|In Pursuit of the Real Leonardo da Vinci|
A Preview of Summer and Fall Special Exhibitions
by Stan Parchin
Looking to experience Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) firsthand? Here's an itinerary for you. This year, the Italian High Renaissance master is the subject of many special exhibitions on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Some are part of the Universal Leonardo Project, a European effort to improve understanding of the artist and his intellectual heritage. One pair luckily runs through the early Winter. And an extremely significant one covers the relationship between art and everyday life in Leonardo's Italy.
Please note: London's Victoria & Albert Museum is accepting ticket reservations on the Internet for Leonardo da Vinci: Experience, Experiment and Design and At Home in Renaissance Italy. If The British Museum's recent record-breaking attendance figures for Michelangelo Drawings: Closer to the Master are any indication of Renaissance art's popularity, one hopes that you ordered tickets yesterday.
Leonardo: The Madonna with the Carnation
September 14-December 5, 2006
Examines Leonardo da Vinci's Madonna and Child with a Carnation (1475-76) in light of new technical and analytical studies. Included are paintings and drawings of the same subject by his fellow students from the workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio (1435-1488).
The Alte Pinakothek is located at Barer Strasse 27, D-80799 Munich, Germany (Website). The museum is open Tuesday from 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM and Wednesday through Sunday from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Admission is €5,50 (€1 on Sunday).
The Ashmolean Museum of Art & Archaeology
August 9-November 5, 2006
A group of drawings by Leonardo da Vinci forms the nucleus of a special exhibition that examines how other artists and scholars interpreted and were influenced by the master.
Among the works by Leonardo's hand in this show is his delicate Young Woman Seated in a Landscape with a Unicorn (A Maiden with a Unicorn) from the late 1470s. This work on paper was recently on display in Leonardo da Vinci: Master Draftsman, The Metropolitan Museum of Art's 2003 monographic exhibition of the artist's works on paper. (The presence of the Vatican Collections' St. Jerome Praying in the Wilderness, an oil and tempera painted sketch on walnut wood begun in 1481, was a notable exception.) In the composition, a young woman seated in three-quarter view points directly with her right index finger to a serene unicorn with his front legs gently tucked beneath him. The maiden holds his leash with her left hand. Leonardo's light touch of pen and inconsistent parallel hatching of lines suggest stylistically that the drawing was executed during the formative years of the genius' career.
Leonardo da Vinci (Italian, 1452-1519)
A Maiden with a Unicorn, late 1470s
Brown ink on paper
9.4 x 7.4 cm
© The Ashmolean Museum of Art & Archaeology, Oxford
Scholars hypothesize that A Maiden with a Unicorn was a preparatory sketch for the allegorical reverse side of Leonardo's Ginevra de' Benci, a female portrait that dates from the same period. But this theory has yet to be proven. The ultimately childless Ginevra is depicted before a juniper bush, a plant that symbolized chastity in late-medieval and Renaissance times. The artist possibly intended the panel's other side to include a lady and a unicorn, a motif found in some Italian Renaissance marriage paintings and commemorative medals. Nobody knows for sure. Leonardo was likely familiar with bestiaries (illustrated compendia of real and imagined animals) from where he might have derived the mythical creature's imagery. In medieval folklore, the lustful unicorn could be tamed only by a virgin. Therefore, the leashed and tamed fabled beast in Leonardo's drawing could symbolize the female sitter's virtuous nature. Writings by the artist indicate that he intended the drawing to indicate the woman's chastity (possibly an iconographic reference to the Virgin Mary). Ultimately, Leonardo changed the design of Ginevra de' Benci's reverse side to a more emblematic laurel and palm wreath.
Leonardo da Vinci (Italian, 1452-1519)
Ginevra de' Benci, ca. 1474-78
Oil on panel
38.1 x 37 cm (15 x 14 9/16 in.)
Alisa Mellon Bruce Fund, 1967.6.1.a
© National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
The Ashmolean Museum is located at Beaumont Street, Oxford OX1 2PH, England (Website). The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM and Sunday from 12:00 Noon to 5:00 PM. Admission is free.
Leonardo da Vinci's "Ginevra de' Benci" is on display at the National Gallery of Art, Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20565 (Website). The museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM and Sunday from 11:00 AM to 6:00 PM. Admission is free.
Christ Church Picture Gallery
Leonardo and Milan: Drawings from the Guise Collection
August 9-November 5, 2006
The gallery exhibits drawings by Leonardo, his pupils and followers, describing their achievements while documenting the taste and collecting methods of General John Guise (1682/83-1765).
Christ Church Picture Gallery is located in Christ Church, St. Aldates, Oxford OX1 1DP, England (Website). It's open according to the following schedule: April through September, Monday to Saturday from 10:30 AM to 5:00 PM and Sunday from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM; and October through March, Monday to Saturday from 10:30 AM to 1:00 PM and 2:00 PM to 4:30 PM. Admission is £2.00.
Galleria degli Uffizi
The Mind of Leonardo:
The Universal Genius at Work
March 6, 2006-January 7, 2007
Displaying numerous drawings, some paintings and expertly constructed working models of machines designed by Leonardo da Vinci, the exhibition explores the Italian Renaissance master's "universal" role in the development of art, anatomical studies, science and technology. The fertile mind of this sophisticated artist and draftsman is demystified, allowing one to see Leonardo as the consummate investigator and inventive architect of his time. His insatiable desire to unify all facets of knowledge, not uncommon in the Renaissance and aimed at attaining a perfect imitation of nature in his artistic works, is evident in this comprehensive presentation.
