As one of history’s most famous Renaissance painters, Leonardo da Vinci, used advanced techniques and innovative methods to create his world-famous works of art. From detailed landscapes to advanced anatomy, Leonardo Da Vinci defined what it meant to be a master of technique and expertise. Although commissioned for countless works, he created a lifetime of renowned pieces, including his own notes, diagrams, and practice papers, as well as some of the most well-known pieces of art in the world. Many of his pieces now live in museum collections around the world, making frequent appearances in movies, pop culture, and literature. Here are just six of Leonardo da Vinci’s most notable paintings:
Mona Lisa (La Gioconda) – 1503- 1506 circa and after
- Oil on poplar panel, 77 x 53 cm
- Paris, Musée du Louvre
- The most famous painting in the world depicts Lisa Gherardini, a Florentine lady of the time. Leonardo began working on it in 1503 and continued to return to it until his death. The painting followed its author throughout his life. To the perfect execution, Leonardo adds an impeccable atmosphere that ties the subject in the foreground to the background and contributes to giving the image of the woman an aura of extreme psychological introspection. The Mona Lisa is one of the first portraits depicting the subject in front of an imaginary landscape. It is interesting to notice how the landscape is not uniform: the left side is lower than the right. Some critics think for this reason that it was a later addition.
Last Supper – 1494-1498 circa
- Tempera and oil on two layers of chalk on plaster with residues of gold trim, 460 x 880 cm.
- Milan, Santa Maria Delle Grazie, refectory.
- In 1494 Leonardo was entrusted by Ludovico Sforza with the decoration of the refectory of Santa Maria Delle Grazie in Milan with a Last Supper. The master dedicated himself to this job with great passion. He did not love the fresco technique, for the speed needed for its execution was not compatible with his constant afterthought, the additions and the small changes of his modus operandi. Thus he developed a new technique that would enhance his qualities: the rendering of transparency, the light effects, and his manic attention to detail. In 1498 the work was completed but it immediately began to deteriorate: in the lower left-hand corner, you could already see a crack. The technique he had used was not compatible with the dampness of the wall. However, though damaged, the painting emanates an unparalleled allure.
The Virgin and Child with St. Anne and the lamb – 1503 circa, 1508-1510 and later
- Oil on poplar panel, 73 x 56,5 cm
- Paris, Musée du Louvre
- We are not certain when Leonardo began to work on this piece, but we know that in 1517 it was located in his home in Clos-Lucé. The work represents three generations of Christ’s family: Saint Anne, her daughter Mary, and the baby Jesus. The composition, rich in allegorical meaning, is modelled in a pyramidal structure, as were many Renaissance works, with the peak in Saint Anne’s head. Her benevolent gaze is turned on Mary and Jesus. Symbolically she represents the Church that, condemning Mary’s motherly apprehension, reaffirms the necessity of Jesus’s voluntary sacrifice. The light is suffused and the atmospheric effects tie the monumental figures in the foreground to the vast landscape in the background, with a high horizon fading into a very light hue.
The Virgin of the Rocks – 1483-1486 circa
- Oil on panel, transferred to canvas, 199 x 122 cm.
- Paris, Musée du Louvre
- The Virgin of the Rocks is da Vinci’s first documented work in Milan: he worked on it from 1483 to 1486 and, with the help of his students, produced a second version between 1491 and 1508. The scene depicts the encounter of young Jesus and John the Baptist, an episode that isn’t recounted in canonical Gospels but comes from Serapion’s Life of John the Baptist, from the Apocrypha, and from other devotional books. The figures emerge from the dark background in a diffused light typical of Leonardo’s sfumato, which creates an enveloping atmosphere. The painting seems to conceal the mystery of the Immaculate Conception, with the rocky cavern representing the mother’s womb. The symbolism of rock is tied to Jesus’s purifying mission on earth. The colours are darker than those used by Leonardo in the later version of this work, but the light is definitely warmer.
The Baptism of Christ – 1470-1473
- Tempera and oil on poplar panel, 179,5 x 152,5 cm
- Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi
- This work was produced when Verrocchio’s workshop was the most famous in Florence. The composition and the two main figures, the Christ and the Baptist, were painted by the master. Three collaborations have been verified: a more mediocre one for the schematic figure of the palm to the left and the rocky landscape to the right; another (possibly a young Botticelli) for the face of the front-facing angel; and the contribution of Leonardo, at the time an apprentice of the workshop. His is the profile of the angel on the left where we notice the characteristic sfumato style, but also the transparent oil patina uniting the planes of the landscape in the background and softening Christ’s body. His is also the veiled landscape to the left.
Portrait of Ginevra Benci – 1474-1475 circa
- Tempera and oil on poplar panel, 38,1 x 37 cm
- Washington D.C., National Gallery of Art
- Ginevra de Benci was the daughter of banker Amerigo di Giovanni de’ Benci, a family to which Leonardo was tied for a long time. In an indefinite period, a third of the painting was severed, removing the hands that had probably been damaged. Originally the proportions of the portrait were similar to those of the Mona Lisa. In this painting, Leonardo measures himself with the delicate luminescence and the analytic colouring of Flemish painting: the shadow of the juniper enhances Ginevra’s pale face and the lightness of her hairdo evolves in her gown and in the backdrop, in a masterful chromatic continuum. The landscape in the distance offers all the elements held dear by the painter: bodies of water, bell towers and pointed towers, mountains, all shrouded in the blue tones of the aerial perspective.