After queuing for four hours and hanging around central London for another six, I finally gained entry to the most talked about art show of the season: Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan at the National Gallery. Despite being exhausted when the time came for me to view the exhibition, the opportunity was too good to be missed. The display which completely sold out of online tickets and are only on a first come, first serve basis, focuses on the eighteen years between 1482 and 1499, when da Vinci was a court painter to Ludovico Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan. It puts emphasis on the artists preparatory work, whilst also showing his work side by side the work of his contemporaries.
The exhibition is organised in two parts, the first in the Sainsbury Wing, with a further look at the Last Supper in the Sunley Room. The work in the Sainsbury Wing spans across six rooms, each centred upon a different theme. Across these rooms are nine paintings by the artist – which is impressive seeing as only 20 known paintings by da Vinci survive. Among the most noteworthy are The Lady with an Ermine, Christ as Salvator Mundi and the two versions of the Virgin of the Rocks. The portrait of Christ is on show to the public for the first time and includes a perfectly spherical crystal, which was said to be intractable during Leonardo’s time. The most impressive display for me, was the inclusion of the two versions of the Virgin of the Rocks, hung at either end of a large room, surrounded by drawings and studies. For me, the only improvement would have been if the two paintings were side by side, to really see the differences in each piece. Being completed twenty years apart, we can see many stylistic differences: an alternate approach to nature, a reduced palette and more focus upon the chiaroscuro of the image.
The second part of the exhibition, in the Sunley Room, felt a little disjointed for me. Having to walk upstairs to the other side of the gallery is a little unconventional and not exactly ideal, altering the natural flow of the display. This section presents a full scale copy of da Vinci’s Last Supper, together with the drawings made in preparation for the painting. While an excellent display of one of the artists most famous works, it is a shame that it had to be separated from the rest of the exhibition.
While I must admit I find it hard to believe that the gallery is selling less tickets than usual for each showing of this exhibition as it was crowded and often difficult to get a close look at many of the works on display, if you can handle waiting in the cold, then this is not to be overlooked. Where some have found cause to criticise the high number of work by other artists, I can only praise the gallery for allowing the public to see the comparison to the great master and his contemporaries. I also relish the inclusion of drawings – of which are over 50 – to be able to see the process behind the artists masterpieces, showing the thought process behind his art and only highlighting his technique as a painter.
Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan is showing at the National Gallery until February 5