Mark Harden's Artchive


Selected notes on Painting

The Difference between Painting and Sculpture

"The painter must keep ten things in mind to ensure the success of his work.- namely, light, shadow, colour, volume, form, placing, distance, proximity movement and repose."

"The sculptor must consider only volume, form, placing, movement and repose. He does not have to concern himself with light or shadow, for nature produces them herself in his sculptures. Nor with colour. As to distance and proximity, he attends to them only a little. He uses linear perspective, not that of the colours, in spite of variations in colour and sharpness of the contours according to their distance from the eye."

"Sculpture is a simpler form of statement and requires less mental effort than painting."

Literature and drawing

"What words can you find, 0 writer, to equal in your description the complete figure rendered here by drawing? Because of your ignorance of the latter, you have only a confused description and can give only a feeble idea of the true form of things,, you are deluded when you think that you can fully satisfy your audience when it comes to evoking a mass enveloped by a surface."

"I enjoin you not to encumber yourself with words, unless you address yourself to the blind; - if you want to address yourself through words to the ear, and not to the eye, discuss such things as substance and nature; - do not trouble yourself with things of the eye, to try and make them pass through the ear; - you would be far surpassed in this by painting."

"With which words would you describe this heart without filling an entire volume? The more detail you give, the more confusion you will create in your audience,, you will need commentaries or references to experience, but in your case there is not much of it, and it touches on only a few aspects of the subject you would encompass completely."

"He who despises painting loves neither knowledge nor nature."

"If you despise painting, which alone can imitate all that is visible in nature, you most certainly despise a subtle invention which, by its complex and philosophical reasoning, examines the quality of forms, oceans, places, plants, animals, grass, flowers, all bathed in light and shadow. And this knowledge is truly the legitimate daughter of nature, for it was engendered by nature, but, to be exact, we shall call it the granddaughter of nature, for nature has produced all visible things, and from them painting is born. We shall therefore rightly call it the granddaughter of nature, related to God."

Variety of characters in compositions with figures

"In compositions with figures, the characters must differ in complexion, age, colour, attitude, corpulence, build, fat, thin, tall, short, proud, courteous, old, young, strong and muscular, weak and with few muscles, happy, melancholic, with curly or straight hair, short or long; - with alert or vulgar movements; - and vary the costumes and colours and all other things necessary for this composition. It is a cardinal sin for the painter to create faces that look alike, and the repetition of gestures is also a great fault."

The mirror is the painters' master

"To see if your painting conforms to what you are depicting, take a mirror and look at the reflection of the model in it, then compare this reflection with your painting, and examine closely the entire surface to see if the two objects are similar. Since the mirror can, through line, light and shadow create an illusion of relief, you, who have among your paints, shadows and light that are stronger than those in the mirror, if you know how to combine them, your work will doubtless appear similar to reality as seen in a large mirror."

Painting and its elements

"Painting consists of two main parts: the first is form, that is to say, the line which defines the forms of bodies and their details; - and the second is colour which is enclosed by line borders."

"Painting consists of two main parts; - the outline which surrounds the forms and painted objects, which we call drawing,- and shadow. But drawing is of such excellence that it explores not only the works of nature, but also an infinity of others beyond it... Thus we would conclude that drawing is not only knowledge but also the divine power capable of reproducing all of the Almighty's works that are visible."

Against the Greek manner

"The most praiseworthy form of painting is the one that most resembles what it imitates. I say this against painters who presume to correct the works of nature, those, for example, who depict a one-year-old infant, whose head should be one fifth of its height, and who make it one eighth; - and while the width of its shoulders is equal to that of the head, they make the head half as wide as the shoulders, and in this way, they endow a small one-year-old child with the proportions of a man of thirty. And they have so often seen and practised this error, and its use has become so ingrained in their corrupt judgement that they persuade themselves that nature and those who imitate nature are guilty of a gross error for not doing as they do."

Light and shadow

"Shadow is the absence of light or simply the opposition of opaque bodies that intercept the rays of light. Shadow is of the nature of darkness; - light is of the nature of splendour. They are always combined on the body, and shadow is more powerful than light, for it can completely exclude light and deprive bodies of it entirely while light can never eliminate all shadows from bodies, at least from opaque bodies."

"Shadows can be infinitely obscure or display an infinity of nuances in the light tones."

"Shadows are the manifestation by bodies of their forms."

"The forms of bodies would not show their particularities without shadow."

"Shadows should always partake of the colour of the bodies they conceal."

"No object appears to us in its natural whiteness, because the place in which it is seen makes it, for the eye, seem more or less white according to whether the place is more or less dark. We learn this, for example, from the moon, which in daytime appears with so little brightness in the sky, and at night with such brightness that it disperses darkness like the sun or daylight. This is due to two things- the tendency of nature to show coloured images more perfectly, the more different the colours,' and, secondly the pupil is larger at night than in daytime, as has been proved..."

Linear perspective

"Perspective is the rational law according to which experience shows us that all ob ects send their images to the eye following pyramidal trajectories,- and bodies of the same size will make more or less narrow pyramids according to their respective distances. I call "pyramidal trajectories" the lines which come from the surfaces and contours of bodies and arrive, after a long distance, at a small common point - a point is something that cannot be divided in any way, and this point, situated in the eye, brings together the summits of all of the pyramids."

