Drawing Basics: Leonardo da Vincis "Head of the Virgin in Three-Quarter View Facing to the Right"

American Artist Drawing magazine Looking at DrawingLeonardo Da Vinci Head of the Virgin drawingAnthony Panzera comments on Leonardo da Vinci's Head of the Virgin in Three-Quarter View Facing to the Right.

by Anthony Panzera

Leonardo Da Vinci Head of the Virgin drawing
Head of the Virgin in Three-Quarter View Facing to the Right
by Leonardo da Vinci, ca. 1510,
soft black and red chalk drawing, 8 x 6. Collection The Metropolitan
Museum of Art, New York, New York.

This is a preparatory figure drawing study or figure sketch for the painting Virgin and Child With Saint Anne. The drawing is somewhat blurred, probably because of the abrasion of one sheet over another, but it's nonetheless a beautiful example of the sfumato or smoky, technique. Leonardo used red and black chalk, bringing them together in an attempt to eliminate any evidence of a line. He worked the black with the red chalk mainly in the face and neck but also in the hair, dissolving and obliterating the individual lines or strokes to achieve a continuous blending of tones. All the edges were created by juxtaposing one value with another; Leonardo created a tone and then separated it from another area by erasing the edge using a dense ball of bread, as was the custom at the time.

This two-chalk technique was only just coming into use at the time, but Leonardo was able to utilize it innovatively and intricately. The softness he achieves, and his ability to infuse the piece with the tenderness of a mother's gaze, along with a loving and gentle half smile, are what project this beautiful drawing into a sublime statement on motherhood.

Also, it is interesting to note that the head is in exactly the same posture as in the painting. Was this more than a preparatory drawing? Possibly. It seems drawn to scale, perhaps so it could be transferred to the painting surface. Could Leonardo have placed this drawing on the painting surface or the cartoon and used a stylus to go around the edges of the original drawing? This is difficult to know without seeing the actual drawing unframed.

Read more features from the Looking at Drawings series.

Anthony Panzera, NA, a member of The National Academy, in New York City, has been a professor of drawing at Hunter College, in Manhattan, since 1968. He also co-directed The Art in Florence and Rome Programs and taught a variety of courses at the New York Academy of Art, and The National Academy School, both in Manhattan. He received his undergraduate degree from The State University of New York at New Paltz, and an M.F.A. degree from Southern Illinois University, in Carbondale, and studied independently in Florence, Italy.

Primarily a figurative painter, Panzera has studied and worked with the human form throughout his career. Greatly influenced by the works of the Italian Renaissance Masters, Panzera immersed himself in the proportional theories of Leonardo da Vinci, which led him to create The Leonardo Series, a group of 65 drawings based on Leonardo's investigation of proportion. Other groups of work include a series of scroll drawings each measuring 15 feet in length, a group of life-size figure drawings, the 1001 Body Parts Series, and a group known as The Headless Torso. Panzera's oeuvre also includes allegorical paintings, including the works entitled Fiamma's Fantasies. In addition to his figurative work, Panzera is inspired by Cape Cod and the islands and has painted its seascapes, landscapes and vistas since 1978.

Panzera's works are represented in many public and private collections, including the art museum at The Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, in Utica, New York; The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, in New Brunswick, New Jersey; The Johnson & Johnson Collection; The Janssen Pharmaceutical Collection; and The National Academy Museum, in New York City. Additionally, Panzera has curated a number of exhibits, written several catalogue essays and contributed dozens of articles to art publications. His works have been exhibited in solo and group shows across the country and in Europe. He is currently represented by the Quidley & Company Gallery, in Nantucket, Massachusetts, and the Eisenhauer Gallery Edgartown, Massachusetts.

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3 thoughts on “Drawing Basics: Leonardo da Vincis "Head of the Virgin in Three-Quarter View Facing to the Right"

  1. A great drawing by da Vinci, but aren’t they all? I think you will be interested in my site and what i’ve found in Leonardo’s art. I’m working on a book about it, you can see it at http://www.itsjustlife.com

    I explain why he took so long to plan out his paintings. In the cartoon of Virgin and Child With Saint Anne. You’ll find that the faces of both women, are really exactly the same, and can be mirrored on top of each other and align perfectly.

  2. This is a wonderfully thoughtful site, and so is Derek Bair’s. Leonardo gives us layer upon layer of incredible beauty and luminosity, particularly in his drawings. No wonder so many of us find ourselves looking for deeper and deeper aspects of his unique vision and symbolism.

    On a psychological level, Leonardo may even be revealing his spiritual and social views, as well as his greatly contested sexuality. St. Anne seems always to be a pivotal figure and a springboard for his expression in these areas.

    More musings on this topic can be found in the following article, and particularly in the links that appear at the end: