Same Portrait, Different Colours


I found these two images of Da Vinci’s portrait of a woman (c.1473) and I like to invite you to observe the difference.

Of course the portrait is the same, only reflected. However, the colours are very different as a result of photography (lightning) and/or printing (pigments).

The large version has a terracotta and sepia colour palette. The beautiful warm reddish colour is complemented with a bit of subtle deep purple discolouration above the eye and in the dangling hair. The paper looks damaged with some whitish discolouration and even a bit of very vague green. The black is beautifully deep, especially at the place of the eye and next to the profile to the woman to push her face to the front and her hair to the back.

Now, observe the smaller version. This image looks faded. Still there is some orange-sepia at the top of the head. There is more green and blue in this image. Notice the soft green eyebrow and deep red in the nostrils. The woman’s dangling hair is grey, green, blue as well as red-brown. Her dress looks soft green. There is just enough black left to suggest depth, and enough ‘white’ to suggest light.

Both versions have a truly beautiful colour palette. What does colour do to you? To me the large sepia version feels warmer and fills me with human warmth. Due to the predominately terracotta colours, this drawing feel earthly. The smaller faded version overall makes a more ethereal impression. It makes me think more of the woman, who has lived and died and is fading in time, providing me with a sense of impermanence.  For a room that needs human warmth, I would opt for the larger version. For a place for meditation or contemplation, I would choose the faded one.

What about you?


Instagram @mindfuldrawing


9 thoughts on “Same Portrait, Different Colours

  1. Mmh, I would choose the first picture. I like the warm coloured version better. And although the eyes are closed, the face looks more gentle to me.
    Thank you, Paula, for your wonderful art-lessons. All the best, Martina 🙂

  2. I marvel at your perspective, Paula – you have such a good, mindful eye for nuances that I would certainly miss. The larger of the two has almost a cloth-like appearance – as if it would be soft to the touch. I think I’m drawn more to the smaller, especially in light of your assessment of it.

  3. Thank you for the beautiful insight into observation and reflection. As I was hurrying through my busy day a stop to read you post made me realize how much I look, but how little I see. A God incident that has made my day better. Thank you, again.

  4. I prefer the smaller of the two images, I think it is probably a truer likeness to the original, not that I have seen the original, sadly, but the variation in colour is greater than the larger, more monotone one. It shows how very different and altered a copy can become. Even in my own work I find that after I have photographed a piece I have to spend time with ‘photo fix’ to get it any where near my original artwork. It’s very interesting, and I would be very happy with either of the above images!

    1. You describe well how we sometimes have to alter our digital images to stay close to the original. It is about finding a balance between the original colourful palette and over-saturation. And, yes! I would be happy with either images. They are wonderful.
      Thank you for your valuable comment.

  5. They’re both stunning, but I think I prefer the bottom one. It gives me a feeling of tranquility and peace. Wonderful post!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s