The blue in the distance

"There is another kind of perspective which I call aerial, for the differences of the colour of the air can make us distinguish the respective distances of many buildings, the bases of which are cut by a single straight line, as when we see them above and beyond a wall,- let us assume that they appear to be all the same size, and that you want to show that some are more distant than others, and represent them in a fairly dense atmosphere. You know that in such an atmosphere, the most distant objects, such as mountains, appear, because of the great quantity of air that lies between them and your eye, as blue as the air when the sun rises. You will therefore give the nearest building above the wall its real colour, and the more distant one you will make less distinct and bluer. And the one that you want to show even farther, that one you will make even bluer; - and the one which lies five times more distant, make it five times bluer And with this rule, it will be obvious which of the buildings that appear to be the same size is the more distant and so (in reality) larger than the others."

Tone and value

"Different colours can receive from the same shadow an equal degree of darkness. It is possible for colours of all sorts to be transformed, by a given shadow, into the colour of this shadow."

"This is proved by the darkness of a cloudy night, in which no form or colour of any object can be distinguished; , and since the darkness is only the deprivation of incident or reflected light which allows us to distinguish all the forms and colours of bodies, it is inevitable, when light is entirely eliminated as a cause, that the effect or perception of the colours and forms of these bodies also disappears."

The ideal lighting for each colour

"You must observe under which aspect a colour appears at its finest in nature; - when it receives reflections, or when it is lit, or when it has medium shadows, or when they are dark, or when it is transparent."

"This depends on the colour in question, for different colours are at their most beautiful under different aspects, thus we see that blacks have the most beauty in shadow, whites in the light, and the blues, greens and browns in medium shadow, the yellows and reds in the light, the gold in reflections, and the lakes in medium shadow."

The beauty of colours

"To make a beautiful green colour take the green (in powdered form) and mix it with bitumen and in this way you will make the shadows darker. Then, for lighter greens, mix green and ochre, and for those even lighter, green and yellow,and for brilliance, take pure yellow. Then take some green and Indian saffron together and make a veil of it to cover the whole."

"To make a beautiful red, take some cinnabar or red chalk or burnt ochre for the dark shadows, and for the light shadows red chalk and vermilion, and for brightness pure vermilion, and veil it with a delicate lacquer."

"To make oil good for painting: one part oil and one part turpentine (distilled once), and another part of twicedistilled turpentine."


"If you want to give colours their greatest beauty, first make a preparation of very pure white; - and I say this for transparent colours, for in the case of those which should not be transparent, the white preparation is useless. This can be learned for example from a coloured glass which, when placed between the eye and air in the light, is of great beauty, - this does not occur when they are seen against darkened air or something black."

How to recognize a good painting and by which qualities

"The first thing to consider, if you wish to recognize a good painting, is whether the movement is appropriate to the state of mind of the person who is moving; - secondly whether the more or less pronounced relief of objects placed in the shadow is adjusted to the distance; - thirdly, whether the proportions of the parts (of the body) correspond to those of the whole; - fourthly, whether the choice of positions is appropriate to the type of actions; - fifthly whether the detail of the figures corresponds to their character, that is, delicate limbs for delicate people, strong for the strong, fat for the fat, etc."

How to study human movement

Human movement may be understood through knowledge of the parts of the body and the entire series of the positions of limbs and articulations,- then, set down by means of some stenographic notation the actions of people, with their particulars, without them noticing that you are observing them; - for if they realized it, this would intrigue them and the act in which before they were completely absorbed will lose some of its force; - for example, when two angry men are in the midst of an argument, each thinking that he is right, they agitate their eyebrows and arms and other limbs with much vehemence, making gestures that are appropriate to their words and intentions. You would not be able to obtain this result if you asked them to act out this anger or some other passion like laughing, crying, pain, surprise, fear, etc. And so take care always to carry with you a sketchbook of gelatine-coated paper and with a silverpoint briskly note these movements, and note also the attitudes of the bystanders and their positions, - and this will teach you how to make compositions. And when your sketchbook is full, lay it aside and keep it for your projects, then take another one and continue. And this will be very useful for the art of composition, on the subject of which I shall write a separate book which will pursue the study of the figures and the separate limbs and their various articulations."

Of laughter and tears and what distinguishes them

"You will not give to the face of someone crying the same movements as to the face of someone who is laughing, even though (in reality) they often look alike, - for the right method is to differentiate them, as the emotion of laughing is different from the emotion of crying."

"With those who weep, the eyebrows and mouth change according to the different causes of their tears,- for the one is crying out of anger the other out of fear, and some out of joy or a tender feeling, others out of anxiety, for pain or sorrow, and yet others out of pity or grief from having lost a relation or friend, and among these weepers, some seem desperate, others restrained, - some only shed tears, others cry out, and some lift their eyes skyward and lower their hands with the fingers joined, some are timid, their shoulders hunched to their ears, and so on, according to the causes mentioned."

"The one shedding tears raises his eyebrows on the inner side, and contracts them, and creates wrinkles between and above them, - the corners of the mouth are turned down, but the one laughing has them turned up and his eyebrows are separate and raised."

How to paint fabrics

"Figures wearing a coat must not let their forms show through so that the coat appears to rest on the flesh (unless you want to make it appear so); - but you must consider that in between the coat and flesh there are other pieces of clothing which prevent the naked forms of the limbs from appearing or from being visible through the coat. As for the limbs that show through, make them thicker, so that the clothing under the coat is evident you will reveal the exact dimensions of the limbs only in the case of nymphs or angels, which are represented draped in fine cloth, adhering to and moulding their limbs in the wind."

- From "Leonardo on Painting"

See also the Leonardo da Vinci Artchive

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