De Vinci’s Hands

Portrait of Cecilia Gallerani, 1489-90

Portrait of Cecilia Gallerani, 1489-90

Alva Noe from NPR writes about National Gallery of London’s new exhibition on Leonardo de Vinci. Apparently this particular show focuses on a particular era of the artist’s life, his time in the court of Ludovico Sforza, the exhibition seems to explore another theme: an “exposition of the human hand.”

“Leonardo was interested in the way the body expresses the soul. What is remarkable here is the way he brings hands into focus as, psychologically speaking, every bit the equal of faces, looks and posture.”

The article briefly explores several works, describing how the particular details of the hands capture the viewer’s attention, competing more vigorously than usual with the subject’s visage. It seems the artist developed a habit of contrast: placing striking hands in the foreground with a rather less expressive face, eyes looking away from the viewer. The effects?
“It is almost as if Leonardo posits the idea that if he gives you the hands of the person, he doesn’t need to show you the open face and eyes, for the hands, no less than the eyes, are a window into the soul.”

Many artists are fascinated with eyes. Isn’t there even a quote that goes something like, “The eyes are windows to the soul”? But it is not only within the eyes that one can learn of a person’s nature. I like that da Vinici seems able to share so much a personality with hands. We consider them more often as tools. Hands pick up your cup of tea, write out a signature, lift a fork, and clutch an umbrella. But they are also distinctly human constructions, and we mold our lives with them. Hands often take the brunt of the wear and tear of life. I wish I could go to London to study such works…paintings that uncover the soul through such an unexpected (yet painfully obvious) approach.

Check out the full article here!


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