(b. 1452, Vinci, d. 1519, Cloux, near Amboise)

Madonna Litta (detail)

c. 1490-91
Tempera on canvas, transferred from panel
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg

Employing tempera, already superseded by oils that permitted finer chiaroscuro modelling, Leonardo presents the traditional image of the Virgin of Humility through the contrast of tender flesh tones, her scarlet blouse and blue cape, echoed by the azure distances beyond the arched windows. Enclosed by masterly drawing in a sculptural form, these resonant colours form an absolute balance of earthly and heavenly.