Leonardo da Vinci; one of history’s most famous names. The Italian Renaissance master, known most for the mysterious Mona Lisa and the dramatic Last Supper, was far more than just another talented painter. With many of his paintings, sculptures and feats of engineering either failing to be completed or destroyed, his sketches and accompanying notes found after this death provide a lot of the information about him and his works, not least the vast range of differing fields he experimented in. It is Leonardo’s diversity of practices, revealed from such sketches, that makes him so fascinating, and why I would recommend to everyone to pay a visit to the limited-time only nation-wide exhibition of Leonardo’s private drawings.
The 144 drawings, part of the Royal Collection based in Windsor Castle, are currently being displayed across the country, with a selection of 12 being temporarily homed in 12 different cities. The collection of Leonardo’s drawings, notes, and unfinished material was put together just after his death in 1519 by one of his students. It found home in Britain in the 1590s, and his been part of the Royal Collection ever since. The national exhibition, Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing, marks 500 years since the mastermind’s death, and displays how lucky we are as a nation to be home to such a revered collection.
My own experience of the exhibition was at the selection currently homed in Bristol’s Art Gallery. Each city’s small collection is intended to reflect the diversity of the collection as a whole, containing drawings relating to a wide range of Leonardo’s curiosities – painting, warfare, sculpture, anatomy, engineering, botany, and much more. Despite each exhibit only containing 12 of his drawings, this huge diversity is certainly done justice.
The drawings, not intended for public eye and only for his own usage, show Leonardo’s inner thought processes, such as his drawing of strikingly realistic and detailed sketches of the human body – inside and out – to prepare for paintings that required human figures. He was not content with just being able to paint the body well; he needed to understand how and why it worked. This is just one example, effectively portrayed in the exhibition, that shows the unique nature of Leonardo’s genius, and perhaps why many of his works remained unfinished.
As well as his diversity of interests and inner thought processes, the exhibition of course portrays his mastery as an artist. His wide range of artistic methods and mediums are shown in each city, and the detail and beauty of each sketch leaves us amazed at his skill, whether it be of a group of cats, or his later, more dark images of apocalyptic storms.
Art lover, history buff, or neither, the Life in Drawing exhibition will leave no one disappointed, and I recommend to take advantage of Britain’s unique collection on this anniversary year. Though we are not fortunate enough to hold a selection in Leicester, it is certainly worth a short trip to Birmingham or Sheffield to experience this beautiful insight into one of history’s greatest mind.