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Current time:0:00Total duration:4:36

Video transcript

we're standing in front of an unfinished painting by Leonardo da Vinci it's a big painting and interestingly it's almost a perfect square it's really unfinished I mean it's not just that it has parts that are unfinished but it's really just the under painting this is the adoration of the Magi a moment in the Christian story when Christ has been born and three kings from the east guided by the Star of Bethlehem come to Mary and offer Christ three gifts frankincense myrrh and gold what's revealed to us here is Leonardo's working method not only his brilliant drawing but the way in which he constructs figures remember that Leonardo is first and foremost not a painter he's really a scientist he's really an engineer he's somebody who looks and understands nature we have a sense of Leonardo's deep understanding of human anatomy even when he's painting closed figures he's really understanding the skeletal structure he's understanding the musculature of the body if you look at that group of figures to the right about mid level you see one figure that almost looks like it's a skull and it's as if Leonardo is literally constructing the bones before he'll put flesh on them before he'll put clothes on them before he'll add color that's a group of figures that's often referred to as the philosophers but maybe we should discuss the central group first so we have Mary in the Christ child front and center forming a pyramid shape together with the Magi in front and that's a shape that we see very often in paintings of the high Renaissance that provide a stable form and you see that right here in the foreground with Mary and Christ that's especially important in this painting which is so chaotic where there's so much going on on the upper right for instance there's actually a battle you have two horses rearing up on the upper left you have the fragments of what looked like some sort of classical architecture you can see these wonderful steps in perfect linear perspective Leonardo actually did some brilliant drawings in preparation for this painting but let's look a little more closely at what you just said and see if we can define those lines a little more exactly if you start with the Virgin Mary and you look her face she's glancing across the top of her son's head down his arm he picks up actually her glance and brings our eye down until it's met by one of the Magi who's offering a gift we can actually run that line down past his toes to the corner of the painting or we can actually pick up from Mary again and go the other way if we go down the bridge of her nose across her shoulder picked up by the kneeling figure in the foreground at the left what's interesting as you said this is not simply a triangle this is a pyramid that actually comes forward as it moves down and exists in space I'm struck by the way that the Inara is paying attention to all of these human reactions to what's going on we've got lots of faces half hidden in the darkness and a lot of gestures and it really reminds me in a way of Leonardo's Last Supper we have Christ in the middle forming a kind of pyramid shape with his outstretched arms and all the chaos and the reactions of the Apostles around him but this real sense of stability in the center that's such a characteristic of the high Renaissance this notion of balance of a kind of perfection of a sense of the eternal but then of course how do we as humans react there's another element here which is important and very characteristic of Leonardo and even though this is just the under painting we can make it out and that's this technique of spoo motto which in Italian is smoked and it tends to create a kind of visual glue that creates a kind of harmony between forms within the paint brings things together and keeps paintings from having that sense of the isolated so much a characteristic of the early Renaissance right so instead of figures beings defined by lines the figures are enveloped in atmospheric easiness or softness that kind of smokiness and they almost seem to emerge out of the darkness into light and fade back into the darkness again and so Leonardo's unifying the figures in yet another way not only in the pyramid composition and through their glances and gestures but also into that smoky atmosphere we see this beautiful cuter squirtle this beautiful smoke this beautiful line this beautiful composition this complex sense of emotion I'd love to know what this painting would have looked like had it been finished meet you