Lectures are in the PlayHouse: 10.45 for morning members: 13.30 for afternoon members.

Thursday 15 November 2018
Leonardo’s Women

COMPLETED – Late 2019 programme available mid 2019

Speaker: Shirley Smith

In this lecture Shirley Smith covered Leonardo’s techniques in his portraits of women, with constant reference to his notebooks. Ladies had been painted in profile as it was considered indecorous to paint them in any other way. In his first portrait, painted in Florence when he was only 22, of   Ginevra de Benci, she is seen facing the front. In his notebook he comments that a portrait is only well done if it portrays the sitter’s state of mind. He was a pupil of Andrea Del Verrochio, a sculptor as well as a painter who painted women with small almond eyes, straight nose and thin lips drawn together. Verrochio’s influence can be seen in Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait. He painted with oil on wood.

In 1482 he moved to work for Ludovico Sforza the ruler of Milan where he painted beautiful women of the court such as Cecilia Gallerani who is shown looking to one side and her body is turning the other way to give her more life. This may have been influenced by Verrocchio’s bust sculptures. He places her against a dark background emphasising the beauty of her face; again with the almond eyes, straight nose and thin lips. The light shines on the ermine she is holding; ermine is a symbol of purity. He considered the eyes to be the window of the soul and used the sfumato technique which produced a softer outline, to enhance the eyes.

By 1500 Leonardo da Vinci was in Milan where he painted the Mona Lisa with her famous smile. In this portrait Leonardo moves away from the hard dark background as he shows her as part of nature as she is the ideal perfection of nature. Da Vinci again shows ideal beauty in his drawings of female heads which he produced with smudged charcoal or chalk. In  The Madonna with a Flower he goes further and shows a rapport between the Madonna and child –she is smiling at him and he is trying to make her look at the flower.

In his notebooks he comments that “the work of a painter survives in nobler form than that of nature,” but in the whole 5000 words of his notebooks he never mentions particular women.