The Uffizi Gallery, located at Piazzale degli Uffizi, 50122 Florence, Italy (Website), is open Tuesday through Sunday from 8:15 AM to 5:30 PM. Admission is: €6,50.
The Last Supper from Leonardo's Circle
August 9-November 5, 2006
The Last Supper attributed to Giampetrino (act. ca. 1495-1549) from the collection of London's Royal Academy of Arts was influenced by Leonardo da Vinci's fresco of the New Testament subject in the refectory of Santa Maria della Grazia in Milan. Giampetrino's remarkable work is on view at Magdalen College in a fifteenth-century religious setting.
Magdalen College, High Street, Oxford OX1 4AU, England (Website), is open according to the following schedule: August 9 through September 30 from 12:00 Noon to 6:00 PM; and October 1 through November 5 from 1:00 PM to 6:00 PM. Admission is £3.
Museum of Science and Industry
Leonardo da Vinci: Man, Inventor, Genius
April 14-September 4, 2006
Sixty custom-built wooden models of Leonardo's inventions never displayed in the United States, digital simulations, an original drawing of a stage set and other exhibits describe the life and achievements of Leonardo da Vinci in a multimedia presentation. The show's centerpiece is a recreation of Leonardo's studio. Within it is a reproduction of an oversized horse's head with eyes wide open and flaring nostrils. It simulates part of an equestrian monument commissioned by Ludovico Sforza (1452-1508), the ruthless Duke of Milan and Leonardo's patron, to honor the despot's father. Casting problems, the sheer weight (over 60 tons) of the proposed statue at 24 feet high and the French invasion of Italy (1494-95) by the chivalric Charles VIII (r. 1483-98) contributed to the sculpture having never been realized.
Recreation of Leonardo da Vinci's Workshop with
Reproduction of Horse's Head from Planned Equestrian
Monument to Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan
© Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, Illinois
The Museum of Science and Industry, 57 Street and Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60637-2093 (Website), is open Monday through Saturday from 9:30 AM to 5:30 PM and Sunday from 11:00 AM to 5:30 PM. Admission is $11.00 for adults, $9.50 for senior citizens (65 years of age and older) and $7.00 for children ages 3 to 11 ($10.00, $8.75 and $6.25 for Chicago city residents, respectively).
Museum of the History of Science
Leonardo and the Mathematical Arts
August 9-November 5, 2006
Instruments for drawing, surveying, astronomy and telling time from the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries describe the mathematical culture of the Renaissance. The exhibition describes how Leonardo da Vinci worked within and beyond the standard definition of "the mathematical arts" during this period.
The Museum of the History of Science, Broad Street, Oxford OX1 3AZ, England (Website), is open Tuesday through Saturday from 12:00 Noon to 4:00 PM and Sunday from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM. Admission is free.
Victoria & Albert Museum
Leonardo da Vinci: Experience, Experiment and Design
September 14, 2006-January 7, 2007
This ticketed special exhibition explores Leonardo da Vinci's "laboratory of the mind" and how the prodigious polymath thought on paper, a rare commodity in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Europe. Divided into four sections (The Mind's Eye, The Lesser and Greater Worlds, Making Things and Force), 60 drawings, the V&A's three Forster Codices, notebooks, computer animations and three-dimensional models illustrate the Italian High Renaissance master's inventions, his ideas about the age-long transformation of the earth and motion of water, Leonardo's understanding of the role of mathematical proportion in the universe, his anatomical studies and the artist's works on geometry, hydraulic machines and weights.
At Home in Renaissance Italy
October 5, 2006-January 7, 2007
Explores the relationship between urban homes and the visual arts in Renaissance Italy through ceramics, furniture, paintings, sculptures, textiles and the decorative arts in the household setting of a typical palazzo. This international loan exhibition evokes the experience of everyday life in the Renaissance home through artworks and objects from the Victoria & Albert Museum and other collections. At Home in Renaissance Italy will travel to one other venue.
Vittore Carpaccio (Italian, ca. 1455-1523/26)
Birth of the Virgin, ca. 1504-08
Tempera on canvas
126 x 128 cm
© Accademia Carrara, Bergamo
The Victoria & Albert Museum, located at Cromwell Road, South Kensington, London SW7 2RL, England (Website), is open daily from 10:00 AM to 5:45 PM (on Wednesday and the last Friday of each month until 10:00 PM, with selected galleries remaining open after 6:00 PM). Admission to the museum is free. The price of admission for each show is £8.20. Ordering tickets through the museum's website is highly recommended.
Special thanks to Susie Gault of The Ashmolean Museum of Art & Archaeology and Beth Boston of the Museum of Science and Industry for their invaluable assistance regarding image acquisitions.
From your Guide: Stan Parchin, Senior Correspondent for Museums and Special Exhibitions, is a specialist in ancient, late-medieval and Renaissance art and history, and a regular contributor to About Art History. You may read all of his Special Exhibition and Catalogue Reviews here.