Recent controversy over the reselling of tickets for this exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci’s surviving paintings at the National Gallery in London, which have been re-selling at an eye-watering £300 (18 times their original price) is an indication of the appeal that this paragon of ‘Renaissance Man’ still has for the public in general and art lovers in particular. The Renaissance ‘Rock-Star’ is famous for being an engineer, scientist, inventor and polymath but this exhibition is the first to concentrate on his technical development and artistic aims as a painter.
The exhibition, which opened on November 9th and runs until February 5th 2012, was a sell-out and has been a critical and financial success for the gallery, despite the fact that there are only nine paintings on display from a total of around 16 known to have been painted by Leonardo. However, there are also numerous drawings and sketches giving an insight into the thought process behind the creation of each painting.
The works cover the period of approximately 17 years, between 1482 and 1499, when Leonardo was in the paid employ of Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan and a patron of the arts during the Milanese Renaissance. The most famous paintings of the period ‘The Last Supper’, which was commissioned by Sforza, and the iconic ‘Mona Lisa’ are not in the exhibition but, despite the absence of arguably the two most famous paintings in the history of art, the exhibition is considered as a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to see ‘the most complete display of Leonardo’s rare surviving paintings ever held.’
Indeed, one of the paintings “Christ as Salvator Mundi”, was originally attributed to one of da Vinci’s pupils. It’s provenance is still disputed by some critics but a later revaluation saw the value of the painting inflate from a trivial £45 to a staggering $200 million – an inflation rate even higher than that of the exhibition tickets!
During this period of Leonardo da Vinci’s life he was able to concentrate almost entirely on developing his painting technique. Thanks to the Duke’s patronage he had the time and the resources to develop his skills to the point where he could blend an almost photographic realism with a deeper sense of mystery and idealism, creating icons of beauty which still leave us breathless more than 500 years later.
The paintings on display include ‘La Belle Ferronière’ , ‘Madonna Litta’ , ‘Saint Jerome’ and two versions of ‘Virgin of the Rocks’, one owned by the gallery and recently restored. Although the ‘Last Supper’ itself is absent, there is a copy of the painting made by his contemporary Giampietrino, together with sketches and the preparatory drawings Leonardo made for the original.
So if you feel compelled to join the carefully controlled crowd flocking to this exhibition try not to pay £300 for the privilege, although if the hype and the critics are to be believed, and this really is a unique and not-to-be-repeated-in-our-lifetime opportunity to see some of the most beautiful paintings ever created, it may just be worth it.
Leonardo Da Vinci, Painter at the Court of Milan runs until 5th February. Ticketing and opening time information are available at the National Gallery Website.