This book examines a selection of paintings by Bernardino Luini (ca. 1480/85-1532) that were influenced by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519). Comparative analysis shows that Luini, from adopting Leonardo's compositions and motifs, went on to incorporate elements of his style and expression in a group of works dating to the 1520s. These are the focus of the book. In imitating Leonardo, Luini traded complexity for clarity, simplifying his manner and making it accessible to a broad audience undifferentiated by age, gender, or class.
The artist's method of popularizing Leonardo, however, led to criticism of his works as merely derivative, but that fails to consider their function as devotional images. Beyond church teachings and practices, little is known about how ordinary viewers looked at religious art in this period. Their responses are not recorded. But Luini's paintings themselves provide clues, like the foregrounding of the figures and their interaction with each other and the beholder, to indicate how they served a devotional purpose. The artist may not have been an intellectual like Leonardo, but the thinking inherent in his works is absolutely coherent and consistent. Their clear organization and unequivocal meaning effectively communicate the religious message he sought to convey.
This book revisits the idea that Leonardo da Vinci was the essential inspiration for his younger contemporary Bernardino Luini. Instead of a broad notion of Leonardo's influence, however, the book offers a more complex understanding of the relation between the two artists, one that seeks to account for Luini's much-criticized lack of originality vis-à-vis the older master. In one artistic category in which Leonardo offered few models - devotional images of the Passion of Christ - Andrea Solario, himself influenced by Leonardo, had a decisive impact on Luini. Solario's influence complemented Leonardo's, enabling Luini to set a new standard for depicting a broad range of sacred subjects.
C. S. Lewis