[ image: La Bella Principesca, recently authenticated mixed media work by Leonardo da Vinci. Thought to represent either Bianca Sforza (less likely) or Angela Borgia Lanzol, cousin of Lucrezia Borgia and a romantic idol of Cardinal Ippolito D'Este. Red, white and black chalk, pen and ink, washes of watercolor on vellum; 22x33 cm. Courtesy of wikipedia.org; this picture is in public domain. ]
What makes this a Leonardo, is not the "signature" decorative motif on the shoulder of the young woman's dress, but the incredible sensitivity of line defining the sitter's profile, the delicate complexity of the use of several media to achieve the luminous rendering of her face, and the masterful coherence of the composition as a whole.
Leonardo, Giorgione, Giotto; Velasquez, Corot; Cezanne.
grottoes - the setting of the Virgin of the Rocks related to the seven grottoes of the Shenandoah, caverns and water - arguably a depiction of pre-birth memories (?) -
the out of body experience of viewing this painting - (and the reason why -- Leonardo's perspective-- rel to vortex energy a.k.a. substantial light and magnetic force).
Caterina - Azeri slave girl & Leonardo's mother; and how the information about Leonardo's fingerprint in the St Jerome painting was confirmed by the La Bella Principessa. At the same time, while Leonardo's father's identity was known, his mother's identity has remained obscure until now. From the tax record of 1457 it was known that her name was Caterina; but the only Caterina was a slave girl living at the home of Vanni di Niccolo di Ser Vann da Vinci, who willed Caterina to his widow, while deeding his house to Ser Piero.
Ser Piero was a Florentine Notary
"Lionardo, aged 5, the illegitimate child of Ser Piero and Caterina, who at present is married to Acchattabriga di Piero del Vaccha da Vinci." (news story from Discovery Channel)
the delicate, shaded, layered organically beautiful layers of Leonardo's light; the designs embedded there.. leaves, arabesques. Quickened waters; stirring of energy. Refinement.
We talk about the style of painting, the history of the subject, the psychological aspects of the setting, the composition; the symbolism of what is depicted -- but completely uncommented goes one of the major threads in the history of visual art, and that is art as epistemology, as cognitive science.
Unacknowledged function of painting: as cognitive science about the nature of visual experience, how the visual field is composed and how visuality in general is aggregated. Certain painters in the history of art had a special gift for this science of visuality, Leonardo among them.
This is somewhat abstruse point because we are not used to think of the objects we see as in any sense composed, or as the result of an accretion of perspectives, of moments, of aspects. Perhaps the most facile point of entry is the work of Cézanne, whose work was to show the construction of visual reality by its deconstruction.
The significance of decorative, embellished objects -- such as the hair dress in the portrait of Angela Borgia Lanzol, is to emphasize the composed nature of visual experience by creating within the perceived object, individual cells, decorative details and nested forms which allow the eye to dwell on particulars that feed this need to explore and find things within things; and which in turn lure attention away from the larger object of which these particuars are composing elements. But the details bring something else to the foreground, which is that they show how the larger object depends on the cohesive composition of these details into a whole, their subjugation into the status of a part of something.
Yet visually, when we go deep enough into a detail, it can detach itself from the whole as if it was only lending a part of itself to be an element of the larger object. It makes the whole look like something that is assembled or conceived, based on some design or intention (like projecting a picture on smoke particles in air); thus these details, examined deeply enough can exist without the whole of which they are supposedly an element.
Leonardo is one of the very few artists who "feeds" in his work this need for detail and particularization to the extent that he suggests, within the form, that the stuff of the form has independent existence -- like energy, ultimately, is just energy, and it does not depend on the particular form or organization of which it is a part, but the other way around. This small work of the principesca shows this to some degree because it creates symmetries and repetitions and designs within the form that echo from very small to very large levels.
You could say of human beings that we are made of stuff, but that the stuff of which we are made does not belong to us. This obviously has scientific and theological implications into which it is impossible to go briefly, in this present discussion...