Leonardo Da Vinci the Man

There has possibly never been a person who so intimately understood his own humanness than Leonardo Da Vinci. When most people think about Da Vinci however, the first thing that always comes to mind is his art work, especially his paintings. Images of the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper can be seen all over the world today and even many of his sculptures are fairly well known. What many people do not know about this man however is that Leonardo did not have a real passion for his art. Da Vinci was not an artist who created with his heart. He was a scientist who created with his brain, using mechanical principles.

Young Leonardo was born without much chance of creating a real future but while he was physically beautiful he was also blessed by an almost unnatural inquisitiveness and intelligence. Leonardo the child spent much of his time studying everything from birds in flight to the muscle movements of humans and animals. His original drawings were his efforts to record what he saw for later study. While he was born into a Christian culture and even lived inside the Vatican, during the period that both Michelangelo and Raphael were working there on commissions, his writings and work suggested that he had deep questions about the apparent contradictions between biblical teachings and his observations of nature. To his young mind there was a lot more God in Nature than Nature in God.

Da Vinci was an engineer and scientist at heart. All of this later works, with the possible exception of the Mona Lisa, he completed simply to afford him the financial opportunity to design his true loves: Machines of war.

Da Vinci spent his entire independent career seeking clients who would pay him for innovative designs. The first tanks, built in World War I, we built around a Da Vinci design made in the 15th Century. But he would design anything for money and worked directly for some of the most powerful people in Europe. We must keep in mind that the very idea of a “bastard” son of a merchant who would live in the Vatican as an honored guest and die in the arms of the King of France is simply astounding and a testament to the monumental power of the man.

But Da Vinci had a sense of humor as well and we can see signs of it in art more than anywhere else. In Dan Brown´s book “Da Vinci Code” he puts Leonardo into the middle centuries long conspiracy. While there is a tremendous about of symbolism, even some Pagan symbolism, in his art, it is more likely that he put it there out of a sense of irony or his vast sense of humor. In his painting “John the Baptist” he used Satai, one of his pupils and lifetime friend, as the model. The ironic, and humorous, part of this was Da Vinci´s name for Satai was “Little Devil”.

This period is one of the most important in the history of art. The men who worked during this period were arguably among the finest thinkers in human history. For that reason we will cover some of the Greatest Masters who lived during this period in great depth. The next few articles will concentrate exclusively on the life and works of Leonardo Da Vinci. If you are in an online masters program it might be a good idea to save these links because we will be presenting some hard to find material.

The Reinvention of Art: The Renaissance Blooms

One of the greatest illustrations of the world of arts fight against the iron control of the Christian church can be seen in the works of Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelodi Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni and their sponsorship by the wealthy mercantile family, the De Medici family of Tuscany. While there were many artists who contributed during this period the above two are responsible for more advances than all of the others combined. This was not as much because of the volume of work that each of these men produced, which was substantial, but because of the innovations that they were able to develop which are still not only used by all artists today but make them the most well known artists in history.

There is much speculation that Da Vinci and Michelangelo atheists but the facts are that there is simply no real evidence to support this. There are two much more likely possibilities however. The first is that these two masters were actually Christians who, like Martin Luther a century later, were rebelling against Vatican control and corruption. The other possibility however seems to be much more likely.

There is a great deal of speculation, which is mirrored in Dan Brown´s controversial book “The Da Vinci Code” that both Da Vinci and Michelangelo were actually practicing Paganswho used their art to hide Pagan ideals and teachings in much the same way that African Slaves used Catholic symbolism to hide Voodun ritual from the Church and Christian slaver owners. The are many classes on these connections for people who are studying art and design careers in college today.

The most famous painting in history, and still mysterious, was undoubtedly the Mona Lisa. Recent findings in this painting reveal hidden animal images in the background. Da Vinci used the landscape to, in a sense, merge the natural world in a sublime way that defied discovery for 500 years. Many of the same techniques, blending a naturalistic view with a religious one, were also used by Michelangelo and this concept was, at the time, completely new to the world of art. Much of Da Vinci´s success can be attributed to the fact that he not only wondered how a bird could fly, he actually spent considerable time studying and experimenting on flight itself. The Master not only enjoyed the spectacle of flight, he wanted to thoroughly understand it and this understanding segued naturally into his art. The same is true of Michelangelo. Raised by a merchant father, who refused to allow him to work with his hand, Michelangelo would study a block of marble for weeks or months, mentally visually each cut that needed to be made and completing the sculpture in his mind before ever picking up a chisel.

