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Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

As two of the greatest artists of the Italian High Renaissance (circa 1490 to 1530), Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti have often been compared through their various artistic styles, genres, and how they mastered the arts of painting and sculpture during a time when Italy was in its flowering stage with the powerful and wealthy di Medici family dominating much of the country and particularly the city of Florence.

Of course as artists, da Vinci and Michelangelo differ in several ways, especially regarding the role of mathematics in measure and proportion, but overall, they share many similarities, especially regarding their backgrounds, individual views on the nature of beauty, painting techniques, and their artistic goals as expressive and undoubtedly gifted geniuses.

First of all, da Vinci and Michelangelo were of Italian birth with da Vinci born in 1452 near the city of Florence and Michelangelo in 1475 in a small village in Tuscany, a mere separation of thirty miles and twenty-three years, thus making them contemporary artists who were greatly influenced by the long history of art in Italy, dating back to ancient Rome and the Etruscans, and the great eras in Western art, beginning with the Gothic style in Germany and into the early years of the Renaissance Period, circa 1390, with artists like Brunelleschi, Ghiberti, and Verrocchio.

Also, da Vinci and Michelangelo belong to no particular school of art, meaning that they were unique and in many ways self-taught. Of course, as masters of the High Renaissance, da Vinci and Michelangelo inherited the pictorial brilliance of the 15th century; they also learned from one another, perhaps not in personal conversation, but by admiring and often emulating each other which allowed them to “break from the past and occupy new and lofty ground” (de la Croix, 480) and to create some of the greatest artistic masterpieces of all time.

Another area has to do with the similarities between da Vinci and Michelangelo’s artistic viewpoint on beauty in art. Certainly, beauty was the foundation (and perhaps the main goal) of all their artistic works as can be seen in paintings like the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper by da Vinci, and in sculptures by Michelangelo like his famous David and Moses. For da Vinci, because of its subjective nature, beauty could not truly be accessed nor discovered by the artist and because of this, the artist could only know beauty through what he sees with his own eyes as it exists in the natural world.

Da Vinci also believed that beauty, due to being a physical phenomenon, could be copied or emulated by studying human anatomy, one of his numerous interests outside of art that helped to guide him in creating figures like the Virgin in The Virgin of the Rocks (1485) and the figure of Christ in The Last Supper (1495-1498).

Likewise, Michelangelo who “mistrusted the application of mathematical methods as guarantees of beauty in proportion,” believed that beauty should be “kept in the eyes” because the “hand executes” or creates the work of art, and the eyes judge whether beauty is present or not (de la Croix, 495). Michelangelo also studied human anatomy as a way of determining physical human beauty which can be seen in his amazing life-like statue of David with its bulging muscles and veins.

Therefore, during the High Renaissance, both da Vinci and Michelangelo shared a common approach to depicting beauty in their works of art, for as Michelangelo once wrote in a poem, beauty “resembles more than anything else/That celestial source from which we all are come” (de la Croix, 499), an indication that beauty is the work of God and the natural world about us and not a product of man and his perceived subjective realities.

Da Vinci and Michelangelo also share similarities related to their individual painting techniques. Although Michelangelo did not consider himself as a painter, the techniques that he utilized for the famous Sistine Chapel ceiling fresco, painted while lying on his back atop a huge scaffold, are similar to those used by da Vinci in The Virgin of a Rocks. This is especially true in relation to a painting technique known as chiaroscuro or the subtle play of light and dark that causes the figures to appear to be moving together as a whole in real life. This could be described as the “interpenetration of light and dark, of sunlight and midnight” that creates the illusion of a three-dimensional space (de la Croix, 513).

Lastly, da Vinci and Michelangelo share similarities related to their individual artistic goals. For example, besides the desire to create something beautiful that will last through the ages and bring about awe and wonder in the eyes of the spectator or viewer, both da Vinci and Michelangelo wished to elevate the arts of painting and sculpture to new heights never achieved before in Western art and greatly desired to have the artist-genius recognized as such by the society in which he lives and works as an artist.

As de la Croix puts it, while standing on the threshold of the modern world, da Vinci and Michelangelo “could successfully boast that their masterworks deserved a high place among the fine arts” (534) in Italy during the High Renaissance. In some ways, both da Vinci and Michelangelo wished to achieve a clear-cut break from the artistic past with the ultimate goal being to inspire future artists to reach their own lofty goals in order to contribute to the history of Western art.

Works Cited

de la Croix, Horst. Gardner‘s Art Through the Ages. 10th ed. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 2007. Print.

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