Leonardo da Vinci is what one would call a renaissance man or a virtuoso, meaning, his talents ranged from engineer to painter to scientist to theorist to architect to sculptor for the latter half of the 1400s into the 1500s. I always like to digress to this point: We often think of prior generations as somehow lesser than because they didn’t quite have the so-called knowledge, technology or morality that we do. While the latter is perhaps the strongest of these arguments, history is replete with scores of men and women who dabbled in such an array of disciplines and talents it boggles the mind. After all, each successive generation builds upon the last or as the adage goes, we stand upon the shoulders of giants.
I say all of this because in my dabbling into Da Vinci’s painting, Recto: A Stand of Trees, which caught my eye on Twitter the other day, I learned how much Da Vinci’s dry, rational assessment of trees still somehow resonates 500 years later. Of course, when I look at art, my eye immediately begins going metaphorical and abstract, but it seems very much the case that Da Vinci’s aim was to represent trees as scientifically sound as possible.
Da Vinci observed that when trees branch, smaller branches have a precise, mathematical relationship to the branch from which they sprang, according to NPR. This observation explains why trees, in many cases, are able to withstand the crushing 100-mile-per-hour winds of hurricanes.
Hanging at the Musee de Louvre in Paris, Recto was drawn with red chalk, sharpened and wetted with his tongue, to utilize his principles of “how leaves interact with light to depict a realistic scenic image.”
Again, I find it amusing that my mind goes metaphorical and then when I researched the background, Da Vinci was very much thinking realistic. But for real, from a technical standpoint and I don’t mean the technical aspect of depicting trees, which Da Vinci surely nailed here, but in the conception of the drawing itself: How?! How do you do this intricate drawing of trees from afar on the page? The surgical precision necessary to pull this off astounds me.
But metaphorically, what catches my eye about the drawing, aside from the stark redness of it, is in fact the blankness surrounding the trees. The white space. And what it makes me contemplate is that something as intricate, with natural engineering soundness (to withstand those hurricanes) and which is so vital to our own survival due to air quality is, nonetheless, but a piece of the vastness. And much of the vastness is nothingness. The void closes in even on this natural, erect, flourishingly red beauty. That’s where my brain goes.
I’m not an artist by any stretch of the imagination and my knowledge of, and ability to interpret, art is limited at best, but I do enjoy taking it in, as they say. The harsh redness standing athwart (or rather, taking a stand) the void is how I took in Da Vinci’s piece here.
What about you?