Madonna of the Rocks

Posted: September 3rd, 2013

Madonna of the Rocks











Leonardo da Vinci, Virgin of the Rocks, Musée du Louvre, Paris

Madonna of the Rocks

Making a painting from the model of a sculpture, specifically, under a model hailing from a relief sculpture was more of an idea usually stated by Leonardo da Vinci in his marvelous renaissance. His works would depict bodies as seemingly detaching themselves from the wall, support, canvas, panel, or whatever material he painted on. Despite his ancient time, Leonardo used to develop atmospheric and sculptural effects through light play on space and on solid bodies as well. He normally would fuse insubstantial and intangible, light and bodies, energy and matter; through self-conscious methodical pursuit of brilliant color effects and shading in, for example the Virgin of the Rocks.

A groundbreaking piece of art, the Virgin of the Rocks is a representative of the seminal elements incorporated into Leonardo’s art, which reappeared and were reworked at different stages of his works, and will prove to be influential in developing other renaissance arts. Among the elements Leonardo incorporated into the Virgin of the Rocks is the sense of form (developed from his earlier learning in Verrocchio’s workshop under his master) in a manner depicting exhaustive use of surfaces and bodies, in itself a quality full of tactile intense. At the same time, matters proximity in the art is put into balance air effects, that is, through an atmospheric perspective. This successfully modifies and envelopes form, relative weight, as well as the color of things and figures; organizing their reciprocal interactions and relative positions in a dynamic and ordered totality. Atmosphere and light will serve the purpose of softening the matter hardness, mitigate and lessen the outline’s rigidity, and produce a varying dialogue of coloration in good variations. The intangible and intangible bit of the art is merged together within cynical, recurrent exchanges, involving in a play of mirrors all the reality. It is more of a king of poetry or music set in tones and forms[1].

The third visual art we can be able to identify in the painting is the art of overlapping. An artist uses this visual element in order to create depth. It is more of an illusion of placing an object in front of another distant object, obscuring all or part of the object behind it.  From the painting, Leonardo uses this element in a number of ways. Stake for example the person adorning the red robe in the right foreground. We are in perception that he is kneeling behind the baby. If we look at all the four characters in the painting, we are able to notice that they are by some distance ahead of the rocks and boulders in the background. This element is very essential in case of any art or painting[2]. Mastering it like Leonardo will be able to give the audience a good view of the entire scene and be able to decipher its message properly.

The forth visual element we can decipher from this painting is the texture gradient. This element heavily relies on the fact a painting or an art will usually depict closer objects as having a course rugged surface, and are much more detailed. As the objects become more distant, the perception is that their texture is supposed to be less rough and detailed.  It is very evident in the Madonna of the Rocks painting that this visual element is present. The images in the foreground are very clear and detailed. We can be able decipher what is going on. However, as we gradually proceed on to the background, the images and characters become less clear and detailed. We can be able to identify the rocks in the background but are not in a position to gather the clear details in the scenery. In real sense, this is how we view things; this concept uses cues and it is what we register into our minds from the physical world. Our visual system will utilize these cues to generate a natural depth perception. We do not necessary have to try and think about them, they are just there.

The fifth visual element present in the painting is chiaroscuro. It is a strengthening illusion that highlights on depth usually on a two dimensional surface. Renaissance artists like Leonardo himself mostly incorporated it. It will normally employ the contrasts between shadows and light emanating from a given object through subtle tone gradations[3]. Even though the object may be two dimensional, this element will seemingly give it a three-dimensional appearance. Madonna on the Rocks painting depicts this element magnificently, giving it valuable contrasts in the background. Leonardo enables us to identify this through the contrasting difference in the places where we perceive the light is illuminating. Take for example the background with the trees and the rocks. We can infer that light, maybe coming from the sun is not able to penetrate up to that point. However, when look at the foreground; we have to a clear view of what is going on with minimal difficulty. We can infer that the light source is illuminating the foreground.

The sixth visual element Leonardo uses in the painting is the linear perspective. This concept involves lines in composition seeming to converge at two or more vanishing points on an imaginary line horizon. Lines in a parallel form will usually seem to converge as the distance progresses. A good example is tracks in a railway line. It functions by putting the observer at the centre of the scene and arranging everything else based on that position. It involves reproducing the relationship between the observer and the artist as well as the objects in the pictorial space[4].

The seventh visual element Leonardo uses attentive record he puts into the pictorial world. This reflects both the empirical and analytical mind of the observer. An objective of collecting and replicating the reality forms in a virtual world. It is more of an individual empathy of nature rhyming with all that is living as well as that which is lifeless, in a cynical natural world. From plants, to rocks, as well as the humans, Leonardo has unified all a vision of quasi-pantheistic universe. Leonardo da Vinci was a brilliant artist. One can only look and marvel at his works judging by the ideas he incorporated in them. Most surprisingly, he was able to see all this yet living in a primitive art world. We cannot help but fathom what he would achieved if he was performing his works at this advanced times.



Cremante, Simona, Leonardo, and Carlo Pedretti. 2007. Leonardo da Vinci: the complete works. Newton Abbot: David & Charles.

Robertson, M. 2006. Visual elements. [S.l.]: Portland Press.

Zabel, Igor. 2004. “Art at the limits of the visible”. Literature and Space. 137-145.


[1] Robertson, M. 2006. Visual elements. [S.l.]: Portland Press.


[2] Robertson, M. 2006. Visual elements. [S.l.]: Portland Press.


[3] Zabel, Igor. 2004. “Art at the limits of the visible”. Literature and Space. 137-145.


[4] Zabel, Igor. 2004. “Art at the limits of the visible”. Literature and Space. 137-145.


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