The Legend of Leonardo da Vinci we have opted out the 10 best paintings by the ample artist, who painted little but, his productions were absolutely astonishing.
Leonardo worked in the most fields of arts expanding them to new heights. Not only arts, but he also helped many other fields to expand including military, mechanism, robotics, medical, architecture and many different types of machines.
Due to his interest in almost every field, he was able to give keen attention but moderate time to each of them. This hunger to learn from variety of sources made him jump from one subject to another continuously. Though, he learned a lot.
Thus, unlike other artist who produces hundreds of great works in painting (including all types of painting); Leonardo’s oeuvre doesn’t even reach to the figure of 100. Even many of them are disputed for his true painter. Thus, we are left to choose from very little number of paintings.
Here is our list of Leonardo’s top ten paintings according to its paintings style, fame and importance throughout the time.
10. St John the Baptist
Generally accepted as his last masterpiece, St John the Baptist consists all the experience and ability Leonardo had gathered over the time. In the painting, St. John the Baptist’ (cousin of Jesus) stance gives the sign towards the heaven by pointing the finger upwards. He looks enigmatic and joyous. His smile resembling the smile of Mona Lisa is also full of charm. He is been depicted in curly hair and dressed in pelts (clothes woven out of fur). In his left hand he is holding a cross made out of reed wood, which isn’t very clear due to the darkness.
A little dispute about the painting is the model Leonardo used. There are some arguments that Leonardo used Salai, one of his pupil and his lifelong servant. The dispute is about Leonardo’s relations with Salai and their sexuality. Though, the claims have no sure evidences.
Bacchus is another painting by Leonardo in which he used Salai as the model. The feminine expressions and body-language of the character has intrigued some scholars to doubt about Salai’s sexuality.
Disputes apart, the last master-piece by the greatest artist of all the time represents refined perfection in every part.
9. Benois Madonna
Benois Madonna is one of the two Madonnas Leonardo started to work upon in 1478 as he states in his notes: “‘ber 1478, I began the 2 Virgin Marys.” Though, the unclear month noted by the last three letters, puts a little disagreement between scholars about in which month Leonardo started to work on the Marys. The month varies in different books by different authors being October or December.
Name of the painting derives from its last private owner Leon Benois. It is a work form the painter’s early age is also titled as the first independent work apart from his master Verrocchio. By scientific studies, it has been revealed that, the window in the background had a view of beautiful landscape which was replaced by the plain sky later on. This type of alteration is called Pentimento.
Although, being inexperienced, Leonardo has done a great job in that painting, as after the revelation of the painting to the general public, many other artists copied the work numerous times including one of the renaissance masters Raphael. His creation inspired by the work is called Madonna of the Pinks.
That tells us what great caliber Leonardo had for art of painting from his early days.
Lady with an Ermine is not as much celebrated work of Leonardo as Mona Lisa, but the included pure and confirmed symbolism by the artist, his early use of Sfumato technique (which has supposedly made Mona Lisa’s smile mysterious) and painting the lady’s face in a unique way which is called by experts as “Psychological portraiture” has made the art work a big break-through in Leonardo’s career as well as in his artistic expedition. The work is considered to be an important milestone in Leonardo’s career. It was executed in 1490, roughly 13 years before Leonardo commenced his grand work, the masterpiece Mona Lisa in 1503.
7. The Madonna of the Yarnwinder
Madonna of the Yarnwinder, having one of the best compositions by Leonardo which was copied by numerous artist of the time, also consist heavy symbolism.
Madonna is holding the child Jesus who has a yarnwinder. The whole subject is focused on Jesus holding the yarnwinder. Scholars have derived two symbolic meanings: the yarn indicates towards Jesus’s crucifixion in later years as the yarn has the similar form of a crucifixion cross; other meaning indicates about Madonna’s home-life.
There are two versions of the painting. One is said to be painted by Leonardo, while another was painted by his pupils at the same time when the first one was painted by Leonardo. Some scientific studies shows striking similarities between underdrawings of the paintings, which tell that Leonardo helped in the second version painted by his pupils.
6. La Belle Ferronniere
This one has an interesting story. The lady depicted in the painting was the mistress of the Duke of Mila, Lodovico ‘il Moro, while she was married to another man. Out of anger, the husband deliberately infected himself with syphilis and transferred it to her wife and ultimately to the Duke by her wife.
