Thursday, 20 August 2015

da Vinci's smile technique

La Bella Principessa, Leonardo da Vinci
The Scientific American blog has an interesting piece: "A Second da Vinci Smile Has Been Discovered". It is claimed that the Mona Lisa smile was no accident as the recently discovered da Vinci uses a similar visual technique. This is not to be confused with painting techniques, the two works are very different in that respect. The Mona Lisa is an oil painted by the glazing technique in which multiple transparent glazes build up to the complete image. Each glaze is smoothed out with a badger's hair blender which looks like the head of a shaving brush except that the business end is flat and it has a typical paint brush handle. The brush is bounced repeatedly on the panel while the handle is rotated. The recently discovered da Vinci is in what we would call a mixed technique today.

We do know that da Vinci puttered around painting the Mona Lisa for a very long time and I think it more likely that the original effect was a happy accident that he adapted as a deliberate effect later. It might even have been due to overworking the painting. I would think it would be impossible to predict the exact end result of multiple transparent glazes, so in trying for an effect by using multiple glazes when such an effect had never been attempted before might well have, at the very least, been a trial and error process. So I think that he probably noticed an accidental effect and then worked to emphasize that effect. For the second work, I think he knew where he wanted to go with it and then developed the mixed technique to get there more directly. He certainly did experiment with his techniques, and not always successfully. I feel that my variation in the interpretation better expresses both the ways da Vinci worked and his personality.

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