500 years of Genius: Leonardo da Vinci’s 500th anniversary in Louvre

The year 2019 can be described as a vibrant year in the art scene: impressive events and exhibitions had been held around the whole world, including Venice Biennale. Above all artistic events, the highlight can be the celebration of Leonardo da Vinci’s 500th anniversary of death.


 Leonardo da Vinci was born on 14 April, 1452 in Tuscan town of Vinci, in the region of Florence. He became an apprentice in the workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio in Florence, and he developed his painting skill until 1478. After da Vinci independence from Verrocchio’s studio, he worked at Florence, Milan, Venice, Bologna and Rome, and left several masterpieces, including ‘Mona Lisa’ and ‘The Last Supper’ sound familiar to many people, even layperson of the fine art. In 1517, da Vinci had got an invitation of French King Francis I, who is Leonardo’s last and most generous sponsor. Leonardo stayed and worked at Chateau of Cloux, near Amboise in France until he died in May 1519.

For this reason, it is no wonder that one of the highlight exhibitions for celebration of Leonardo’s 500 year anniversary was held in France.

After a preparation period of more than a decade, the Louvre in Paris, possessing the largest collection in the world of da Vinci’s paintings, had opened the biggest Leonardo exhibition-“Leonardo da Vinci” on 24 October. This massive exhibition, in the Hall Napoleon, display over 160 works-paintings, drawings, manuscripts, sculpture and artefacts-, including loans from UK, Russia, Germany, France, as well as Italy, was some acrimonious political controversy.

By this global contribution, this show can be a golden opportunity to meet da Vinci’s masterpiece in one place.

La Belle Ferronnière(c. 1490), Musée du Louvre


La Belle Ferronnière, also known as Portrait of unknown women, may feature da Vinci’s portrait works. Da Vinci had usually used dark background for his portrait work, it gave spotlight to figure, and added a sense of dimension by the contrast between light and shade in painting. 

As seen at La Belle Ferronnière, da Vinci had a deeper understanding of light and illumination, afterward, he invented sfumato, the one of great inventions in art history, based on his research in optics. Sfumato, from Italian word sfumare means “to tone down” or “to evaporate like smoke”, is the smoky quality which blur contours so that figures emerge from a dark background by means of gradual tonal modulation without any harsh outline.

Saint John the Baptist(c. 1513), Musée du Louvre


Saint John the Baptist is believed to be his final painting, which finished in France, recognized by most critics and art historian the zenith of the artist’s sfumato technique. Saint John’s luminous face seems to glow in the darkness and it represents the numinous, the sense of the divine mystery. After that, sfumato technique is echoed in the Baroque and Flemish artists, including Rembrandt.

(written by Katarina Kim)