Recently discovered sketches underneath a Leonardo da Vinci painting give us insight into his process

National Gallery

Getting to peek inside a great artist's process is fascinating. If we had a time machine, we'd be able to pick the brains of ancient artists who produced the work we now study in art history and gain insight into their technique. While can't go back and have a chat with Leonardo Da Vinci, we can still understand how he worked thanks to a discovery hiding within one of his works.

A scientific analysis of Da Vinci's paintings, "The Virgin of the Rocks," is giving us a glimpse inside the Italian Renaissance master's process. There are a series of sketches and hand prints underneath the finished product, which tells us he didn't get it right on the first try.

The painting has been around for over 500 years, and it is speculated that it was created between the early 1490s and 1508. "The Virgin of the Rocks" was painted for a church in Milan, but now rests in London's National Gallery. The museum will feature the recently discovered drawings in a new exhibit called Leonardo: Experience a Masterpiece, which will open in late 2019.


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The painting depicts the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus sitting with the infant John the Baptist and an angel in a rocky location. The sketches suggest that Da Vinci had a more traditional adoration scene in mind when he began the painting. "In the abandoned composition both figures are positioned higher up, while the angel, facing out, is looking down on the Infant Christ with what appears to be a much tighter embrace," the London National Gallery explained in a press release. The angle of the Infant Christ's head was changed, and some of the angel's curly hair was removed. There were also hand prints where either da Vinci or an assistant patted down paint on the canvas.

The underdrawings might have gone undiscovered if it wasn't for the magic of science. "These new images were found because the drawings were made in a material that contained some zinc, so it could be seen in the macro x-ray fluorescence (MA-XRF) maps showing where this chemical element was present, and also through new infrared and hyperspectral imaging," the gallery explained.

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Da Vinci might have birthed some of the most famous paintings in history, including the Mona Lisa, but he didn't plop out perfection like it was nothing. The sketches show that the artist achieved his final product through trial and error. It takes a lot of work to get it just right.

So if you don't get something right the first time, don't sweat it. Leonardo da Vinci wasn't perfect, either.

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In many ways, 18-year-old Idaho native, Hank Cazier, is like any other teenager you've met. He loves chocolate, pop music, and playing games with his family. He has lofty dreams of modeling for a major clothing company one day. But one thing that sets him apart may also jeopardize his future is his recent battle against a brain tumor.

Cazier was diagnosed in 2015. When he had surgery to remove the tumor, he received trauma to his brain and lost some of his motor functionality. He's been in physical, occupational, and speech therapy ever since. The experience impacted Cazier's confidence and self-esteem, so he's been looking for a way to build himself back up again.

"I wanted to do something that helped me look forward to the future," he says.

Enter Make-A-Wish, a nonprofit organization that grants wishes for children battling critical illnesses, providing them a chance to make the impossible possible. The organization partnered with Macy's to raise awareness and help make those wishes a reality. The hope is that the "wish effect" will improve their quality of life and empower them with the strength they need to overcome these illnesses and look towards the future. That was a particularly big deal for Cazier, who had been feeling like so many of his wishes weren't going to be possible because of his critical illness.

"In the beginning, it was hard to accept that it would be improbable for me to accomplish my previous goals because my illness took away so many of my physical abilities," says Cazier. His wish of becoming a model also seemed out of reach.

But Macy's and Make-A-Wish didn't see it like that. Once they learned about Cazier's wish, they knew he had to make it come true by inviting him to be part of the magical Macy's holiday shoot in New York.

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Make-A-Wish can't fulfill children's wishes without the generosity of donors and partners like Macy's. In fact, since 2003, Macy's has given more than $122 million to Make-A-Wish and impacted the lives of more than 2.9 million people.

Cazier's wish experience was beyond what he could've imagined, and it filled him with so much joy and confidence. "It is like waking up and discovering that you have super powers. It feels amazing!" he exclaims.

One of the best parts about the day for him was the kindness everyone who helped make it happen showed him.

"The employees of Macy's and Make-A-Wish made me feel welcome, warm, and cared for," he says. "I am truly grateful that even though they were busy doing their jobs, they were able to show kindness and compassion towards me in all of the little details."

He also got to spend part of the shoot outdoors, which, as someone who loves climbing, hiking, and scuba-diving but has trouble doing those activities now, was very welcome.

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Overall, Cazier feels he grew a lot during his modeling wish and is now emboldened to work towards a better quality of life. "I want to acquire skills that help me continue to improve in these circumstances," he says.

You can change the lives of more kids like Cazier just by writing a letter to Santa and dropping it in the big red letterbox at Macy's (you can also write and submit one online). For every letter received before Dec. 24, 2019, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. By writing a letter to Santa, you can help a child replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy, and anxiety with hope.

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