Leonardo Da Vinci

RENAISSANCE

LEONARDO di ser PIERO DA VINCI (1452-1519), Italy

Any person with a wide ranging interest and profound knowledge of many different disciplines is described as a Polymath, but there have been none from his time to this, who can match Leonardo!

Painter; Architect; Inventor; Scientist; Mathematician; Engineer; Writer; Botanist; Musician; Sculptor; Mechanic; Geologist; Cartographer; Town Planner and Anatomist.

ARTWORK

Da Vinci is probably best known for his painting of Mona Lisa which hangs in the Louvre in Paris.

This is probably the most controversial painting in its 500 year history. Debate has raged endlessly about her lack of eyebrows (thought to be the fashion at the time), the enigmatic smile and the identity of the model. There is a school of thought that the model was actually a male.

He paid meticulous attention to detail in all his work, as demonstrated by the perfect representation of the plants in his painting of the Virgin of the Rocks.

Many of his botanical sketches, accompanied by detailed notes, are in the Royal Library at Windsor

THE LAST SUPPER

Although painted on a wall, The Last Supper is an atypical fresco as Leonardo experimented by sealing the wall then treating his work as if he were painting on wood. To this day, despite extensive restoration, efforts are still being made to maintain the integrity of this masterpiece. Leonardo’s love of mathematics is conveyed by the perfection of the perspective and the balance of each group of three. The intricacies of the fine details displayed in the lacework on the cloth, the clarity of the glassware, the soft glow of the pewter are remarkable.

There is also controversy surrounding the interpretation of this work. Debate centres on whether it portrays the consecration of the bread and the wine, or whether it shows the reaction to Christ’s pronouncement of betrayal is ongoing. Some scholars feel that through the sheer brilliance of Leonardo’s interpretation, it is both.

NATURE SEEN THROUGH THE EYES OF A MATHEMATICIAN

In the following two examples, one of a plant and the other of a dog’s head, we find how Leonardo applied mathematical equations and geometry to everyday things. For example: Leonardo claimed “that each year when the branches of plants have concluded their maturation, when added together, the sum total of their cross-section is equal to the cross-section of the trunk.” This is illustrated by the image where you can also see his peculiar style of writing everything backwards.

He also discovered “that the distance from the tip of the dog’s snout to its brow is exactly equal to the distance from its brow to its ear, and that the lowest point of snout is on a line with the lowest point of the ear.”

THE VITRUVIAN MAN

Maths and Anatomy

A Roman architect named Vitruvius, who lived circa 1 BCE, was the first to propose the theory that a human body could fit inside both a circle and a square. He associated the circle as being symbolic with the divine and the square with secular aspects.

Leonardo, in his famous drawing expanded on this theory by using his knowledge of maths and anatomy to illustrate perfect proportions. The Vitruvian Man shows how the human body can be fitted perfectly within both a circle and a square. This drawing is now more commonly associated with health practices wishing to epitomise the fully balanced body.

TOWN PLANNING

The sheer brilliance of this man led him in many different directions. His vision of how a town should be planned demonstrated how the logics of mathematics could be applied to engineering projects, while he used the eye of the artist to combine beauty with practicality.

Had the town he planned in 1516 been built, it would have advanced the world at that time to an almost modern day standards of heating, communication and hygiene

His plan, for which he adapted the principle of Archimedes Screw, featured fresh water inlets as well as waste disposal and all homes had running hot and cold water.

He created machines to improve ventilation and even had pipes running through the walls of the buildings for heating and cooling the rooms. He designed automatic opening doors and to quote from The Last Years by Ton Pascal: The heavy main doors of each building, opened and closed automatically when approached, using sophisticated balance and pressure points on a crank mechanism system, only now put to use with the advent of computers.

Included in his plan were schools and centres for recreation. He paid attention to open spaces, avenues were lined with trees, artwork was displayed on corners and numerous fountains added to the ambience of a city that would be interactive with its residents and allow its residents to be interactive within it.

FLYING MACHINE

This is one of many inventions that Leonardo recorded in his Portfolios.

His design for a flying machine was based on his observation of birds in flight, and the ‘bat’ wings bear testimony to this. Everything about the design was carefully calculated allowing for balanced body weight and various cranks for levitation and direction. The only flaw was that manpower alone could never have got the craft off the ground!

However, the man’s mind did not stop working at this point. He figured out that there should be some sort of safety device in flight, and designed a parachute.

