Humanism in the Paintings of Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is admired because of the harmony represented in linking humanity and nature. This portrait expresses the ideas of the Renaissance and humanism. Humanism is the cultural and intellectual movement during the Renaissance that rediscovers the art and literature techniques used in ancient Greece and Rome. Humanism focuses on the self and what it means to be human.

Leonardo da Vinci created his own chiaroscuro technique called sfumato. Sfumato gives the Mona Lisa the soft blurring edges that create the subtle value gradations. Shadows and hazy lighting give the portrait its shapes and volumes, and with varnish, it created a smoky atmosphere around the figure. Leonardo da Vinci used a three quarters pose instead of a profile, softening the frontal symmetry of the woman’s body. In ancient Rome, portraits of individuals were common, but the practice was unknown during the medieval period. Humanism made it, so people felt worthy of having a portrait done of themselves. His techniques relate to the early Renaissance because of his use of chiaroscuro which is “the gradations of light and dark values in two-dimensional imagery,” it gives the illusion of a rounded, three-dimensional shape.

Mona Lisa’s smile along with the landscape make this portrait seem strange to those who view it. Her smile is a faint half smile, paired with her lack of eyebrows, it makes her expression hard to read. This causes a psychological complexity to those who view it. She has no eyebrows because plucked eyebrows was in style at the time. The landscapes on either side of her do not match and seem uninhabitable and other worldly. Leonardo da Vinci loved this portrait so much that he kept it, instead of giving it to them man it was commissioned for.

The Mona Lisa was always regarded as a masterpiece in the art world but received world wide attention in 1911 when she was stolen from The Louvre, she was returned two years later. The Mona Lisa was a portrait that would influence Florentine portraits for the next two decades. Leonardo da Vinci created a formula and made this portrait monumental, lively, concrete and poetic over the portraits of his predecessors. Portraits of the past seemed to have lacked soul and mysteriousness.

The portrait of La Belle Ferronniere, is credited to Leonardo da Vinci, but experts are not sure if it is his work because of the differences it has compared to his other portraiture works. It was created around 1495. The painting is of Lucrezia Crivelli, a mistress of Duke Ludovico Sforza. Her pose is stiff, and her features are thicker and heavier than Leonardo da Vinci’s other works. The cords around her neck and the ribbons on her shoulders do give a resemblance to his other works. This portrait has Lucrezia Crivelli in an unnatural pose, but it shows off her gown and jewelry. It is possible that this portrait was done by an apprentice of Leonardo da Vinci, or by students of the School of Leonardo.