An Interpretation of 'La Scapigliata' by Leonardo da Vinci
Italian Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci is considered one of the greatest and most influential artists of all time. Accompanying his impressive artistic talent was a vast knowledge in the fields of mathematics, biology, anatomy, physics, engineering, and architecture - all areas in which Leonardo contributed greatly. His discoveries constantly pushed the boundaries of modern thought and paralleled the new beliefs that emerged from the Renaissance.
Among Leonardo’s many famous pieces of art, La Scapigliata (commonly referred to simply as Female Head ) is one that could be considered slightly unorthodox for its time. Critics argued that Leonardo was not simply sketching a woman with uncombed hair; instead, they suggest he was creating a work of art that depicts the natural beauty and power inherent in women. La Scapigliata maintains a sense of equality between men and women in a time when such equality did not exist.
Leonardo was born in 1452 in the town of Vinci, Italy. His name literally means “Leonardo from the town of Vinci”. For this reason he is referred to by his first name instead of his surname. The Museum of Science in Boston, Massachusetts explains of Leonardo’s early life:
“Growing up in his father's Vinci home, Leonardo had access to scholarly texts owned by family and friends. He was also exposed to Vinci's longstanding painting tradition, and when he was about 15 his father apprenticed him to the renowned workshop of Andrea del Verrochio in Florence. Even as an apprentice, Leonardo demonstrated his colossal talent.”
Leonardo’s unique talent allowed him to leave his apprenticeship and move on to paint for himself.
Social and Political Environment
Leonardo finished La Scapigliata in 1508 in Italy. This is not surprising, as the beginning of the sixteenth century in Europe was a time of extraordinary change. The discovery of the New World in the beginning of the century set the stage for further world exploration and significant economic, scientific and technological development.The Renaissance, which began in Italy roughly two centuries earlier, was beginning to expand its grasp even further into Europe.
The political scene in Italy at this time was far from unified. Italy was broken into many different provinces and states, all with a different governing chapter. This lack of unity between states most likely influenced the cultural and societal demand for change. Philosophers took the “classical” knowledge of which they had been taught for hundreds of years and completely re-evaluated it, changing it and forming new ideas and concepts that better fit their new understanding of the world.
During this time Italy was also experiencing a broader shift of power as the Roman Catholic Church’s influence was spreading more and more into Europe and across the Atlantic. The French invasion of Italy in 1494 spurred roughly four decades of wars that added to the political and social unrest in the Italian city-states. Overall, though, the economy at this time was stable enough for most people to live comfortably.
Leonardo, being a master of his time, internalized the great amount of change in the atmosphere around him and turned it in to a tangible and groundbreaking piece of art. In 1503 Leonardo reportedly began working on his famous Mona Lisa, a painting that also depicts a female in a uniquely curious light.
Impact of La Scapigliata
Leonardo da Vinci was doing more than just painting pictures of women. He was breaking through the firm grip of prejudices and social restraints placed on women for thousands of years prior to the sixteenth century. La Scapigliata portrayed women in a sense never before seen from an artistic standpoint and foreshadowed the many feminist movements to erupt throughout the world hundreds of years after Leonardo’s death.
The Renaissance was the beginning of a change in the way women were viewed in society. Typically, women were viewed as objects - as simply wives and mothers with little to no power in the home, let alone in society. Men were the dominant social and political figures of this time period. Through La Scapigliata , Leonardo is suggesting there is much more to the female race than society understands and appreciates. His use of soft lines and gentle shading in this sketch illustrates how women are so naturally beautiful, and in doing so Leonardo challenges viewers to be appreciative of this beauty. The concept of untamed hair suggests a raw power in the female sex that is not often revealed on a day-to-day basis. The basic, innate power and magnificence of women is a concept Leonardo hoped his contemporaries and his fellow citizens would begin to embrace and respect.
As an instrumental and emotional piece of art, La Scapigliata acts as an advocate for women of sixteenth century Europe and explores the deeper psychological realm of feminism. While Leonardo was most likely unaware of the long-term implications of his artwork, he was a true visionary whose work is still highly esteemed in our modern era. While La Scapigliata is only one of Leonardo’s many masterpieces, it presents a plethora of groundbreaking ideas regarding the treatment of women in society which are still being fought for in countries throughout the world today.