Leonardo’s Storm Over the Alps (c.1499)
Was Leonardo a naturalist and precise observer? Other masters were not. Over a dozen well-known compositions by Goya are, on one level, close-up views of his own eye. Egon Schiele, Jasper Johns and other modern masters have done likewise. We expect techniques like that in more recent art. However, if you think the great Leonardo was different in this respect, you'd be wrong. He used the same compositional method as more recent artists with similar meaning and intent. His drawing, Storm over the Alps (left), is a good example. It depicts the extraordinary power of nature's forces in naturalistic detail even though the bird's-eye viewpoint can only have been imagined. If you are aware, though, of how great masters work, you should see that dark shape in the sky as something else.
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When you compare it (left) to the eye of Leonardo's own self-portrait (right), there is a striking resemblance. Note the straight line of the bushy brow, the eye's lower contour and the sagging skin below it to the left. The title then is misconceived. We are not over the Alps at all, as viewers have long thought, but inside Leonardo's head behind his eye. It is the same with us. We can only find and harness the cosmic power of God or Nature by focusing inwards. The power is inside us, not out. That is why the eye-shaped storm is inverted as in a mirror. It is the mirror of Leonardo's mind.
More Works by Leonardo
Leonardo dated this landscape drawing as though it was a realistic rendering on a particular day in 1473 though scholars are divided. Some argue that, yes, the castle on the left existed while others believe that the scene is imaginative and point out specific spatial inconsistencies to support their view.
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