No one was more of a ‘Renaissance man’ than Leonardo Da Vinci. There was virtually nothing that Da Vinci wasn’t versed in. He was a painter as well as a sculptor. He created plans for various inventions centuries before their times, such as helicopters and submarines. He was interested in the human body and made notes on anatomy. He was skilled with languages, literature, and philosophy. Da Vinci was a giant, even in his own time. Today, there is almost no artist held to such esteem as Da Vinci.
Da Vinci was notorious in his own time for taking on projects and never completing them. There are many sketches attributed to Da Vinci which he made in preparation for paintings that were never done. Nevertheless, he contributed many artworks that today are considered among the finest ever produced. It is safe to say that no real price can be affixed to a treasure like the Mona Lisa. That woman with the mysterious smile whose painting Da Vinci never gave away during his lifetime. Who was she? What was she like?
We at least have the answer to one of those questions. The Mona Lisa is the portrait of a woman named Lisa Giocondo, the wife of a wealthy merchant from Florence. She stares at the viewer, a soft smile playing lightly upon her lips, and though she may be as beautiful as Helen of Troy, no one is quite capable of looking away. The background of the painting is just as much as mystery as the woman herself. Scholars commonly agree that the winding rivers and craggy mountains depict no natural scene ever found. But the detail of the background is wonderful, as the mountains and rivers fade away into the blurry, misty sky.
A painting just as iconic, if not even moreso, is that of The Last Supper. The Last Supper is a frescoe, painted onto the wall of the dining hall of a monastery. This depiction of the biblical scene is different from all that came before it for one important reason. Judas, the betrayer of Jesus, is not sitting far away on the opposite side of the table, so far removed from those who remained close to Christ, but is sitting quite close to him and amongst the other apostles. The dividing factor is that Judas is masked in shadow. The Last Supper has not held up as well as it should have. Even in Leonardo’s day the paint was cracked and flaking. This is because of the manner in which Leonardo painted it. Frescoes must be done quickly, painted while the plaster of the wall is still wet. In this way, the artist is not simply painting on a wall, but the painting seeps into the plaster itself and becomes a part of the wall. Leonardo was not a fast worker, instead taking his time to make sure that every detail was as perfect as it should be. The only downside in doing so, was that the plaster was very dry by the end of the day and most of the painting never seeped into the wall as it should have. The Last Supper has been restored several times, the first of which wasn’t long after Leonardo’s death.