STUDY DAYS

Wednesday 16 October 2019

The Genius of Leonardo da Vinci

By Guy Rooker FRCS

Study for the Kneeling Leda at Chatsworth

Guy Rooker’s background, perhaps unusually for an Arts Society Lecturer, is not in the Arts but the world of science in general and surgery in particular. He describes himself as a retired orthopaedic surgeon with a lifelong passion, fascination and admiration for the work of Leonardo da Vinci. He considers Leonardo’s contribution to the world of Art and the investigation of scientific concepts to be quite unique and extraordinary; so many of his pioneering investigations have contributed to the understanding of our world today.

This study day focuses on Leonardo da Vinci, painter and draughtsman of the High Renaissance, whose works were informed by scientific investigation. The structure of the day consists of three sequential lectures covering his life and works.

Leonardo, who had no formal education, observed the world closely describing nature as his teacher. He believed that art was based on a scientific interpretation of everything depicted.

Leonardo’s productivity as an artist was poor with less than twenty paintings in his working lifetime a number of which remain unfinished. These will be reviewed together with his compositional approach, depth of image, experimentation with traditional methods of representation, and techniques of tenebrism, sfumato and chiaroscuro.

Leonardo believed that art was based on a scientific understanding of everything depicted and that accurate representation depended on him getting under the skin and into the mind of his subjects. He also believed that the hand could be as expressive as the face and acknowledged that this was the organ through which an artist expressed himself.  He was the first to produce extraordinarily accurate drawings of human anatomy which form the basis of all modern medical practice.

Leonardo used his talents of draughtsmanship and astute sense of observation in his scientific drawings making an incredible contribution to our early understanding of anatomy, cartography, warfare, flight, and engineering to name but a few. It would take centuries of scientific investigation and technology to catch up with his thoughts.

Leonardo would not have been able to achieve so much had he been born earlier.  He was the right man in the right place at the right time.  He was justifiably described by Kenneth Clarke as the most relentlessly curious man of all time.

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Virgin and Child with St Anne
The Virgin and Child with St Anne and St John the Baptist