Leonardo believed that all things in nature were governed by mathematics. Mathematics was of supreme importance and expressed incontrovertible, universal truth. Knowledge of mathematics was a prerequisite for understanding the nature of all things. “Let no-one who is not a mathematician read my principles”, Leonardo said. Geometry and its actual or potential relationship to natural forms provided a suitably visual means for the exploration of mathematical “truths”.
By Leonardo’s time, artist’s perspective had become an established tool in Florentine workshops. This was a system that created the illusion of space based on the principle that the scale of all elements in a painting was governed by their position in space.
The Annunciation indicates that Leonardo clearly knew about artist’s perspective by the early 1470s. The tiled floor pattern on the right is diagonally orientated, indicating that the lateral point system has been applied. This was based on two vanishing points placed on the horizon line, and had long been in use by Florentine artists (one roughly where the distant town is seen and the other on the upper right edge of the picture).
Leonardo’s perspective has a distorting effect due to the sudden transition from near to distant space. He wanted to make the figures as large as possible, (the Virgin’s palace is huge), while simultaneously including a panoramic view into the landscape. As such, the painting can be seen as the product of the ambitions of a young artist, albeit one who was still learning the subtleties of his craft.
In Leonardo's words
Perspective is nothing else than the seeing of an object behind a sheet of glass…these things approach the point of the eye in pyramids, and these pyramids are cut by the said glass.
Once thought to be the work of Domenico Ghirlandaio, this painting is now generally agreed to be an early work by Leonardo, painted sometime between 1472 and 1474. The painting was originally housed in the Convent of Monte Oliveto outside Florence and is probably an altarpiece, although the identity of the patron is unknown.
The work illustrates the influence of Verrocchio on the young Leonardo, in the sculptural quality of the figures and their draperies, and the forms of the Virgin’s reading table, which call to mind Verrocchio’s tomb for Piero de’ Medici, completed in 1472. The architecture seen on the right, in front of which the Virgin is seated, reflects the conventions of linear perspective probably learnt by Leonardo in Verrocchio’s workshop. The blurred, hazy outlines of the features of the landscape background give the impression of great distance, heralding the artist’s development of aerial perspective in the replication of atmospheric effects and the effects of natural light.
Leonardo’s profound interest in naturalistic detail is apparent in virtually every element of this painting, including the landscape, the numerous plants and trees, and the figures, all of which the artist studied first hand from life.