise was to argue that painting is a science, raising its status as a discipline from the mechanical arts to the liberal arts. By defining painting as “the sole imitator of all the manifest works of nature,” Leonardo gave essential significance to the authority of the eye, believing firmly in the importance of saper vedere. This was the informing idea behind his defence of painting as a science.

In his notebooks Leonardo pursues this defence through the form of the paragone (“comparison”),a disputation that advances the supremacy of painting over the other arts. He roots his case in the function of the senses, asserting that “the eye deludes itself less than any of the other senses,” and thereby suggests that the direct observation inherent in creating a painting has a truthful, scientific quality. After asserting that the useful results of science are “communicable,” he states that painting is similarly clear: unlike poetry, he argues, painting presents its results as a “matter for the visual faculty,” giving “immediate satisfaction to human beings in no other way than the things produced by nature herself.” Leonardo also distinguishes between painting and sculpture, claiming that the manual labour involved in sculpting detracts from its intellectual aspects, and that the illusionistic challenge of painting (working in two rather than three dimensions) requires that the painter possess a better grasp of mathematical and optical principles than the sculptor.

In defining painting as a science, Leonardo also emphasizes its mathematical basis. In the notebooks he explains that the 10 optical functions of the eye (“darkness, light, body and colour, shape and location, distance and closeness, motion and rest”) are all essential components of painting. He addresses these functions through detailed discourses on perspective that include explanations of perspectival systems based on geometry, proportion, and the modulation of light and shade. He differentiates between types of perspective, including the conventional form based on a single vanishing point, the use of multiple vanishing points, and aerial perspective. In addition to these orthodox systems, he explores-via words and geometric and analytic drawings-the concepts of wide-angle vision, lateral recession, and atmospheric perspective, through which the blurring of clarity and progressive lightening of tone is used to create the illusion of deep spatial recession. He further offers practical advice-again through words and sketches-about how to paint optical effects such as light, shadow, distance, atmosphere, smoke, and water, as well as how to portray aspects of human anatomy, such as human proportion and facial expressions.

Anatomical studies and drawings

Leonardo’s fascination with anatomical studies reveals a prevailing artistic interest of the time. In his own treatise Della pittura (1435; “On Painting”), theorist Leon Battista Alberti urged painters to construct the human figure as it exists in nature, supported by the skeleton and musculature, and only then clothed in skin. Although the date of Leonardo’s initial involvement with anatomical study is not known, it is sound to speculate that his anatomical interest was sparked during his apprenticeship in Verrocchio’s workshop, either in response to his master’s interest or to that of Verrocchio’s neighbour Pollaiuolo, who was renowned for his fascination with the workings of the human body. It cannot be determined exactly when Leonardo began to perform dissections, but it might have been several years after he first moved to Milan , at the time a centre of medical investigation. His study of anatomy, originally pursued for his training as an artist, had grown by the 1490s into an independent area of research. As his sharp eye uncovered the structure of the human body, Leonardo became fascinated by the figura istrumentale dell’ omo (“man’s instrumental figure”), and he sought to comprehend its physical working as a creation of nature. Over the following two decades, he did practical work in anatomy on the dissection table in Milan , then at hospitals in Florence and Rome , and in Pavia , where he collaborated with the physician-anatomist Marcantonio della Torre. By his own count Leonardo dissected 30 corpses in his lifetime.

Leonardo’s early anatomical studies dealt chiefly with the skeleton and muscles; yet even at the outset, Leonardo combined anatomical with physiological research. From observing the static structure of the body, Leonardo proceeded to study the role of individual parts of the body in mechanical activity. This led him finally to the study of the internal organs; among them he probed most deeply into the brain, heart, and lungs as the “motors” of the senses and of life. His findings from these studies were recorded in the famous anatomical drawings, which are among the most significant achievements of Renaissance science. The drawings are based on a connection between natural and abstract representation; he represented parts of the body in transparent layers that afford an “insight” into the organ by using sections in perspective, reproducing muscles as “strings,” indicating hidden parts by dotted lines, and devising a hatching system. The genuine value of these dimostrazione lay in their ability to synthesize a multiplicity of individual experiences at the dissecting table and make the data immediately and accurately visible; as Leonardo proudly emphasized, these drawings were superior to descriptive words. The wealth of Leonardo’s anatomical studies that have survived forged the basic principles of modern scientific illustration. It is worth noting, however, that during his lifetime, Leonardo’s medical investigations remained private. He did not consider himself a professional in the field of anatomy, and he neither taught nor published his findings.

Although he kept his anatomical studies to himself, Leonardo did publish some of his observations on human proportion. Working with the mathematician Luca Pacioli, Leonardo considered the proportional theories of Vitruvius, the 1st-century BC Roman architect, as presented in his treatise De architectura (“On Architecture”). Imposing the principles of geometry on the configuration of the human body, Leonardo demonstrated that the ideal proportion of the human figure corresponds with the forms of the circle and the square. In his illustration of this theory, the so-called Vitruvian Man, Leonardo demonstrated that when a man places his feet firmly on the ground and stretches out his arms, he can be contained within the four lines of a square, but when in a spread-eagle position, he can be inscribed in a circle.

