Wednesday 30 November 2011

Leonardo Da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan

This weekend I attended the Leonardo exhibition and was even lucky enough to see the show for an hour before it opened which was truly an unforgettable experience! I will not deny that the experience was less amazing when the gallery opened, as it was very busy, but even then it was totally worth it.
Leonardo’s Ladies
Leonardo’s Ladies are clearly given the starring role within the exhibition; they appear on the press releases, the posters, the flyers, the bags, the catalogue and most of the other merchandise and are displayed prominently within the exhibition.
Seeing the two portraits of ladies, ‘The Lady with an Ermine’ and ‘La Bella Ferroniere’, as well as the chance to see the two versions of the ‘Madonna of the Rocks’ together are presented as the main attractions of the exhibition.

Leonardo La Bella Ferroniere c. 1490       Leonardo Lady with an Ermine c. 1489-90 

Having seen these paintings the importance given to them becomes clear, particularly the portraits with their beautiful textiles, such as the chemise which emerges at the join between dress and attachable sleeves on the Bella Ferroniere and the variety of textures presented in Lady with an Ermine, particularlly the fur (This provides an interesting link with my earlier blog post on fur). As well as the way that they seem to engage the viewer whether interacting and holding the gaze or turn away from the viewer. The Lady with an Ermine seems to turn away reacting to an event outside of the picture.
They are very compelling, although it is difficult to get near them.
Dramatic Drawings
While the paintings are probably the main attraction, they should not be viewed at the expense of the various drawings on display. These drawings can reveal the working method of Leonardo as well as his incredible skill as a draughtsman and the variety of his interests, including landscape, anatomy and animals among many others.
Leonardo Drawing of a Skull from Anatomical book B 1489

This incredible drawing of a skull shows Leonardo’s interest in conveying naturalism as well as his dexterity with a pen. The text written in Leonardo's hand, written from right to left, (Leonardo was left handed) discusses the portrayal of veins in the drawing, although these are inacurate.
Boltraffio’s Brilliance
While the exhibition is, of course, first and foremost about Leonardo the artist Boltraffio emerges from it in a very positive light. This stunning drawing shows the mastery of his use of Metalpoint heightened with white on blue paper. It appears to be a preparatory study for a Madonna Lactans similar to the Madonna Litta in the exhibition.
Boltraffio Drapery Study c. 1490-1
I had not heard of Boltraffio before and am very glad that my horizons have been broadened to include him. His drawings are particularly proficient and hold their own against the work of Leonardo.
Worth the Wait?
Although all the tickets are sold out now it is still possible to queue outside the gallery in the morning for tickets. I would personally thoroughly recommend the exhibition it is an incredible chance to see some works that are not often easy to see such as the unfinished St Jerome from the Vatican. However it does require a degree of patience as it is a very busy exhibition and crowds build up in front of the more popular paintings, having said this some of the equally stunning drawings are easier to get at.
If you are planning to queue then just make sure to get there pretty early as the queue starts to build up early, think Wimbledon tennis style queuing and make sure to wrap up warm.
For more information visit:
P.S. There is a beautifully illustrated catalogue at the incredibly reasonable price of £25 for a soft back copy.

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