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Style and composition can be considered essential characteristics of paintings with regard to all periods in the history of arts. Some artists prefer to use definite colors to identify the mood and the primary meaning of a certain allegory or a set of images in the picture, while others try to compose the same images in a definite way in order to make all their features clear without use of definite colors. Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti can be regarded as the first artists that implemented the color, composition, chiaroscuro, sfumato, and other techniques in pictures as a set of methods to create a certain expression and to reveal a certain meaning.
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci can be considered one of the greatest artists and the innovator in the area of painting; he “… appears to have established character on physiognomy, and to have seen the first vision of chiaroscuro, though he did not penetrate the full extent of its charm…” (Wornum, et al., 2008, p.533). His picture “Madonna Litta” is a vivid expression of such techniques as composition, color, perspective, chiaroscuro, sfumato, gesture, and symbolism.
Leonardo’s use of the painterly technique, coupled with his invention of sfumato and ‘tonal unity’, led him to initiate a powerful new structural composition achieved by organizing areas of dark and light, rather than patterns of color. This innovation may have been the most important structural idea in the history of Western Art (Dunning, 1991, p.79).
The woman who is intended to be Madonna with a baby is depicted against the background of two windows; because of the light from the windows we cannot see the wall behind her. This allows the observers judge upon the implied meaning of windows or eyes; we can see the whole world in those deep blue eyes full of lightness and inspiration. Her mantlet is blue as well as the landscape in the distance; the color of her mantlet harmonizes with the color of mountains and the sky; and nothing seems to be more important than a baby in her arms. “In Leonardo’s paintings, the areas of light value are not just warm; examining the original paintings makes it obvious that they are also thicker and more opaque. The dark areas are cooler, thinner, and more transparent.” (Dunning, 1991, p.81).
Another great artist that contributed greatly to the development of techniques related to the use of color and composition is Michelangelo Buonarroti. His picture “Doni Tondo” presents the image of Madonna with a baby. All the people in the distance are just a background depicted in light colors, almost transparent which makes the observers believe that the middle of the canvas was prepared for Madonna and her child, though the woman’s clothes are brighter than the images in the distance. In this case the author had chosen the color to emphasize the main character of his story. The warm and cool colors are used in order to create an effective background to insert the image of the main figure there; all the colors of the woman’s clothes are cooler than those of the environment. She is depicted in the movement and all her gestures are directed to her baby, her eyes and her hands are searching for her child.
The image of Madonna can be considered one of the most popular in the period of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. These two authors contributed to the use of different techniques concerning color; they started creating images with the help of sfumato instead of clear outlines.
Buonarroti, M. (1507). “Doni Tondo.” Uffizi, Florence. In Wikipedia. Web.
Da Vinci, L. (1490). “Madonna Litta.” Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg. In Wikipedia. Web.
Dunning, W. V. (1991). Changing Images of Pictorial Space: A History of Spatial Illusion in Painting. New York: Syracuse University Press
Wornum, R. N., Barry, J., Opie, J., & Fuseli, H. (2008). Lectures on Painting. London: H.G. Bohn