As I fly from Chile to Argentina, the Andes Mountains greet us with open arms. It feels that one could stretch out and touch the towering snowed peaks, like sharp blades pointing up to the firmament. Dark crevices and bare earthy patches reveal deep valleys hidden beneath the snow. Ancient glaciers, splinters of translucent glass congealing Cenozoic water, fill some of the gaps between the mountains.
Diaphanous clouds suspended in the austral expanse lighten the colours of the receding landscape disappearing into a blurry line resting in a gauzy horizon. The view reminds me of the blue peaks that Leonardo da Vinci painted in his backgrounds, cool rocky heights more Himalayan than Alpine.
Not long ago I visited the National Galleries in Edinburgh to see the Madonna of the Yarnwinder. That exquisite little painting that was stolen once from His Grace The Duke of Buccleuch and was finally recovered. I am so very grateful to The Duke for lending it to the Galleries for all of us to see.
When I studied da Vinci I often looked at this painting in particular, and much to my delight I could see it “face to face”. The warm earth hues of the foreground rocks give substance to the Madonna and child Jesus. The cooler mountains and sea of the background are a perfect example of colour perspective.
Perhaps a clearer example is the second Madonna of the Yarnwinder known as the Lansdowne Madonna, also attributed to Leonardo and another artist (possibly painted at the same time). The blue mountains here are similar to the ones in the background of the famous Mona Lisa.
Leonardo, who was passionate about the science of flying, would have approved of the spectacular and pleasing sight I behold; my wife sitting by my side with our little boy and the Andes behind them. Truly a Leonardesque composition, a portrait alive.