Monday, 20 February 2012

The da Vinci Crowds

These last few months have been a bumper time for the national art institutions in London, with enormous crowds flocking to see three major exhibitions:  Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan at the National Gallery, David Hockney: A Bigger Picture at the Royal Academy, and the Lucian Freud Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery.

The Leonard da Vinci closed at the beginning of this month, after a packed twelve weeks, and was hailed "One of the exhibitions of the century" by Roy Strong in the Telegraph.  It was certainly the hottest ticket of the year, with Reuters reporting tickets bought at £16 re-selling online at £300.

Over the years there have been several exhibitions looking at Leonardo as a scientist and inventor. This claimed to be the first to focus on him as an artist, to and look at his aims and technique.
In the Observer, Laura Cumming’s review started:  
Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan, the National Gallery’s once-in-a-lifetime show, is a revelation from first to last. It contains more than half of all the surviving paintings, so fragile and rare, begged and borrowed from around the world. These are sparely presented, one or two to a room, and with lighting superbly matched to that of the pictures themselves, with their pale figures looming out of the darkness like night creatures, held fast in knife-edge contours and sealed off by an almost alien perfection. The show is dazzling, mysterious and disturbing.   Continue reading here

I loved this exhibition, and felt privileged to see these works.  Leonardo painted only 20 works in his career, of which just 15 are known to survive and 8 were on display here. You have to remind yourself that these were created in 1480-1490.  That is, you are looking at eight paintings and fifty drawings over 500 years old, delicate, fragile, most of which have traveled to this exhibition under the strictest environmental and security conditions.  I wonder how the NG managed to secure the loans.

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