Only abandoned. Said Leonardo da Vinci.
How true in his case. And he worked in the perfect media where this could easily be the fact. His unfinished or modified works are staples of the student of art history.
In the charcoal and white chalk on buff paper above, Leonardo’s “The Virgin and Child with St. Anne and John the Baptist”, we can see abandonment by Leonardo. This is a fine example of Renaissance chiaroscuro, which is the technique where shading by the artist replicates the light areas and shadows that describe a three dimensional mass on a two dimensional plane. It is these light places and dark places that create the illusion of a three dimensional mass. This piece is a tour de force exemplifying this, and is even more interesting in that Leonardo abandoned it giving us the example of contrast. Look at the Virgin’s feet (she is the one holding the baby), and St. Anne’s upraised hand. One of the Virgin’s feet is merely an outline; the other features some work, but is nowhere complete. Likewise St. Anne’s upraised hand, just behind Christ’s which is blessing St. John, is just taking up space, waiting to be worked on. It never happened.
There is a lot of visual interplay in this drawing. St. Anne is Mary’s mother. Christ is Mary’s child. This composition describes these relationships by having Mary sit on her mother’s lap, and Christ sit on Mary’s as he blesses St. John. St. Anne gazes at Mary, Mary at Christ, Christ at John, and John back at Christ. St. Anne points her hand toward Heaven, mirroring Christ’s blessing. Within these actions is the armature of the whole Christian story! To the left of this composition, a pattern of knees and legs sets up an interesting rhythm where it is difficult to ascribe the knees to the correct woman. “Families” are depicted by Mary and Christ mirroring each other in their torsos and heads, as Anne and John do. Of course, for the beauty of a composition, it was not beyond the Renaissance masters to distort size and shape.
Look at what Michelangelo did with the Mother and Child:
In this “Pieta”, we see Mary holding the dead body of her child. Look at the pair. In your mind, make Mary stand up. She would be enormous compared to Christ, but in the composition as it is, they are a beautiful and rhythmical pair.
Back to Leonardo and our original topic of unfinished works.
What are those two dark half circles on either side of the painting just about at Mona Lisa’s shoulders? I am abandoning this discussion for another time…