Leonardo envisaged the great picture chart of the human body he had produced through his anatomical drawings and Vitruvian Man as a cosmografia del minor mondo (“cosmography of the microcosm”). He believed the workings of the human body to be an analogy, in microcosm, for the workings of the universe. Leonardo wrote: “Man has been called by the ancients a lesser world, and indeed the name is well applied; because, as man is composed of earth, water, air, and fire . this body of the earth is similar.” He compared the human skeleton to rocks (“supports of the earth”) and the expansion of the lungs in breathing to the ebb and flow of the oceans.

Mechanics and cosmology

According to Leonardo’s observations, the study of mechanics, with which he became quite familiar as an architect and engineer, also reflected the workings of nature. Throughout his life Leonardo was an inventive builder; he thoroughly understood the principles of mechanics of his time and contributed in many ways to advancing them. The two Madrid notebooks deal extensively with his theory of mechanics; the first was written in the 1490s, and the second was written between 1503 and 1505. Their importance lay less in their description of specific machines or work tools than in their use of demonstration models to explain the basic mechanical principles and functions employed in building machinery. As in his anatomical drawings, Leonardo developed definite principles of graphic representation-stylization, patterns, and diagrams-that offer a precise demonstration of the object in question.

Leonardo was also quite active as a military engineer, beginning with his stay in Milan . But no definitive examples of his work can be adduced. The Madrid notebooks revealed that, in 1504, probably sent by the Florentine governing council, he stood at the side of the lord of Piombino when the city’s fortifications system was repaired and suggested a detailed plan for overhauling it. His studies for large-scale canal projects in the Arno region and in Lombardy show that he was also an expert in hydraulic engineering.Leonardo was especially intrigued by problems of friction and resistance, and with each of the mechanical elements he presented-such as screw threads, gears, hydraulic jacks, swivelling devices, and transmission gears-drawings took precedence over the written word. Throughout his career he also was intrigued by the mechanical potential of motion. This led him to design a machine with a differential transmission, a moving fortress that resembles a modern tank, and a flying machine. His “helical airscrew” (c. 1487) almost seems a prototype for the modern helicopter, but, like the other vehicles Leonardo designed, it presented a singular problem: it lacked an adequate source of power to provide propulsion and lift.

Wherever Leonardo probed the phenomena of nature, he recognized the existence of primal mechanical forces that govern the shape and function of the universe. This is seen in his studies of the flight of birds, in which his youthful idea of the feasibility of a flying apparatus took shape and that led to exhaustive research into the element of air; in his studies of water, the vetturale della natura (“conveyor of nature”), in which he was as much concerned with the physical properties of water as with its laws of motion and currents; in his research on the laws of growth of plants and trees, as well as the geologic structure of earth and hill formations; and finally in his observation of air currents, which evoked the image of the flame of a candle or the picture of a wisp of cloud and smoke. In his drawings based on the numerous experiments he undertook, Leonardo found a stylized form of representation that was uniquely his own, especially in his studies of whirlpools. He managed to break down a phenomenon into its component parts-the traces of water or eddies of the whirlpool-yet at the same time preserve the total picture, creating both an analytic and a synthetic vision.

Leonardo as artist-scientist

As the 15th century expired, Scholastic doctrines were in decline, and humanistic scholarship was on the rise. Leonardo, however, was part of an intellectual circle that developed a third, specifically modern, form of cognition. In his view, the artist-as transmitter of the true and accurate data of experience acquired by visual observation-played a significant part. In an era that often compared the process of divine creation to the activity of an artist, Leonardo reversed the analogy, using art as his own means to approximate the mysteries of creation, asserting that, through the science of painting, “the mind of the painter is transformed into a copy of the divine mind, since it operates freely in creating many kinds of animals, plants, fruits, landscapes, countryside, ruins, and awe-inspiring places.” With this sense of the artist’s high calling, Leonardo approached the vast realm of nature to probe its secrets. His utopian idea of transmitting in encyclopaedic form the knowledge thus won was still bound up with medieval Scholastic conceptions; however, the results of his research were among the first great achievements of the forthcoming age’s thinking because they were based to an unprecedented degree on the principle of experience.

Finally, although he made strenuous efforts to become erudite in languages, natural science, mathematics, philosophy, and history, as a mere listing of the wide-ranging contents of his library demonstrates, Leonardo remained an empiricist of visual observation. It is precisely through this observation-and his own genius-that he developed a unique “theory of knowledge” in which art and science form a synthesis. In the face of his overall achievements, therefore, the question of how much he finished or did not finish becomes pointless. The crux of the matter is his intellectual force-self-contained and inherent in every one of his creations-a force that continues to spark scholarly interest today. In fact, debate has spilled over into the personal realm of his life-over his sexuality, religious beliefs, and even possible vegetarianism, for example-which only confirms and reflects what has long been obvious: whether the subject is his life, his ideas, or his artistic legacy, Leonardo’s influence shows little sign of abating.