Although Leonardo da Vinci is known as one of the best artists in history, there are fewer than two dozen of his paintings in existence. The artist pioneered two painting techniques, in his lifetime:
Chiaroscuro – Da Vinci used this technique to add three dimensionality to the figures in his paintings, by employing a stark contrast between light and darkness.
Sfumato – The use of subtle gradations to infuse paintings with a soft, smoky aura.
Some of his most famous art works include:
The Vitruvian Man
In 1490, as da Vinci studied proportion, and attempted to relate man to nature, he sketched this now world renowned piece. It depicted a male figure in two superimposed positions, with his arms and legs apart, inside both a square and a circle. This shows that the human body’s proportions relate to the geometric shapes. The ink drawing is kept on display at The Accademia Gallery in Venice.
The Last Supper
Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, commissioned this painting on the back wall of the dining hall inside the monastery of the Santa Maria delle Grazie. The piece depicts the moment when Jesus told the twelve apostles during Passover dinner that one of them would soon betray him. Their reactions are exquisitely captured, and account for much of the painting’s fame. The piece took three years to complete, and began to deteriorate quickly because da Vinci had used paint with tempera and oil on dried plaster. Improper restoration caused further damage to the piece, but modern conservation techniques have now stabilised it. Although very little of the original painting remains, the talent da Vinci displayed in this creation cannot be denied.
Arguably the most famous painting in the entire world, da Vinci began work on his Mona Lisa in 1503. It is believed that this was a privately commissioned piece, and da Vinci used his sfumato technique to create the enigmatic smile of the woman in the half portrait. As the artist’s attempt at creating a perfect piece, da Vinci never released the painting and the subject’s identity hasn’t been conclusively determined. Speculation has ranged from Leonardo da Vinci’s mother, Princess Isabella of Naples and even da Vinci’s apprentice, Salai, dressed as a woman. One of his early biographers identify the woman as Lisa del Gioconda, the wife of a wealthy Florentine silk merchant. Although this theory is supported by the painting’s original title, ‘La Gioconda,’ art historians have yet to confirm this.
In November 2017, the Salvator Mundi, which some art historians believe may not have been painted by Leonardo da Vinci, was sold at an auction for a record breaking U$450.3 million. The work is now on display at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates.