It was a bit over five hundred years ago that Leonardo da Vinci drew the cartoon shown above. It is thought to have been a study for a larger religious painting, but apparently that work never came to be. As it is, the cartoon has developed a life of its own as a master work, and is now displayed in a special room in the National Gallery in London. I’ve always loved this picture – as much for its flaws as for its perfection. Here’s my modest tribute.
The Virgin and Child with St Anne and St John the Baptist
For starters, it’s not clear to me
whose legs belong to whom – is Mary
sitting side-saddle or on-the-stool?
I get that Jesus is blessing his cousin
but how come he has a receding hairline?
And that hand – the oversized one pointing
at the sky like it’s just dredged something
improbable from one of the kids’ nostrils
- did Leonardo forget to draw it first time round?
Then there’s Anne’s black eye – no one
is talking about that – but it’s pretty obvious.
And why, oh why, is no one wearing a shirt?
With that much gauzy fabric hanging around,
the least Mary can do is cover up a bit.
They call it a cartoon,
but I don’t think it’s very funny.