Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Paris Journal VI: La Sainte Anne de Leonardo

“La Sainte Anne, l’ultime chef d’oeuvre de Leonardo da Vinci,” currently running at the Louvre is a monumental exploration of artistic process using one of da Vinci’s greatest works, "The Virgin and Child With St. Anne"as its petrie dish. Da Vinci worked on his masterpiece over several decades, right up until his death in 1519.  To begin with the show explores the influences on da Vinci in the inception of the work. Bartolomaus Zeitblom and Lorenzo Fasolo ware just two contemporaries whose works impacted da Vinci and a line of artists running from Raphael to Pontormo, Degas ("Etude d’apres la Sainte Anne di Leonardo,” 1855) and Odilon Redon (“Homage a Leonard di Vinci,” 1919) would eventually be influenced by the masterpiece since it was first exhibited in the Salon Carre of the Louvre in 1797. The curators also point to the influence of the painting on Freud’s Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood, in the way that the “virgin’s mantle” recalls the vulture that landed on “Leonardo’s cradle” and which for Freud played such a key role in development of Leonardo’s scientific sensibility. But the key element of the exhibit are the early drawings for the cartoons on which da Vinci based his conception. “The fierce debate about the nature of Mary’s conception, according to which Mary was conceived exempt of Original Sin had encouraged a veneration of her mother,” the curators remark at the beginning of the exhibit. During the long gestation period in which da Vinci created his masterpiece, John the Baptist was replaced by a sheep and Sainte Anne was moved to the top of the field, a change which increased the importance of the Jesus’ grandmother while also giving the painting itself a vertical and diagonal dynamic. The modifications which were not subtle, would change the history of both art and thought.

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