22 Dec 2011

The once in a lifetime Leonardo

Was there perhaps a blue moon last night? Somehow I found myself with just three other people alone in the incredible Leonardo da Vinci block-buster exhibition at London’s National Gallery.

No crowds, just complete, peaceful, access to some of the most remarkable paintings and drawings in the world.

I was a Trustee there once and this was a one off chance to go in’‘after hours’ . It was late and most other former Trustees, if they had been, had gone.

Left to a visual conversation with this genius, this man who understood anatomy, science, and beauty, and could represent all three so effortlessly, we found ourselves consumed by his attention to detail, and his vast capacity to represent it with the brush and the pencil.

The braid on the collar of a dress or a jacket; single strands of hair; colour; light; shade; the fall of fabric on the human form; it is ,with just sixteen great paintings and perhaps fifty drawings, the most comprehensive insight into Leonardo’s work that we are ever likely to see in one place in our lifetime.

There are only six places in the world that can boast a Leonardo painting. Krakow in Poland is one of them. This painting, Lady with an Ermine, is probably the best preserved of those hanging today in London. It is an absolute show stopper. Last night I found myself wandering back to it time and time again.

But I also found myself peering at the tiny pencil strokes and shadings of the drawings. One thing I always look for, is where the artwork actually lives.

No fewer than twenty of these incredibly rare pieces have been lent by the Queen. They are normally housed in the Royal Collection at Windsor and are not on public display. Under certain circumstances you can make an application to see them.

There has long been confusion about what belongs to ‘we the people’ and what belongs personally to the monarch.

When are such items a gift to the Monarch as a representative of the British people, and when are they made to the actual individual who happens to be the monarch?

The National Gallery owns a large tract of real estate behind the building in Trafalgar Square that awaits development as additional galleries. The largely inaccessible ‘Royal Collection’ is regarded by a number of experts as ripe for a ‘rearrangement’ to provide ‘we the people’ the opportunity to see such sumptuous pieces as these twenty drawings by Leonardo held by the Queen, any time we want.

I have even heard it suggested that if Prince Charles ever becomes King, his coronation act might be to bring about just such a move.

In the meantime, come February, when the exhibition comes to an end,  these priceless objects will return to the closed privacy of Windsor Castle to reside largely unseen by the vast majority of people who live in, or visit, this country.



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