This page is being updated/ worked on: 1/30/2015 -D

Lionardo di ser Piero da Vinci



Portrait | Profile Picture:

The idea of someone's entire life being represented in a single image may seem simple but becomes complex the more we think about it. The most accurate representation of a person would be their appearance in a mirror - at the current time - in the present. That is not possible with someone who has been dead for over 500 years. Our next choice would be to take all of the pictures of them ever taken and chose - or let them pick one that they feel represents them the most. This is what we do when we decide which image to use as our "Profile Pic" for social media sites. The similar conundrum exists in that decision but is different in that you are still alive and are changing physically and mentally. What you look like today may not be representative of how you will look in the future. With someone who's life has been lived the story is different because there isn't anything "new" being added to it - by them. New or lost information could be discovered but whatever it was that made them who they were has been completed. The same is even more true with their appearance. They looked a very specific way at each second they lived.

So we have a couple different ways to go about selecting - or creating this "All representative image" - one way would be to use every single image ever taken - and have that, or them - represent a person. That would probably be the most accurate and descriptive but that depends on the availability of images. In this particular case we are trying to examine what would be the 'best' single image that represents a person. Another option is for them to create what we not refer to as a "Selfie" but was once called a "Self Portrait" Before photography not many people had images of themselves unless they paid someone to paint them and even fewer could paint themselves. 

Perhaps the most representative image of someone could only be created by them - and perhaps it couldn't be a single photograph (that represents a single instance in time and appearance and not the future) but a single painted or drawn image. If you were asked to create a single image on a single piece of paper that represented you most fully - the single image you would want to be the "profile picture" of your entire life - what would you create? Besides it being a very introspective question - it's also a very significant and common problem that artists face. Especially those that paint faces. It doesn't represent only their appearance but their ability as an artist - which puts a completely different expectation and added pressure to it. So you could only imagine the imagination, creativity, and life-time-preoccupation that Leonardo placed on himself while not only trying to answer this very question but in CREATING an image of himself

Again - during his life time he would be aging, changing, and his artistic skills and abilities would be evolving. Even if he had created what he thought was his "best yet" portrait of himself - that could become not only non-representative of him at a different age - but something almost embarrassing. As artists we go back and view most of our past work with a type of modesty combined with noticing everything we could do better now. We are left with either updating that image - or we abandon it and start over - from scratch. A from scratch selfie is very different than one that we are constantly evolving or painting over.

"Art is never finished, only abandoned." 

The Mona Lisa represents this very idea- he continued to it over and over and over, hundreds, thousands, potentially hundreds of thousands of times. It's very likely if not assured that Leonardo created many portraits of himself and also likely that he used his own face as a model for the Mona Lisa and his other paintings. Not necessarily because he wanted them to look like him but that he was left with only his own face as a continual - ever patient model by which to base his reference for skin, hair, lighting - etc. Before photography there was no way to reference images of people other than to use live models. Since Leonardo was obsessively working for most of his life - it would be nearly impossible to find models every time he needed one. What was left? A mirror is always there - along with the person looking back at you. Not only your appearance as a whole but you have models for hands, finger nails, skin texture, and things which require a very advanced level of understanding and comprehension to reproduce realistically. 

The Mona Lisa's personal connection to Leonardo beyond that is best left for another place but it's an excellent representation of a "lives work." If there is a single image that could be best representative of your entire life - that idea could also be applied to a piece of work. If you are a director - its' a movie. If you are an architect - it's your best building. If you are a painter - your best painting. It doesn't necessarily have to be the one you spent the most time and effort on -but it likely is. This is also subjective in a way. Is it what other people consider to be your best work - or you personal favorite? Sometimes it's unclear what is "the best" or "your best" but other times it is very clear - sometimes you only ever worked on one thing. Sometimes it's a child - a relationship - an animal - it depends on what you spend your life working on. 

Sometimes your live's work ironically is your... life itself. You are your live's work. It's not what you do, or how you did it, but who you are. This brings us back to how to represent that. How to represent yourself. How to recreate the mirror looking back at you at your best moment, at your prime - and what you would want that to appear in an image for the world. The thing they think of when they think of you. The image that they put on your monument.

If there was a single image that represented Leonardo it would be a portrait done in red chalk. 


I think Leonardo drew himself a hell of a lot. I also think that he would continue to destroy each iteration - starting over again and again - never quite re-creating a version of himself that he felt represented him. These would probably all be considered masterpieces to us now but are lost to time and to the standards Leonardo placed on himself. For someone who would obsess over every single detail - and never give up - it's likely that his "last" may not have been his best - but it is what remains. 


Aged, reflective, and seriously sad. The emotion depicted with those eyes is someone disappointed in something. The expression is someone feeling like a failure - and we are left in the contemplation - is he looking at us? Or is he looking at himself? 

Portrait in Red Chalk

Leonardo's portrait in red chalk is 500 years old. It's starting to finally fade but we have some photographs of it to stand the test of time. Unfortunately those photos did not start to be taken until the last 100 years and even those show degradation. Interestingly in two reverse ways. One is that the quality of photography and scanning has increased while at the same time the image being recorded has decreased. 


What we are left with is a series of images taken at different times, from different angles, with different lighting, quality cameras, focuses, and many other factors to take into account. In the same vein as we explored in paragraphs past - which image or version is truly representative? Thankfully we have a lot more to work with and the image has already been chosen. 

When it came to posting and working with "The" image of Leonardo da Vinci I felt it was only appropriate to chose the "best" version possible. That meant the highest quality, the most accurate, etc etc etc. Unfortunately without the actual piece of paper to scan myself i'm left with some goggling and some creative digital wizardry. Running into the same problem: Which of these X images is best I decided to set about not choosing only one - but to combine them together! 

If you have heard of HDR it's a relatively new setting on most cameras/ phones that takes three simultaneous pictures and then combines them together for a more accurate and more dynamic range. For astro-photography they use similar methods of combining different images taken with different filters/ lenses/ etc. So when I went to go about generating the best single image of multiple images of the same image -  Leo's portrait in red chalk - I used a similar methodology and technology. 

I've combined images before but not necessarily the same image so I had some re-searching to do.  If there were only two images I could simply blend the two together but since there are about 10ish - that becomes a lot more complicated. I'm learning and experimenting as I go so i'll post my current progress with some explanations. This same technique can also be applied in other ways which i'll also examine along the way. 


First here is a gallery of the images I've used: Note that this entire process would get both re-started and enhanced with the addition of more images - especially of higher quality. At this stage I am learning how to work through the process rather than generating the best and most accurate image possible. 

The first step after you have compiled the images is to place them all on different layers. 

Then I selected all of the layers and used the "Auto- Align" feature found under:

  • Edit | Auto Align-Layers

This will make sure that the images are in the same orientation, size, proportion, and so on. It does not combine them or do anything other than to make them fit together - on top of each other.