As a graduate student studying with Carlo Pedretti, I was anxious to see as many Leonardo works
as I could in person. The red-chalk drawing that Leonardo made of himself in his later life, probably when he was in France working for King Francis I, around 1515-18, is now in the Biblioteca Reale
Cross-hatching lines in fifteenth-century drawings are used to give volume and shading to
human figures and drapery. The way to distinguish drawings by Michelangelo from drawings by Leonardo is in the direction of the cross-hatchings. Michelangelo was right-handed, so the cross-hatchings move from bottom left to upper right or upper right to bottom left, as in this example:
Leonardo's cross-hatchings, as in this drawing below, move from upper left to lower right or lower right to upper left:
In the eye drawings the cross-hatchings are more subtle, but Leonardo's eye is on the left,
Michelangelo's eye on the right. (See the lines above the eyebrow and coming directly out of the pupil in the Michelangelo drawing, close to the nose and between eyelid and eyebrow in the Leonardo.)
Now you will look at Leonardo's self-portrait with closer study:
the cross-hatch lines that move upper left to lower right to give shading and depth and texture to
Here is another portrait of Leonardo at the same age:
Francesco Melzi, who was right-handed. The cross-hatchings here move lower left to upper right.
The most remarkable feature of Leonardo's self-portrait, however, is not the fact that it was drawn by a left-handed artist. It is that his drawing is so life-like, that when presented with his face on the page, he leaps into life on the page.
Instead of the spectator looking at him, he seems to be regarding the spectator. His set mouth and lips and nose contrast with the shining quality and depth of his eyes, which seem to seek out the viewerand make contact, as though a real person had survived still after 500 years, or, as though he wished to speak to you over the space of eternal time. The pock-marks on the paper do nothing to diminish the force of his gaze and strength of his presence. Leon Battista Alberti said in his treatise On Painting of 1435, "Painting contains a divine force which not only makes absent men present, as friendship is said to do, but moreover makes the dead seem almost alive." Alberti is speaking of portraiture in painting, but Leonardo makes himself come alive in just a simple, red-chalk drawing on paper. The "divine force" of his own life appears real even after four centuries have passed. Emerging from a piece of paper, he stands again a giant universal man of creativity and human thought. How
grateful I am to have met him in the form of his self-portrait in old age. His serious mien and stead-
fast look are the literal marks of a great and beautiful soul.