This parachute was recently tested (although the jumper also wore a backup ‘chute). It descended perfectly, the only issue being that it could not be steered or adjusted to accommodate the prevailing conditions.

FOR ASPIRING ARTISTS AND FOLK WHO WISH TO UNDERSTAND MORE ABOUT ART:

This extract form online Britannica, written by Ludwig Heinrich Heydenreich, presents a lesson from the Master himself.

“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.”

Visit the “Leonardo Links” page where you will find a select choice of sites which will give you further insight into this amazing man.

Michelangelo Buonarroti

MICHELANGELO BUONARROTI (1475-1564) Italy

Sculptor, Artist, Architect, Poet and Engineer

Michelangelo

PIETÀ

Michelangelo was only 25 years old when he created Pietà (Compassion or Pity) from a single piece of Carrara marble. The statue was commissioned as a memorial to be placed on a tomb. The term Pietà applies to any depiction of Mary and the body of Christ whether it is a sculpture or a painting.
 Christ's Hand The mastery of this extraordinary young man is revealed in the meticulous attention he paid to detail as shown in the delicacy of the veins on Christ’s hand, and the precision of the nails and tendons on Christ’s feet.

Christ’s hand

The flow of the folds is remarkable as is the tension in Mary’s hand holding the body. Here too, the definition of the arm muscles and the fold in the flesh in response to Mary’s hold is incredibly detailed. Christ's feet

Christ’s feet

Folds Mary's Hand

Folds

Mary’s hand

Mary's head Michelangelo hit a problem with proportions to which he found a creative solution. Mary’s head is rather small for the size of her body. If he had carved it in proportion to her body, she would have been 15 ft (4.5m) tall, so he bulked it out by covering her head in draped cloth to balance the rest of the body.

Mary’s head

Pieta David

Michelangelo’s Pietà in Saint Peter’s Basilica, Rome

The statue of David displayed at the Academia Gallery in Venice

This figure of male perfection is probably one of the most famous statues in the world which took Michelangelo two years to complete. Standing at nearly 14ft (4.2m) tall it is carved from a single block of marble which had lain abandoned for over 25 years as no other sculptor was prepared to work with it because of the proliferation of flaws. The statue weighs over 4500kgs (nearly 12500lbs) and it took 40 men four days to drag it a couple of blocks.
The marble was originally intended to be one of a series of statues to be placed in the niches in the Cathedral of Florence. The other sculptors feared that the flaws would compromise the stability of such a statue, but not the 26 year old Michelangelo.
Other statues of David depict him after his battle with Goliath, but not Michelangelo who chose to sculpt a contemplative David, armed only with his sling before the mammoth encounter. The statue portrays the tension David was experiencing but also exudes his confidence in himself.
David's eyes When one looks at busts and some statues, the eyes are often blank orbs. Michelangelo carved the pupils and irises which add to the intensity of David’s look. The detail of the musculature in David’s back is phenomenal. Little wonder that this statue is regarded as perfection.

David’s eyes

David's back Circular Hall

David’s back

The circular hall in which this spectacular statue is displayed in the Academia Galleria was specially designed for him. The dome allows for natural light

SISTINE CHAPEL, VATICAN CITY, ROME

Sistine Chapel Michelangelo was very reluctant to take on the commission of painting the ceiling of the Chapel. He felt that he was more of a sculptor than a painter, and secondly he had limited knowledge about painting a fresco. Frescos are created when paint is applied to wet plaster. He must have got the formula right as it has stood the test of time, unlike da Vinci’s Last Supper which has had to have extensive restorative and preservative work.
Since 1492, the Chapel has been the enclave where the cardinals gather to elect a new pope.

