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The Influence Of Renaissance On Leonardo Da Vinci's Works

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Born in the Renaissance period which spanned the fourteenth to sixteenth century, Leonardo da Vinci would become one of the smartest men ever to live (Guisepi). He was trained through primary education and went on to many accomplishments with his knowledge of math, science, and art. The Renaissance period influenced inventors and painters on the human aspect and led to many new areas of thoughts. Although da Vinci had many talents, the intellectual opportunity of the Renaissance of realism and anatomy most contributed to his emergence of a great figure.

The Renaissance brought forth realism as a by-product of art letting artists create many new types of realist emotional paintings including da Vinci’s work with the Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, and his use of Light and shadow in his paintings (Renaissance). The Mona Lisa was a famous painting by da Vinci which featured a portrait of a Florentine merchants’ wife, Lisa Gherardini. Mona Lisa is pictured in a sitting position, looking forward with her right arm placed on her lefts arms wrist. Mona Lisa confused many viewer with her half smile or maybe no smile at all. Her expression was caught in a very realistic way, which showed a change of emotion. The smile brought on a feeling of wonder- what must be Mona be thinking about, or what was the meaning of this smile. The Mona Lisa was caught mid expression though it seemed as though she had something on her mind when she was painted. Leonardo da Vinci uses the style of chiaroscuro (Sethi) which was light and dark contrasts on a painting to create a depth and a three-dimensional outlook to a painting. (Chiaroscuro in Art: Definition, Technique, Artists & Examples). The Mona Lisa also used the sfumato technique, which was the blending of oil paints to create a calming effect (Sfumato). With the many techniques and emotions of the Mona Lisa, da Vinci painted Mona Lisa and showed her realist and true side of how she looked in mid-thought and not in a perfect, one expression way.

The Last Supper, another painting by da Vinci, showed many new realist emotions through the style of painting. The Last Supper depicted Jesus’s last meal where Jesus sat with his apostles (Sethi). Jesus is very calm and is relatively larger than the other apostles, showing his importance within the painting (Isaacson 284). This painting is crucial as it showed the moment Jesus told his apostles that one of them would betray him (Sethi). One of the apostles, Judas is represented as a very ugly figure (Isaacson 283), stood alone in the shadows where he held a purse that contained the money he obtained for his betrayal of Jesus. Each apostle contained a different expression on their face; expressions of skepticism, fear, and shock roamed their appearances (Sethi). Da Vinci quoted in his notebook that “a picture of human figures ought to be done in such a way that the viewer may easily recognize by means of their attitudes, the intentions of their minds” (Isaacson 282). This quote shows how da Vinci wanted to place realism within his paintings and that he followed this rule with The Last Supper. Additionally, this was one of the first times that realism this powerful was meant to depict the last supper that Jesus dined. Da Vinci used the style of sfumato once again, along with a vanishing point technique to allow for the appearance of more space in the painting (Sethi). This great masterpiece by da Vinci brought to light how the Renaissance use of realism can bring to life major ideas such as The Last Supper which allowed da Vinci to create a very wonderful and emotional painting.

Light and shadow of paintings were an important piece in da Vinci’s paintings, as they were used to outline the humanistic aspects of his paintings. Da Vinci wrote many ideas about shadows in his notebook, approximately fifteen thousand words on just the topic of shadows. He penned, “if a body is larger than the light, the shadow resembles a truncated and inverted pyramid, and its length has also no defined termination. But if the body is smaller than the light, the shadow will resemble a pyramid and come to an end, as seen in eclipses of the moon Isaacson 267).” Da Vinci also composed about the light that “since the quality of color is revealed by means of light where there is more light will be seen more of the true color of the illuminated color (Isaacson 268).” These light and shadow ideas set the bar for his portrait of Le Belle Ferronièrre and the Virgin of the Rocks.

The Renaissance influence of realism inspired Leonardo da Vinci to use light and shadow to furthermore make his artwork into realist designs. The portrait of Le Belle Ferronièrre was full of light and shadow techniques. This portrait was of a woman in the Sforza court. Her chin and neck was enveloped by shadow but directly opposed to that is light that bounced off her smooth shoulder up onto her left jaw which caused an illuminated streak of light. The Virgin of the Rocks was a very significant painting that da Vinci completed which focused on the light and shadows of paintings. As there were two versions created, the first version is very heavy with light and shadow (Isaacson 228). In the first version, a baby angel sat on the ground and pointed at baby Jesus. Across from baby Jesus, is baby Saint John who held his hands together in blessing toward baby Jesus. Between the two babies, is The Madonna with one hand held over the baby angel and the other held baby Johns shoulder. There is a female angel next to baby Jesus with her left hand on Jesus and pointing with her right (Isaacson 226) As an oil painting, the Virgin of the Rocks juxtaposed light and shade to create a sense of flow. By applying multiple layers of translucent color, this created shadings and a little blurring of the outlines which used the sfumato and chiaroscuro styles of art (Isaacson 228). This use of sfumato allowed the painting to become more natural and have a three-dimensional feel to it (Sethi). The light passed through the layers of the painting and bounces back up to show lit up figures and objects (Isaacson 228). The painting also shows landscape with the depth of perspective. The environment of rock and water and pictures of Jesus and John the Baptist create a dreamlike and human-like quality to the whole painting. The figures within the canvas moved with a sense of motion (Sethi). These two pieces of artwork show how da Vinci was able to use light and shadow to advance his work with realism and stray away from the non-genuine paintings.