The Paleo-Christian Church Dominates Art and Expression

The battle between the late Roman Empire and the Early Christian Church raged almost unabated for nearly 300 years and did not end until Constantine the Great legalized the practice of the religion in 311 AD. Some scholars argue that the burning of Rome was actually initiated by Christians and others argue that Constantine decision was actually a political one simply because he foresaw Rome´s decline and needed a new political device to retain control. While the actual reasons for the shift in power will probably remain for eternity in shadows, the fact is that once the Church did gain political control over the far flung Roman Empire they used this control to dominate every single aspect of life and this is extremely evident in its control of the art world.

On the surface all people in the Medieval world believed that the Christian God and a literal Heaven and Hell actually existed and that the only way to achieve one and avoid the other was through the Catholic (which literally means “Universal”) Church. Any variation by spoken word or act from these teachings could and very often did lead to exile, excommunication and even torture and execution. The Church´s control over art however varied from time to time and region to region. Most early Churches forbade any images, whether graven or painted, to be placed in churches simply because they believed that these images would lead church goers to adore the art more than they would the teachings. Priests, especially from the Dominican sect (who later led the Inquisitions) literally swept the land of any form of art that could be seen to contain “Pagan” images or symbolism.

But pagan images and symbolism can be found throughout much of early Medieval art and many art researchers are using the services of the pale-forensic scientists to uncover not only these images but how they avoided the religious laws of the time. One of the largest differences between the Christianity and Pagan religions their contrasting opinions on sexuality and this early art demonstrates that “Christian” artists disagreed with the Christianity on this issue. The early use of the fish in Christianity is a great example and many of the greatest art pieces owned by the Vatican have many examples of sexual symbolism which were much more Pagan than Christian. The reason for this is fairly simple to understand when you consider that throughout history artists have been radical thinkers and seldom allow themselves to be cornered into dogmatic thinking. The fact is that while most people during this period were outwardly Christian, Pagan traditions were still a large part of life in most communities, especially outside the larger urban areas.

The Dark Art of the Dark Ages

Historical records tell us that while much early art was religious based it was in essence pantheistic and not overly affected or influenced by the religions. Art was in fact, in most cases, an artists voluntary reflection of Man´s relationship to the God´s. Interestingly enough this facet of art was completely eliminated by the coming to power of the Christian Church at the beginning of the Dark Ages, or early Medieval Period beginning in 410 B.C. The Roman Empire was in turmoil, besieged on all sides by “barbarians” when the Emperor Constantine legalized the practice of Christianity and allowed the formation of the Christian Church. Many historians speculate that pressures from the Church were at least partially instrumental in splitting the Empire into its Western and Eastern (Byzantium) parts. For those readers who are ardent students of Art history there are a number of great easy scholarships that can be obtained for this study and understanding this period is essential to understanding the development of art itself.

 

The Medieval Period can be divided into two parts. The first, commonly known as the Dark Ages, lasted from approximately 410 AD to 1066 AD, or about 650 years. The next period, or Early Renaissance, lasted from 1066 to the last part of the 15thcentury, or another 400 years. While most scholars see a lessening in the Church´s influenced upon art during the latter period if we study the histories of the De Medici family in the late 15th century, especially the case of the genius Michelangelo, who was threatened with both excommunication and death if he did not work directly for the Church in Rome, we can see that this was far from true.

During the first part of the Medieval Period all artists were completely controlled by the Church and kept in Monasteries and other religious houses. All art reflected only Christian subjects, there were no real landscapes, naturalistic art, or sculptures, which the Church considered idolatry. This interpretation of Exodus seems to be a bit confusing however simply because “images” can come in many forms and a statue of God can hardly be seen to be more of an image than a painting of God. This period however only allowed art like paintings, frescoes, illuminated manuscripts, and mosaics to be produced and these were all done in very muted colors and were exclusively Church related. Violation of these strictures could lead to excommunication (essentially a death sentence), or even execution in some extreme cases.

 

In 1066 however, with the invasion of William the Conqueror of England, the art of the period began to slowly change. While the Church´s power spanned the entire Western world, England was several months very dangerous travel from Rome and the Vatican´s influence was not as strong as it was on the European Continent. While many credit the Italians for finally opening up the art world the initial work was actually done by the English, with the creation of Gothic Art, who finally split with Rome at about the same time as the Renaissance officially began in Italy, during the reign of Henry of Tudor, or Henry VIII. During this period brighter colors began to appear, the art of sculpting in various media from marble to bronze, and realism began to appear. Art also began to become much more developed as well. Techniques in perspective, proportion, depicting light and shadow and an actual sense of pictorial space were all in various stages of development.

