Charles Saatchi's Great Masterpieces: A painting that pointed the way to art’s future

 St. John the Baptist, 1513-16 by Leonardo Da Vinci 
 St. John the Baptist, 1513-16 by Leonardo Da Vinci 

So much is known about the polymath Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519): he is probably the most studied and dissected figure in history. His painting techniques leave artists still in wonderment today.

He managed to establish imperceptible transitions between light and shade, and his brushwork is often so subtle it is difficult to detect the strokes, even on close inspection. His invention of “sfumato”, meaning vanished or evaporated, enabled him to blend his colours and outlines, as he described it, “without borders, in the manner of smoke”.

Leonardo was entranced by the fall and play of light on surfaces and flesh. He wanted to perfect a luminescence in his portraits, applying layer upon layer of...

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