Posts Tagged ‘mature’


Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code reminded us of all the classes we slept through:  Latin, French, the Merovingians,  St. Paul’s Letters to the Ephesians, the Crusades, comparative religion, infinite series, et al.  Oh, and art history.  At one point Prof. Langdon explains that sfumato is the technique invented by Leonardo by which he softens the contour of a form to make the form look more three-dimensinional, rather than like a cut out delineated by a consistent LeoardoSfumatoMonaLisaline. (Fumo in Italian means smoke.) Sfumato eliminates the line as a way of distinguishing one thing from another. It means that everything is related to everything around it and the eye flows through the image and sees interrelatedness on the canvas as it does in real life. This is huge. It makes the image life-like and I would go so far as to call it a consciousness-raising technique.

Leonardo da Vinci (1453-1519) in his treatise on painting techniques repeatedly warns artists not to trace out the form with outlines.  This is an admonition that he himself only sometimes managed to heed.  Sfumato was more a goal than an achievement for him. He almost certainly directed the criticism at his younger contemporary, Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510), who was fond of outlining his delicate figures with a BotticelliVenuscontinuous black line. High school students love Botticelli but when we mature a bit, we embrace Leonardo’s idea more and more.  Sfumato.  It’s not that smoke gets in your eyes, it’s that the adult perception of reality grapples with interrelatedness—conceptually much richer and technically much more difficult.

Sfumato is applicable to both painting and drawing.  It’s easier to see how it would work with paint since you can blend and push the paint around to create soft effects.  But in drawing, also, the form can be liberated from the enclosing (strangling!?) line through the use of shadows and negative space.  More on that next time, with examples from students’ work.

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.




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