Leonardo Da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan

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10 Nov


Virgin of the RocksThe much hyped Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition opens at the National Gallery from today with a seven room exhibition. The display is ideal for those who adore the technicality of the line and the workings of an artist , with many drawings and paintings by Leonardo and his pupils on display.

Its build up has been felt for many months, ever since its advance booking opened in May 2011 – a long seven months before its actual opening day.

With its future opening date released then came the capped visitor numbers announcement, with the gallery saying it would restrict visitors due to an, ‘unprecedented demand’. Today (9 November) The Evening Standard has reported how the tickets have sold out until mid-December. The pressure for this display to deliver to its global audience is immense.

The exhibition brings together an impressive collection of international loans never before seen in the UK, from the Queen, America, Poland, France, Scotland and from Art Fund acquisitions.

One difference with this exhibition from others is it the first to be dedicated to Leonardo’s aims and techniques as a painter. Don’t expect reams of glorious huge paintings, though there are a few pretty ladies, curly haired men and angels.

The whole display focuses on Leonardo as an artist, his technical skills and his teaching skills, showing how his works were often finished or copied by his pupils, and in some cases edited. In particular it concentrates on the work he produced as court painter to Duke Lodovico Sforza, in Milan in the late 1480s and 1490s.

As well as finished pieces, each room is peppered with Leonardo’s preparatory and experimental sketches.

The final part of the exhibition, a few mintues walk away in the Sunley Room features a near-contemporary, full-scale copy of Leonardo’s famous ‘Last Supper’, on loan from the Royal Academy. Seen alongside all the surviving preparatory drawings made by Leonardo for the ‘Last Supper’ it makes for an interesting viewing,  but seems rather ‘tagged’ on to the exhibition.

Pieces to stop by:

The Musician (1486-7) Room 1 – An unfinished portrait demonstrating Leonardo’s skill in positioning of the face creating a life like portrait with depth.

Portrait of Bianca Maria Sforza (1493) Room 2 – Get your fill of opulence with this lavish picture showing a traditional Milanese style dress, with Leonardo’s profile technique on full view.

Portrait of Cecilia Gallerani (Lady with the Ermine) © Princes Czartoryski Foundation

Portrait of Cecilia Gallerani (Lady with the Ermine) © Princes Czartoryski Foundation

The Lady with an Ermine (1498-90) Room 2 – This piece is centre stage of the room and shows off Leonardo’s portraiture and colour skills. The lady almost leaps out of the canvas due to her 3/4 turned pose and the black back background, giving her a 3D quality that soon become sort after by Leonardo’s pupils.

Studies of the Nervous System (1485-8) and Studies of the Human Skull (1489) Room 3 – This is one of many anatomical studies in this room, and they took my breath away. He’s used hints of shadow and light to depict tiny features of the human body. The skull looks perfect in minature form and these observations were no doubt the ground work for his future paintings, making figures seem as real as possible. It astounds me how these delicate sketches are over 500 years old.

The Virgin of the Rocks (1493) Louvre and Virgin of the Rocks (1491/2-9 and 1506-9) National Gallery Room 4 – These pieces are obviously the focal point for this room and essentially a key point for the exhibition. They are on show together for the first time and are intended to show Leonardo’s difference in style and views of  painting and art. The earlier piece is very rich in colour and could easily fit into a church altar piece. The second is restrictive in its colour palette and the figures are more sculptural with a porcelain quality.

The Burlington Cartoon ( 1499-1500) Room 6 – This lively large piece in charcoal seems to move as you move around it. The unfinished aspect of the piece almost makes it work more, it stands out in this room. The figures are fluid and contemporary, it’s a break away and step up from Leonardo’s meticulous anatomical studies.

Two drawings of the boney structure of the head, 1489

Two drawings of the boney structure of the head, 1489 The-Royal-Collection-©-2011

Room 7 in the Sunley room has a handy time line of Leonardo’s artistic career, with significant events and works. This would of been suited to have at the beginning of the exhibition, putting this display into context even more, especially for those less familiar with his pieces. The room feels tagged on, an afterthought. It’s interesting to see the workings that may have gone into this work, and then the copy of the Last Supper is astonishing to see in its grand scale.

Head along to this exhibition for a peek into Leonardo Da Vinci’s undoubted skill as a technical drawer and creater of astonishing life like works, which capture humanity and idealised beauty in all its forms. He perhaps saw himself as a creator and observer of humanity, what’s key from the exhibition is that he was always striving for improving his skills and thankfully we get to see these still today in this exhibition.

‘If the painter wishes to see beauties that enamour him, he is the master of their production, and if he wishes to see monsterous things.. he is their lord and god.’

The exhibition is open now:  09 Nov 2011 – 05 Feb 2012 Mon – Thu, Sat, Sun 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM; Fri 10:00 AM – 9:00 PM Closed Christmas Eve, Boxing Day, Christmas Day.


Author: Laura Cutajar


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