The next few articles in this series will cover each of these time periods in much greater detail, beginning with the Church´s initial control of all forms of art and following the progress of substance and style until the beginning of the Italian Renaissance. During these discussions we will be covering both the artistic techniques used and the religious and political influences that shaped the art of the day.

Greek Art Was More Than Statues


Greek architecture and statuary can be so overpowering that many people, even those who really enjoy art, neglect the many other forms of visual art produced by the Greeks. The fact is that the groundwork laid by the ancient Greeks in painting were a necessary step for such painters as Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo. In fact, without the Greeks work with fresco painting, Michelangelo would not have been able to finish the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel, which was done in fresco. Fresco is the art of mixing paint directly in with fresh, wet plaster and can be used on both walls and ceilings.

The Greeks loved bright colors and used them liberally. There is a substantial body of evidence that even when they worked stone they painted the work brightly. But they also used floor tiles to create colorful floor and wall mosaics and used the fresco process to create many wonderful wall paintings. These works were incredibly expensive however, some costing more than 10 years wages for the average citizen.

The Greeks Bronze Age works were famous throughout the Western world but most of what was created did not survive. Both Greece and Rome have been rocked by volcanoes, earth quakes, wars and conquests. Most of the work has been destroyed and the details can only be determined from written sources that happened to survive. The sad fact is that nearly all of the surviving pieces can only be found in ancient tombs and underground temples, of which there were many.

 

But the Greeks learned the basics of these arts from the Minoan culture. These people were actually painting murals on the walls of all of the palaces on the island nearly 4,000 years ago. Unfortunately however the island was invaded in the 15th century BC by the Mycenaean people and nearly all of the paintings were buried in the rubble of the palaces. Neither the Minoans or the Greeks actually hung these paintings from the walls. If they had, we might still have many of them today simply because invaders would have stolen them. But they were painted on walls and when the buildings were destroyed, either by war or natural disaster, the paintings were also destroyed. The has been more than one set of Federal Grants issued to study this problem.

The subjects of the paintings were far different however in each culture. The Minoans favored painting either landscapes or some sort of plant or animal. The Greeks on the other hand favored human subjects.

Absurdity to Reality and Back

From the earliest cave paintings and decorative pots, artists have striven for realism. It was not until the Greeks however that men first learned how to perfectly imitate life with art. The Greeks attempted to perfect this until they were finally successful with the “Kritios Boy”, which was the perfect visual representation of a human being yet sculpted. The Greeks would learn a lesson however, upon reaching this pinnacle. They learned that we as human beings are looking for reality in our art. We are looking for exaggeration. Reality was boring essentially and far too common to was art on it. So instead of being happy with their success Greek artists sought an entirely new way of looking at art. In the Greek mind men were all endowed with a spark of the divine. This spark should be properly represented in not only creating the truly realistic human figure but one with the exaggerated aspects of deity.

 

While the Greeks continued in this hyper realistic for a brief period, producing such masterpieces as Zeus of Artemiseion, the bulk of artists began looking for nearly subliminal ways to exaggerate their creations in meaningful but nearly imperceptible ways. But there are many different aspects to this that need to be understand about the time period that this was happening. The artists of the day worked in sometime brutal conditions. There were no scholarships to be had and if you were lucky enough to find a patron you might just as easily found your way into slavery. The tiny nation had recently began a novel new political experiment however and this would actually encourage the development of art.

Surrounded by three Continents, all ruled over by Tyrannical Dictators, A small City-Stateon a windswept plain decided that the best way to rule their passionate people was not with a single strong arm with with the arms of all citizens. The Greeks were by nature a very passionate people but were also a very rational people. The only way for a democracy to work was for all citizens to learn to discipline themselves and control their baser instincts. This sense of control led to perfection but it was the Greeks rationalist outlook that led to them taking the next step into abstraction-ism, which would lead to a great number of advances in art throughout the centuries.

 

The Greeks discovered that people do not like to look at things that look like them. So in subsequent sculptures they began to exaggerate certain features. Feet and hands sometimes became larger or smaller, noses extended, muscles bulged slightly beyond the human potential, breasts grew to sometimes immense proportions, all became the norm instead of the exception. This lead to the creation of sculptures that were human, but more than human in someways. In a sense, this was the Greeks first success in merging man´s humanity with his essentially divine nature.

