ABOUT THIS PAINTING: Emerging from the Middle Ages, the Renaissance marked a period of phenomenal advances in the arts and sciences. Social as well.
Let’s take this oil sketch by Leonardo da Vinci, for example. It’s called Head of a Woman, also know as La Scapigliata, or Lady of the Disheveled Hair. It’s a simple oil portrait of a young woman, caught in a moment of reflection.
It’s not a study for a formal portrait; we’ve seen those, where the sitter is seated very formally and upright. And I don’t believe it’s a sketch for a religious or allegorical work. Rather, it’s a very personal, candid portrait.
We don’t know the model’s name, but it seems DaVinci was captivated by this particular woman and compelled to paint her.
DaVinci began by sketching tones in burnt sienna, and then adding areas of light opaque paint. The highlights are painted in the sfumato technique, a new method introduced during the Renaissance.
Sfumato in Italian means “soft like smoke,” and like smoke the portrait has no distinct lines in the face, rather the tones are meticulously painted, blending one tone seamlessly into another, and thus adding a level of realism never before achieved in art.
To further intensify this feeling of realism, DaVinci rendered the hair in very rough brush strokes. The contrast between the loose rendering of the hair and the delicacy of the skin, makes the portrait even more lifelike.
This singular portrait of a woman marks a turning point in how woman are depicted in art, that they can be admired as individuals for their own personal attributes. Would this make DaVinci the world’s first feminist? Interesting notion.