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.

mona lisa

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…


Having collected the “art” of untrained persons for a long time now,  it is obvious by their numbers that religion stimulates a lot of creativity.  Long ago reading a book that has stuck with me, “Conversations with God” ( no idea as to how this book has been received in the intellectual community), the act of creating mimics the creator.  OK.

Creating is the only thing that keeps me sane.  Is this an interface with some kind of divinity?   It has been a long time since the reading.   But acting like the creator, being creative, puts you in the right neighborhood, the book implies.  Others have gone down this same path.


This piece has been on the blog before, and is a wonderful mixed media work mostly made from things others would call trash:  an old Sunday school handout, various construction paper, glass (which saved the thing) and an old shirt box split at the corners as the frame.

art window

This interesting painting on an old window states its idea plainly in the upper right.  It shows some competence in making marks, some are interesting as in the upper left where a tiny city is created.  What is not to be missed is the confusion of the horizon line and the duplicate skies.  This is a wonderful addition to our front porch.

Of course, copies of Leonardo’s “The Last Supper” are everywhere and done by everyone.  It is up for grabs whether this painting or his “Mona Lisa” is the most well known painting in the world.  Both paintings have been cleverly modified by many talented artists where the modifications to the famous works create a new work of art.  They are THAT ingrained in western culture.

the last supper

This work is so important historically.  Looking at this work is like being in the mind of someone coming into consciousness about the Greek culture, what they accomplished without acknowledging “God”, a kind of rejection of notions from the Middle Ages, and an embrace of new technology, linear one point perspective.  It is the Renaissance “enlightenment” in form and shape.

It is the very definition of “humanism”.  Players in this scene are not static Ken Doll looking saints as we saw in the Middle Ages, but each displays his psychological interior by reacting physically to the statement which has just been said:  “One of you will betray me”.

This painting from the Middle Ages features much more static figures and differs from later Renaissance/Humanist work.
This painting from the Middle Ages features much more static figures and differs from later Renaissance/Humanist work.

As opposed to the “plan” God provided his believers in the Middle Ages, human emotions count in the Renaissance world.  Human brains think, and here are able to create a reasonable visual space where the action happens (this is not functional in the example above because perspective is not used well). Renaissance thinkers wanted to embrace their religion, but also to integrate the knowledge and accomplishments of the Greek thinkers, who they knew were not Christian.  They arrived at an idea that to honor God, they should develop their own gifts to the furthest extent of their talent.  Pretty savvy.

Remember the trouble that Galileo had.

Leonardo also merged the new technology of linear one point perspective with Christianity.  This method of rendering the world depends on a horizon line, a vanishing point and a symmetrical composition.  Parallel lines above the vanishing point recede down and vanish; parallel lines occurring below the vanishing point recede up.  Viewers involuntarily follow lines in a work of art.  Leonardo put Christ’s head over the vanishing point in this work, so the viewer returns again and again to the subject of the work, Christ.

the last supper

If you extend the lines made by the coffers in the ceiling above the group, in Leonardo’s work, those lines would all come together at the head of Christ.  Look at the lines made by the coffers just below.  They are a mess, and therefore create no perspective, no logical interior space as we are used to seeing in the real world. No extensions of those lines end up anywhere near Christ.

1-crooked last supper

This painting, presented without its frame, is one of my treasures, and was a great aid to teaching linear one point perspective.  Of course, the naive artist did not know the formula this method requires, and much can be learned between comparing the lines in Leonardo’s to this example.  He captured the humanism in the Apostles, however!

Saving the rest of my “supper” collection for another post, this last image is my favorite view of “The Last Supper”.  The only thing I bought on my last trip to Rome, these little sculptures are everywhere.

1-back of last supper

Never thought about running into the BACK of this famous image!