Last Monday I went to see the `HOTTEST' show in town -Leonardo da Vinci's `Painter at the Court of Milan' Travelling Exhibition in the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery.
It is the first and most complete display of his surviving paintings ever held anywhere in the world, exhibiting loaned works never seen before here in the UK.
Focussing on his work in the 1480's and 1490's, there are included in this show some small works by his young apprentices which bear all the hallmarks of Leonardo's techniques, and are beautiful in themselves, but never raise to the their master's astonishing beauty and lightness.
Most of these images we have seen a thousand times in books and postcards etc, but nothing can prepare you for the impact they have on your entire mojo, when you see them in the flesh. They speak to all your senses.
It is curated very cleverly. You have to ascend 2 levels, and walk along a great long corridor to the Sunley Room and there you are confronted with the almost supernatural magnificance of The Last Supper.
It is a full life size replica painted in 1520, as the original is a fresco, so completely untransportable, but the work they have there is considered to be the most accurate copy ever painted. The first sighting of which made my knees buckle. It was a welcome sight to see a large seating area in front of it, as it really does take your breath away and deserves contemplation. I sat there transfixed until the gallery closed and they chucked us out. It is such an iconic painting
It is such an iconic painting, and reproduced a million times, but its impact when you see it in the flesh is not dampened by that fact. It is huge by the way, and takes up your entire field of vision. For me, one of the most astonishing qualities about it, is how modern it actually looks. The expression on all the apostle's faces look so fresh and relevant, the colours are so vibrant, they almost render the scene playful, but the full drama of the subject matter of the painting is at its core and there are various symbols dotted about the painting to give clues. Judas has a purse in his hands, spilt salt on the table etc . I don't want to give too much of the game away!
Whether he is painting holy icons, commissions of vain aristocracy or pencil drawings of Jo public, his work has a quality that has been un-surpassed and can move you to tears with its sensitivity, originality, beauty and above all else - his vision.
A lot of people focus on his inventions and technical drawings claiming he was so much ahead of his time, but his fascination with his world and how it works was entirely symptomatic of the Renaissance. He really was a man of his time, albeit an extraordinary one, and that is something we witness at this ground breaking show. That although we can tell his paintings were born (amazingly) 500 years ago, they are of such outstanding beauty, that they
actually transcend their time and whisper just as poetically to us here in 2011.
there, I would actually consider travelling abroad, just to be in the presence
of these amazing works again.
What a privilege it was.