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In the Renaissance, when many artists and mathematicians had many questions about perspective, algebra, and geometry, Leonardo da Vinci used all these aspects to create many notable works and observations (Geometry And Mathematics In The Renaissance). The Vitruvian Man was also an influential painting that da Vinci devised to show how shapes and geometry were used to create a “perfect realistic man.” The Vitruvian Man held the measurements of an ideal body (Richman-Abdou). The main objective of the painting was to show a human body symmetry. Tthe Vitruvian man has perfect portions of a man, with two different sets of arms and legs. One set of the man’s arms and legs are apart to show the circumference of a circle. The other set of arms and legs contain the legs which are together and the arms which stand straight out, which shows the volume of a square. The whole masterpiece shows balance, symmetry, and proportion of the ideal human body. With this artwork, da Vinci showed how the Renaissance humanism connected man with nature, as he drew the link between earth – the square in the painting, and the link between the divine – the man arms and legs being set apart to show the circumference of a circle (Sethi).

Leonardo da Vinci also used geometry as a gateway to perspective. With this, he used many new perspective aspects including aerial perspective and focused many of his compositions on perspective to connect his drawings with the real world. Da Vinci was interested in shapes and how shapes transformed (Isaacson 206). He created designs with two overlapped half circles and created many circular shapes that would have the same area as triangles and rectangles (Isaacson 207). Arithmetic was not da Vinci’s strong suit he was not very good at numbers or adding but, he was amazing at geometry (Isaacson 200). Even though da Vinci was never good at square roots or cube roots, he found he could visually cube a square by drawing a cubed square and then he did not have to do any cubing mathematically (Isaacson 208; Isaacson 209). Da Vinci dew one hundred eighty diagrams about different shapes overlapping to create the perspective of a pattern (Isaacson 208). These shapes transformation through perspective led da Vinci to produce new realistic shapes. His famous painting, the Last Supper is very heavy with perspective. In the painting, all lines of sight point to Jesus (Isaacson 286). Using complex perspective, da Vinci made it so you saw a different perspective of the art depending on if you are standing in front of it, walking by it, or to the side of the work of art. In the painting, the painted cornice hides the fact that the ceiling does not reach all the way to the table. The room with Jesus and the apostles got smaller towards a vanishing point in the back wall until it appeared that the back is so small that it only held three windows. This was influenced by Renaissance plays and their layout because a Renaissance play had a stage that was not a square box, but actually a bit narrow and short thus giving off the perspective and illusion of the stage being stretched far back. The Apostles also sit at a table that looks cramped and small and gives off the perspective that they are in a play (Isaacson 289). A light appeared to be coming in from the window creating a realist twist on the painting as if actual sunlight came in through the paper (Isaacson 289; Isaacson 290). The Last Supper was a clever use of scientific perspective and a theatrical look to create a very realist painting that was influenced by the Renaissance ways.

During the Renaissance, artists and inventors including da Vinci studied anatomy and performed dissections to create lifelike works. Da Vinci studied human anatomy through dissection (Bambach), to assist with his art and many other interests. He wrote in his notebook, “It is necessary for a painter to be a good anatomist, so that he may be able to design the naked parts of the human frame and know the anatomy of the sinews, nerves, bones, and muscles (Isaacson 212). He also described in his notes about how tissues, veins, muscles, and nerves can be displayed from many different angles (Isaacson 215). The anatomical studies of da Vinci through animals led him to design inventions and he wrote a book on the anatomical structure of a bird. One of his inventions was the flying machine. This machine was designed like a winged creature (Famous Inventions of Leonardo Da Vinci). In this design, a pilot laid out on the machine and could not move at all while he pulled at the oars to propel him through the air. Da Vinci believed that people could have bird flight so with this possibility he designed the flying machine to copy bird flight. His only problem was that birds move their wings by using their feathers to push down the air and use their inner wings to lift the them, however, da Vinci believed that the birds moved by flapping their wings downwards and backward thus messing up the testability of his flying machine (Annabell). Additionally, da Vinci wrote a book on the flight of birds called the Codex on the Flight of Birds. This was one of the greatest documents ever written by da Vinci as it showed the inner workings of his great mind. Through this book, da Vinci discovered the thrust in birds and wrote about the physics of bird flight. The whole book was about the mechanics of bird flight and bird anatomy so it would ultimately lead him to make world-changing inventions (Codex on the Flight of Birds). Da Vinci’s anatomical study through the Renaissance influence led to his understanding of bird flight and his attempt to make bird flight machines possible.

With his anatomical knowledge of the human, da Vinci set to work on inventions that used the human strength and body. One of these strength inventions was an aerial screw. Da Vinci devised the aerial screw that was sort of like a helicopter. This machine was designed to use insane human strength. Da Vinci drew two different hypotheses for the humans on the aerial screw. One of the hypothesis was with four people on four poles who pushed their feet against a structure connected to the propeller. Then the propeller started to turn slowly until it lifted the rotating platform of men into the sky. The second hypothesis for the aerial screw was four men on a platform who pushed their feet in a merry-go-round style so that eventually the screw turned fast enough that it lifted off the ground into the sky. This aerial helicopter showed how da Vincis anatomical studies translated into his designs (Laurenza 53). Lastly, da Vinci composed mechanical wings which furthermore tested the potential strength of the human body. To work the mechanical wings, the pilot jumped from a great height with his feet attached to the metal boards in the mechanical wings just to keep afloat. Not only that, but the pilot has to move the two metal bars by bending and straightening his wings (Laurenza 66). The aerial screw, and mechanical wings showed the Renaissance influence on da Vinci through anatomical study pertaining to the potential strength of the human body

Leonardo da Vinci was greatly influenced by the Renaissance views on realism, and anatomy. By using these influences, da Vinci designed and painted memorable paintings and inventions that would impact society for many years afterwards. If da Vinci was not born within a great historical period like the Renaissance, he would not have been able to rise to fame using the influences that came along with him being born at the right place and right time.

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