Joanna Beaumont is also a guest writer today and has several blogs she writes for. Among them are ScholarshipScouts.org , Ezine Articles, and Buzzle.

Scholarships and the Classical Period

This article will focus on two subjects because they are interrelated. During the Archaic Period art was limited to temples and churches with small amounts, for instance pottery, drifting into households. This trend lasted until somewhat after the Greek and Roman periods and into what is known as the Classical Period. It was during this period that art began to be appreciated in its own right and different systems began to develop until today when many organizations, including government agencies, give scholarships and grants solely for studying art and art history. Prospective art students can qualify for traditional grants and loans like Perkins and Stafford, or even strange scholarships like the L. Ron Hubbard Illustrators of the Future Scholarship.

It was during the Classical period that the cultures of Greek and Rome became fully integrated and art flourished. Not only did we see a great expansion in the visual arts, painting and sculpting, but the performing arts and written arts began to fully develop. The Greeks are famous for their tragedies and playwrights like Aeschylus, Ovid, Homer, flourished in Greece and Rome, entertaining the rich and poor alike. We can still see the influence of the Greco-Roman culture in our world today and its effect was felt from the British Isles to the ancient Orient.

This process continued for nearly 1,000 years until the Christian Church seized control of the far flung Roman Empire and, protecting their teachings from any question by scholars. One of the main areas attacked by the clerics was art and any art, whether visual, spoken or written, had to by law, feature the teachings of the Church and any art that did not was destroyed and the artist in many cases put to death.

The Dark Ages lasted from about 500 AD until the late 14th century when the head of one powerful family in Florence, Italy decided to challenge the power of the Church by encouraging art and intellectualism. Cosimo de’ Medici, and later his grandson, Lorenzo de’ Medici (1449–1492), also called “the Magnificent” sponsored such artists and scientists as Brunelleschi, who designed the first free standing dome since the ancient Greeks,Michelangelo Buonarroti, whose life was threatened by the Church to compel him to paint only religious art, Galileo Galilei, who the Church accused of Heresy for proving his Heliocentric view of Creation, and the Grand Master himself, Leonardo da Vinci , whose contributions to both art and science are still being studied today. Da Vinci was in fact the first painter to successfully incorporate shadows in his paintings.

Our next article will cover the Classical Period in a great deal more detail and cover the period on a global scale.

The Greeks and Art

The end of the Minoan civilization many of the Minoan art forms flowed to the north and west and into the Aegean Islands and Greek mainland. The exact date cannot be accurately established but the period known as the Greek Dark Ages contains the Geometric style, the first of the Greek art period and this style had a great many similarities toMinoan styles. Not a great deal is known about the Geometric Period but the next three periods, the Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic, in Greek art development became so popular that examples can be found in styles from as far away as Japan. One of the main reasons for this was the territorial expansion of Alexander the Great, who conquered Persia and nearly India as well. At that time much of the country was Buddhist and the art styles introduced by Alexander´s armies traveled east through Asia to the Pacific Ocean. Many of these styles are still used today by every culture visited by any of the invaders from those regions, from Alexander to Caesar and Augustus and beyond. Many government buildings in the Western world were built on architectural concepts developed in cities like Athens and Lydia Milena ago.

Any degree programs in art or art history will teach that these periods eventually blended into each other and the development of actual communities of artists and regions of art styles, not replacing each other, they merely blending and added to each other. The Greeks had, for instance, five different styles of pottery which were developed over about a 500 year period prior to 1000 BC. The Greeks also worked heavily with metals, brass and bronze mostly, when making vessels and created highly ornamented cups, vases, plates and other objects. During one period a single art sanctuary was able to produce thousands of metal vessels in a single year.

The Greeks also perfected the art of statues, from the small terracotta votive s. The Greeks like to work with high quality lime-stones, like marble, but from smaller pieces they often used terracotta. These small figures were known as “tanagra” figures and were very popular from 400-300 BC and the styles can be traced directly to the Minoan culture.

While the ancient Egyptians started the first real paintings they used large walls and painted epic scenes. The Greeks brought the scale down a great deal with the development “panel paintings” on pieces of wood using either colored wax or tempura. During this period both statutory art and architecture were also colorfully painted but did not survive until modern times. And finally, while not invented in Greece, the art of coinage was perfected by the Greeks and the style they invented 3000 years ago is still the most widely used style in the world today. The Persians were the first people to put profiles on coins but the Greeks were the first to use real, and even sometimes still living people, as models for anything other than statues.