This one lists in the only four women depicted by Leonardo. She was a daughter of an Ironmonger (or a Ferronnier, someone who sells hardware). The painting is known for its fine color composition, which brings a subtle and distinctive look to the subject.
5. Madonna Litta
This painting is also renowned for its composition which was copied by various artist just like Leonardo’s other works. Some art-historians claims the painting to be complete by Leonardo’s pupil when Leonardo left the painting unfinished when he received much more important commission for an Adoration of the Magi. The name of the pupil is Boltraffio. Scholars were intrigued to bring Boltraffio’s name in the painting due to the baby Jesus’s awkward position, for which Boltraffio is known. He depicted his subjects being awkwardly sat or stood.
But, these are assumption based on Boltraffio’s unclear notes in his notebook as well as Leonardo’s arrival in Milan during the time. Though, it is a largely accepted work done by Leonardo himself.
The composition of Mother Mary nursing infant Jesus became very popular after the revelation of the painting and many other artists copied it the almost same subject and same disposition with minor changes such as altering the background or the colors.
4. The Virgin and the Child with St Anne
This one is Leonardo’s one of the most famous and researched painting for which are some theories available. It also intrigues the scholars by the characters’ weird positioning which clearly doesn’t relate to any current or contemporary customs and meanings or symbolisms.
Virgin is sitting in her mother St. Anne’s lap. This position wasn’t much popular or had any particular meaning at the time neither there has been any references for the manner of sitting. Scholars fail to find why Leonardo would have such position in the painting as well as in his drawing The Virgin and Child with St Anne and St John the Baptist.
Most logical meaning derived is that the positioning shows the mother-daughter relation between the characters even though there is no visual portrayal about their generation gap. St. Anne’s figure is also portrayed visually bigger than the virgin.
The painting is considered one of the best examples of Leonardo’s ample art-technics.
3. Virgin of the Rocks (or Madonna of the Rocks)
Virgin of the rocks has two versions: Louvre and London. The Louvre version is brighter and consist a significant difference than the London version of the painting, the pointing finger of the archangel Gabriel. In the Louvre version the archangel seems to pointing towards the little St. John the Baptist, while the London version doesn’t have that gesture. Though, London version is blessed with Leonardo’s famous painting technique of Sfumato which gives it the special look and feel as his work.
After Mona Lisa, The Last supper is Leonardo’s most famous, talked about, controversial and written about painting. It is a fresco actually, painted on the wall of Church Santa Maria Della Grazie, Milan. It was completed in 1498 and spreads about 181×346 feet on the wall which equals to 15×29 feet almost. It is a big picture and also has big impact on the art-lovers and art-historians of the world due the many conspiracy theories about Jesus’s relation with Mary Magdalene, who is supposed to be sitting beside Jesus on his right side. Another supposition is that Leonardo has hidden the “Holy Grail” in the painting somewhere, even though there is no apparent chalice painted by the artist. There are many theories, books and movies are based on the painting with similar subject.
1. Mona Lisa
There is nothing to wonder that Mona Lisa is the most famous and talked about painting by Leonard on the list. It is officially proclaimed as the most seen painting in the world. Even if you are not an art-lover, chances are you have seen it in one way or another, or even as a parody version for the painting. Mona Lisa is the height of Leonardo’s fame and as well as his artistic ability. Her charismatic smile mesmerizing thousands of researchers is still undefined as a complete smile. The Sfumato technique is playing a big role in the smile. Though, deliberately or unintentionally, Leonardo has created a masterpiece, on little poplar panel of 30×21 inches by mere colors, which is just not going to be forgotten. Period.
The honorable mentions are Ginerva de’ Benci, Sala delle Asse, Portrait of a Musician and Madonna of the Carnation, which are also similarly important and well-known, but could’t make on the list as the enlisted ones had some winning edge.
We haven’t listed the The Annunciation and The baptism of Christ, because those woks are not fully Leonardo’s. He contributed in them for little portions while being an apprentice to Verrocchio. And his known drawings like St. Jerome in the Wilderness, The Virgin and Child with St Anne and St John the Baptist and Head of a Woman, weren’t considered just because those are not paintings.