Madonna of the Yarnwinder
Leonardo da Vinci was a master of the arts. He was an inventor, sculptor, and painter. One of his paintings is entitled “Madonna of the Yarnwinder.” Although it is possible that the original was lost, there are multiple copies of this painting still in existence, each with slight variations. There is much controversy over whether or not Leonardo painted each of these existing paintings himself or are the work of some of his talented pupils. One copy of this painting that still exists today is titled the “Lansdowne Madonna of the Yarnwinder.” This is one copy of this painting that is commonly accepted as painted by Leonardo himself (“Madonna of the Yarnwinder”). This complex painting, when analyzed, reveals the deep relationship between Mary and the Christ child and displays the importance of Christ to the Christian faith.
This painting depicts the Christ child and Mary, sitting casually on a rocky surface. The background depicts scenic craggy mountains and a winding river. The child is playing with a yarnwinder, an item used to wrap yarn to keep it from tangling. This object has one long stick with two shorter lengths crossing it at the top and the bottom. This painting particularly emphasizes the crossed shape at the top, creating a metaphor between this yarnwinder and the cross Jesus Christ would eventually die upon. Mary loosely holds the child in her lap, but the child squirms away, giving the piece movement. Mary reaches out, wanting to pull Christ away from the cross, but even she is powerless to stop his future. It is his destiny.
How it works
The first element of this painting to analyze is that of the lines guiding the observer’s eyes throughout the piece. One prominent line is that of Mary’s eyes looking towards the Christ child. This psychological line brings the focus to the child. Christ’s gaze is looking up towards the cross made by the yarnwinder. This makes an observer remember Christ’s role of crucifixion for the sins of all mankind. His gaze is towards the cross in the painting as his focus in his earthly life was always towards his Father’s plan in the eternities. The baby’s finger on the cross reaches upwards pointing to the sky, another reference to his role in heaven. The cross itself has a strong line moving up between Christ’s two hands, one lower than the other. There are also lines in the background. The line of the horizon follows the points of the mountains, guiding horizontally back towards Mary’s eyes. There is also the curved line of the river in the back, moving the eye back towards Mary. Mary’s hand creates a gesture towards Christ’s legs, and his legs lead up his body towards the cross once again. Every line leads back to Christ and his cross.
The shapes within this painting are intriguing. There is an implied pyramidal shape from Mary’s eyes to Christ to Mary’s hand. Christ’s pose forms a very natural unstructured shape. He is relaxed, especially in contrast to Mary’s tense position. Mary makes a triangular shape as she reaches towards the child. This tension in Mary’s body shows her hesitation to allow Christ’s crucifixion and suffering to happen. She has such a motherly love. Mothers despise seeing their children in pain, and Christ had to suffer through more pain than any other human on the earth. Mary would not have wanted to see her son’s suffering and would have wanted to stop it, though she understood His heavenly role.
The value on the light and dark spectrum of this painting is not extremely drastic. The background is significantly lighter than the foreground. The foreground is darker, with more shadows on the rocks. The sky behind the figures is especially light. It highlights around Mary’s head and then darkens more towards the top. The change of value at the top of the sky contributes to a heavenly quality, especially surrounding Mary. This shows her divine nature and the heavenly role she plays in the course of Christ’s life. She raises him and helps him lead a virtuous life.
In regards to color, Mary’s clothing is darker and brighter, while Christ is very pale and light. It brings the eyes directly to Christ, with the contrast of these pale and dark colors. The mountains in the back are a light blue and Mary’s clothing is a dark blue. This brings the eyes to Mary. On the whole, there is not a lot of variety in color. It is brown, green, blue, and light skin color. This washed out feeling contributes to a serene overall feel. The cool tones create an atmosphere of calm, showing the effect a mother’s love has.
The use of space in this painting is compelling. There is more empty space in the background, without as much going on. In the foreground, however, there is much less empty space. Mary holds the baby Jesus close to her, leaving no space between them and displaying her motherly love. The major content of the painting is centralized in the foreground.
There is an interesting contrast in texture in this painting. In the background and on the surface surrounding the people are rough, hard rocks. The mountains in the background are clearly sharp and rugged, and the rocky area where Mary is sitting and holding the Christ child is hard, not a usual place for a baby to play. This shows the unique quality of Christ’s childhood. He was placed in circumstances that no one had ever or would ever experience again. He is the direct Son of God placed on the earth. Mary’s clothing drapes softly over the rocks, contrasting with the hard rock beneath, representing her role as a guiding and protecting hand in Christ’s early life. Then over the drapery is the smooth baby skin of Christ. Christ is the smoothest and softest part of the painting.
The focal point of this painting is Christ. Everything in the painting leads to him and the cross he holds. Mary’s gesture, her eyes, the lines of Mary’s drapery, the line of the horizon, the line of the yarnwinder, the color choices: they all lead back to Christ. This has a significant meaning from a Christian perspective. Christians believe that Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life” (The Bible). In their faith, all things lead to Christ, as is illustrated in this painting of Mary and the Christ child.
The painting “Lansdowne Madonna and the Yarnwinder” illustrates Mary’s love for Christ through the use of artistic elements. Mary’s motherly love and care for her son are illustrated perfectly in this painting as she watches Christ play with a semblance of the cross. She reaches out to him protectively, as if to stop him from continuing. This display of love shows her divine role in Christ’s life.