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 SchieleJasper 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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Captions for image(s) above:

Leonardo, Storm over the Alps (1499?) Royal Collection, Windsor Castle

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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.
 

Captions for image(s) above:

L: Detail of Leonardo's Storm
C: Detail of Leonardo's Self-Portrait, inverted
R: Leonardo, Self-Portrait

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Notes:

Rescheduled. Originally published January 28th, 2011

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 29 Oct 2012. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.