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Renaissance Top 48: Virgin of the Rocks


LEONARDO DA VINCI, Virgin of the Rocks, ca. 1485.

Leonardo da Vinci believed, "a good painter has two chief objectives to paint - man and the intention of his soul”. Leonardo built upon Masacci'os use of understanding of perspective. He found importance in the depiction of emotional states through chiaroscuro, the play of light and dark. This use of contrast and expressing emotional states was very important to Leonardo in his paintings. 


The figures in this painting are Madonna, Christ Child, John the Baptist, and an angel. If you were to draw a line connecting the figures it would create a triangular shape, which is called pyramidal composition. Each of the figures are somehow connected by sight or by touch. They are each praying, pointing, or blessing, which unites them. Madonnas hand is rested on John, and he is looking across and praying to Christ Child. The angel is pointing at the Baptist, and Madonnas other arm is reaching out towards the Christ Child, which connects all of the figures. The mood of this figure is very calm, and we can discover that based on the emotions of the figures, especially the mother, and the softness of the painting. Something unusual about this painting is that the mother of god is sitting on a rock, which humanizes her. 


This piece was created during the High Renaissance by Leonardo da Vinci. He was not only a painter but an inventor, and an engineer, who contributed to the idea of the renaissance being a time of innovation. Leonardo was a son of a wealthy man, and he believed in mathematics and harmony to achieve beauty in his art. He did not finish many paintings, and this is one of them that he did not want to give up to the patron. 



Gardners Art Through the Ages 12th Edition- Page 615


This oil painting is created on wood in the center of an alter. It is approximately 6 feet by 3 feet. Since it is an oil painting it is a very soft image, and the use of sfumato adds to the atmospheric effect


This piece was on the central panel of an altarpiece for the chapter of the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception of San Francesco Grande. 


• sfumato

  • smokey, atmospheric effect
  • softened outlines, colors blend

• chiaroscuro

  • modeling with light and dark to define shapes
    • light in this image is most likely coming from the left

• pyramidal composition

  • adds balance to the piece
  • all the figures (or parts within a figure) can be connected by an imaginary triangle 



Same function of San Zaccaria (Altarpiece) 

Madonna in the middle
Color defines shape - lusciousness of it