SISTINE CHAPEL CEILING

 Sistine Chapel ceiling Contrary to popular belief, Michelangelo did not lie on his back to paint the ceiling but he did create a complex set of scaffolding to support him. It was not an experience he enjoyed, he said his face felt like the floor to catch the drips and he wrote this poem to express himself:
The ceiling, completed in 1512, measures 40mX14m (131ftX45ft) M14.jpg
I’ve grown a goitre by dwelling in this den –
As cats from stagnant streams in Lombardy,
Or in what other land they hap to be –
Which drives the belly close beneath the chin:
My beard turns up to heaven; my nape falls in
Fixed on my spine: my breast-bone visibly
Grows like a harp: a rich embroidery
Bedews my face from brush-drips, thick and thin.
My loins into my paunch like levers grind:
My buttock like a crupper bears my weight;
My feet unguided wander to and fro;
In front my skin grows loose and long; behind,
By bending it becomes more taut and strait;
Crosswise I strain me like a Syrian bow:
Whence false and quaint, I know,
Must be the fruit of squinting brain and eye;
For ill can aim the gun that bends awry.
Come then, Giovanni, try
To succour my dead pictures and my fame;
Since foul I fare and painting is my shame.
The nine central panels take one through the story of Genesis. On either side are a series of Old Testament characters mixed with a few of the pagan figures which were regarded as also being prophets leading the way to the advent of Christ.
The ceiling is actually curved – it is not flat like a canvas, yet such is the artist’s genius, the figures appear as if they are in 3D form. The technique he employed is similar to that used by 3D Chalk artists Julian Beever and Kurt Wenner. This process is illustrated in the following clip: Link 1Link 2
A closer examination of the arches and columns separating each fresco depiction reveals that all is not as it seems. These are not architectural features but are painted to appear like concrete as shown in the following three images:
The detail of the ceiling The detail of the ceiling

The detail of the ceiling

The detail of the ceiling The detail of the ceiling
This particular scene shows God giving life to Adam, and is perhaps the most reproduced of all the ceiling frescos:
God and Adam width= God and Adam
The Michelangelo Links page has sites which take you on virtual tours, with highlighted details of all the frescos in the Sistine Chapel.

 

THE LAST JUDGEMENT

20 years after painting the ceiling, Michelangelo was commissioned to paint “The Last Judgement” above the altar.
The last judgement The Last Judgement
As he had done earlier with the ceiling, Michelangelo chose to represent both saints and pagan figures in this fresco, and in later years this upset some of the prelates who commissioned the ‘naughty’ bits to be covered up. Recent restoration has cleared the fresco of all these additions.
Christ as a Judge The Central Scene depicts Christ as judge
(Go to Michelangelo Links page for close-ups of this fresco.)

ARCHITECTURE

THE LAURENTIAN LIBRARY

The library was built on top of an existing convent. The staircase appears to flow up to the Reading Room in a style described as Mannerist Architecture and the entire room in which it is built is dedicated to it. He also designed the benches, made of walnut – the backs of which form lecterns. The floor is a mosaic made from wood. The Library was built to house the Medici Collection which is contained on a separate floor.
The staircase

The Staircase

The reading room

The Reading Room

The reading room benches

The Reading Room Benches

THE MEDICI CHAPEL, FLORENCE

The chapel is a mausoleum, and is an extension of the San Lorenzo Basilica. It is the only completed architectural structure in which Michelangelo was involved. Again he used architectural illusion, this time to make the room seem larger and higher.

The Medici Tombs

Medici tomb1 Medici tomb2
The interior and the dome which is modelled on the Pantheon
Interior Interior

PIAZZA DEL CAMPIDOGLIO, ROME

Piazza del Campidoglio Piazza del Campidoglio
This project involved either the creation or the restoration of three buildings. The building is now the City Hall and fittingly, tucked into a niche at within the apex of the stairs is a statue of the goddess Roma in whose hand is a globe symbolising the far reaching power of Rome in ancient times. A bronze statue stands at the centre of the courtyard. It is a reproduction of what is thought to be the only surviving bronze statue from bygone age which was relatively intact. Michelangelo designed the plinth on which it stands. The original statue is in the Capitoline Museum.
Piazza del Campidoglio Michelangelo moved the tower to a central position which served as an additional focal point to the stairs.
Piazza del Campidoglio The flat roof is a signature of Michelangelo’s architecture and the effect of the added pilasters serve to unite the two storeys.
Piazza del Campidoglio The starburst design whether viewed from above or laterally seems to pull the surrounding buildings in to create a more intimate space. It also creates an optical illusion.

ST PETER’S BASILICA, ROME

Michelangelo designed the dome, construction of which started in 1547, but did not live to see its completion in 1590. He died at the age of 89 in 1564.
ST PETER’S BASILICA ST PETER’S BASILICA
Please go to the Michelangelo Links Page where you will find additional sites covering all his achievements plus links to clips and videos with plenty more information about this fascinating and extraordinarily talented man.

MICHELANGELO THE ENGINEER

Link 1 and    Link 2