Ars Gratia Artis: Art for Arts Sake

The next jump in mankind´s relationship with art did not come until the development of pottery. There were some developments in jewelry art but this was exclusively made for religious purposes, this type of “art”, because it was reserved for only a tiny percentage of the population, cannot be considered a divergence of form.

Sometime around the year 3,500 BC the Egyptians developed techniques to glaze their pottery and this led to the art known as Faience. Faience was a thin glassing of pottery, which allowed artists to first use paints do produce designs on the material, which was actually not clay but a quartz like substance, end up with a beautifully designed exterior. While the designs were nearly exclusively religious, its use was not limited to priestly use and all of the people in ancient Egypt were intensely religious. But there are examples of early art in North Africa from as early as 300,000 BCE, little statues that show signs of having been painted as well. The earliest of these was found in Morocco and while they are considered “art”, the stones used were more than likely chosen because of their natural appearance and very little actual tool work is visible.

Much of the art still existing today from before the Christian era was done using sculpting or carving techniques. There may be a couple of reasons for this. Paintings, unless done on a mineral, or even wood, usually do not survive the test of time very well. Another reason is that cultures then were constantly being invaded and invaders usually destroyed any art with religious connections and mineral iconography is much more likely to have survived simply because it is more durable. But from North Africa to Sumer and Babylon, even to the nomadic people in the North Central Asian Steppes, we see many examples of carvings and sculpturing that were painted. The surviving ancient Greek and Roman sculptures that we see as white were originally painted.

The Minoan Civilization however seems to be the first to start breaking out of the religious motifs when they developed the art of fresco and mosaic design. This use of geometric forms instead of religious symbology was a relatively new and revolutionary concept and the practice spread to things like pottery, which began to show scenes depicting animals, flowers, birds and nature scenes. The Minoans actually developed six different forms of potter alone, including some that are still used today by local artists from Greece to Crete. There are several excellent online school courses that teach complete classes exclusively on Minoan Art simply because this culture broke several barriers.

So now, with the perspective of time, we can see art coming down from cave walls and at the same time becoming almost exclusively religious in nature, and then redefining itself again in more populist forms. As we move forward however we will find that they history of Art has had several similar cycles and we will be able to do a more in depth study on not only the types of art but on the artists themselves.

Man Extends His World by Describing it.

Human kind has two main ways to explain the world around it: Art and religion. The fact that these two often intermix should come as no surprise to anyone seeking a college degree in either history or art. We know that from the earliest cave paintings that men used art to know only describe the world around them, mostly in highly symbolic terms, but also his relationship, through that world to the powers he believed moved the Universe. The most common, and still surviving, pieces of art are cave paintings. These paintings mostly features wildlife and images of nature, but many also had strong religious overtones.

The oldest of these paintings yet discovered are in Chauvet-Pont-de Arc, France, and were not actually found until late 1994 by a trio of spelunkers. While this region contains a great number of caves, this particular cave is most certainly the largest and is thought have been used as a central gathering place for quite a large community, many of whom actually lived in other parts of the valley. The paintings here also show a distinct break from other art of the period in that they include pictures of 13 different species of animal, some now extinct and the bones of these animals were found near the paintings themselves, indicating that the artist actually used the animals as models. This is the most logical conclusion since many of these animals were not traditionally used as food animals during that period. This break also indicates a extension from art as a practical tool to art for arts sake and, again, possibly a very early connection with art to religion. Since most of the animals were not food animals and we know that religions of the time were nature based, we can assume that the none food animals might have been connected to spirits of some type.

But Europe was not the only continent that this type of painting was found. In Baja, California, Mexico, there are numerous examples of cave art. There is a great deal of speculation as to when men first penetrated the North American Continent from Asia, and in some cases, whether it was even exclusively from Asia, but these painting are estimated to have been done over a period of between 600 and 1,500 years ago and, artistically at any rate, are much more complex than any of the paintings found in Chauvet. Along with the animal depictions there were also drawings of humans in various poses, some even with arrows drawn across their bodies in what appears to either represent either war or some type of black magic. Another unusual aspect of the human figures in Baja is their total lack of facial features or gender.

 

In other regions, lack of cave walls did not stop budding artists. Eastern Europe, particularly saw a great many attempts at early sculpturing and engraving using stone, ivory and wood. The early peoples of Siberia and Scandinavia and Arctic North American created a tradition of “scrimshaw” or tiny fine drawings on bone and ivory, some of which still exists today. When we follow arts history through the development of mankind, we can trace its grow and expansion into sentient beings not only conscious of the world around them but with a driving desire to understand and explain it.