'I'm always looking for the Hows and the Whys and the Whats,' said Muskrat, 'That is why I speak as I do. You've heard of Muskrat's Much-in-Little, of course?'
'No,' said the child. 'What is it?'
- The Mouse and his Child. Russell Hoban.

Go here to find out more.

Monday, 7 June 2010


One of the special things that characterise High Renaissance paintings is a smoky appearance - as if a drift of thin, fine, net curtain had been drawn across the paintings. The darks seem slightly lighter and the lightest places somewhat duller. The master of this (and almost everything else!) was of course Leonardo da Vinci.

The Italian word for this effect is Sfumato, from the word sfumare, 'to smoke'. Look at those wonderful soft corners of her mouth - that subtle shading that, from a distance is partly the reason it is difficult to tell if she is smiling or not. I once read that she was an intelligent woman. The mouth would suggest that she found da Vinci interesting. Or at least, that what I'd like to think. That he was propounding something enthusiastically to her as she sat, and he was challenged to capture that gentle amusement at his excitement.
Anyway, sfumato - the smoky look. Not that hard to do, actually. Very thin titanium white is the secret. And lots of glazing in layers.

Da Vinci himself described the effect as 'without lines or borders'. But of course he would have said it in Italian.


  1. Can't beat a whole hearted guffaw in the end! :)

  2. I saw a documentary suggesting that the Mona Lisa is Leonardo's own face. None of this Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man stuff, too Joycean, I suppose, but The Artist as a Woman? Ah, we may be onto something!

    Any thoughts? And does it really matter?

  3. Yes Jinksy, it makes me smile just to see the cartoon's end.

    Robert, good ol' wiki cites four or so main contenders for the identification of Mona Lisa, but I think most people who make it their business to investigate such things, always thought it was Francesco del Giocondo's wife. And in 2005 A library expert discovered a 1503 note from Agnostino Vespucci that seems to confirm this, although there is still some doubt.
    I don't think a self-portrait is very high on the long list, let alone the short list. But it's possible!

  4. I suppose it really matters to some people.


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