Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) and Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) are considered to be the greatest painters of their time but were the exact opposites. Color Vision and Art (2006) Exhibit contrasted their color preferences: Michelangelo’s works were for brilliant and contrasted colors while da Vinci’s were subdued and unified. Michelangelo’s contours are crisp and set off against a contrasting background, whereas da Vinci’s blend and avoid silhouette
Da Vinci’s use of the oil painting technique enabled him to achieve depth and intensity of coloring and transparency in the effects of light and shade. Benois Madonna is a painting wherein he introduced a new technique of which he became quite well-known. Chiaroscuro is the style of shading that dominated tone (brightness) more than color which then defined a three-dimensional shape. In the painting, Mary’s dress were in varying shades from black to pale blue to nearly white wherein he was able to artificially expand the range of luminance and yet total unity was still preserved (Douma, 2006).
Michelangelo tended to lean towards exaggerated contrast or “cangiantismo” wherein he mixed his colors with both black and white to maximize the contrast range for all the colors he used. This technique led to the almost white and unrealistically desaturated effect of the lighter parts of each color. The restoration of the Sistine Chapel ceiling and the Doni Tondo have revealed him to be a colorist of great originality, working with a fully-saturated palette.
In the painting “Doni Holy Family” the only color that has a high enough luminance in pure form is the yellow of Joseph’s cloak; Michelangelo does not have to de-saturate the yellow to get a high value. Therefore, the yellow robe has a different quality from all the others, the hues of which vary substantially in saturation and therefore look somewhat metallic. He desaturated the other colors, even the black of Joseph’s tunic (Douma, 2006).