Managed to get a ticket to see the Leonardo exhibition at the National Gallery in London this weekend. Apparently all advance tickets are now sold out (the exhibition runs till February) but you can still get a ticket by queuing up. Normally I’d say avoid the queue but in this instance I’d say do everything you can to see this show. With nine out of fifteen authenticated paintings in one show (including two versions of The Virgin of the Rocks for a fascinating comparison of Leonardo’s technique across twenty years and the much acclaimed Mona Lisa beater Lady with an Ermine), along with countless drawings, studies, works by followers and the contemporary full size copy of The Last Supper to show us what we’ve lost in the original, this is genuinely a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Highlights are difficult because the whole thing was so overwhelming. In renaissance (and pre-raph) art I’ve always been more attracted to the studies and drawings than the fully worked paintings and there was no shortage of stunning drapery studies (I am officially a drapery study geek) and of course Leonardo’s famous sketches, but my favourite of the paintings has to be La belle ferronnière. It glows with an inner light I don’t think I’ve ever seen in any other painting. That glow can only be achieved by months of patient glaze work. The subtlety of the flesh tones only by layers shining through one another. This is where Leonardo’s scientific exploration comes to the fore – it’s as if he saw no difference between science and art – one informs and documents the other. To produce better figurative paintings, he had to understand how the human body functioned; and to understand how the human body appears, he had to produce these stunning paintings. In essence he was exploring the gap between scientific explanation and the experience of divine beauty in a way no-one else had done before or has done since. I honestly believe that in his mind there was simply no delimiter – it is only our 21st Century mentality which attempts to put one on.
More details of the exhibition are available here.