The Long-Awaited Leonardo da Vinci Exhibition Finally Lands at The Louvre

October 23, 2019

The Renaissance was undoubtedly a complete historical precedent, a period in which various aspects of human civilization shifted. It was primarily marked by the gradual formation of the cities-nations where arts and sciences blossomed, especially in the Apennine Peninsula. All of the latest tendencies in these as well as other disciplines (spanning from architecture, literature, and cartography, to anatomy, geology, and astronomy), merged in an outstanding practice of one of the greatest masters in the entire art history - Leonardo da Vinci.

It is well known that this notable figure was not only a skillful artist who expressed himself through drawing, painting, and sculpture; he was also a genuine scientifically inclined inventor and a sort of a prophet who anticipated later innovations such as airplanes and other devices the present-day humanity could not imagine living without.

This year marks the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci's death in France in 1519, and The Louvre's highly anticipated, grand-scale retrospective of his remarkable oeuvre is definitely one of the highlights among all the commemorative events worldwide.

Leonardo da Vinci - Star of Bethlehem and Studies for the head of Leda
Left: Leonardo da Vinci - Star of Bethlehem, Wood Anemone, Euphorbia Little Lightning. Royal Trust Collection / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019 / Right: Leonardo da Vinci - Studies for the head of Leda. Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019

The Leonardo da Vinci Louvre Survey in Paris

The visitors will have a unique chance to see five paintings and twenty two drawings by Leonardo da Vinci held in the Louvre collection, along with almost one hundred and twenty artifacts including other drawings, sculptures, manuscripts, etc. loaned from the world’s leading institutions such as the British Museum, the Vatican Pinacoteca, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Gallerie dell'Accademia in Venice (among them the Vitruvian Man), to mention a few.

However, da Vinci’s best-known artwork, the iconic Mona Lisa will not be included in this selection; the visitors will be able to see it in the galleries of the museum's permanent collection. Another painting that will likely not be on display is the recently-sold-for-$450-million Salvator Mundi, a painting that was also subject to debate on whether Leonardo was its actual author.

The exhibition is the result of a decade long project under which new scientific analyzes of the Louvre’s paintings occurred, as well as the conservation of three of them (La Belle Ferronnière, Saint Anne, and Saint John the Baptist). Under the curation of Vincent Delieuvin, (Department of Paintings), and Louis Frank (Department of Prints and Drawings), it aims to provide a thorough insight into da Vinci’s artistic practice by revisiting his biography, showing how the artist was a few steps ahead of the artistic and scientific cannons of his time, and exploring his imagination to the full extent.

Leonardo da Vinci - Portrait of young man holding a partition and Saint John the Baptist
Left: Leonardo da Vinci - Portrait of young man holding a partition, says The Musician © Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana / Right: Leonardo da Vinci - Saint John the Baptist © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée du Louvre) / Michel Urtado

The Exhibition Segments

The whole show will be presented through a prism of chronological periods and the artist's geographical movements.

The first segment will focus on the importance of Light, Shade, and Relief in da Vinci's practice. Namely, in 1464, the young artist started an apprenticeship with an accomplished draughtsman and one of the greatest sculptors of the 15th century, Andrea del Verrocchio. There he learned chiaroscuro, along with the sculptural nature of form, and movement, and was very much inspired by Verrocchio’s monumental bronze sculpture Christ and Saint Thomas, made for the Florentine church of Orsanmichele. This segment will feature Leonardo's monochromatic Drapery Studies (painted on linen after clay figures covered with pieces of cloth), together with The Annunciation, the Madonna of the Carnation and the Portrait of Ginevra de’ Benci, marking a shift from sculpture to painting.

The following segment Freedom will explore the artist’s further development, the mastering and extension of the lessons learned; he decided to set free from the conventions by practicing intellectual and technical freedom. That was best expressed through the medium of drawing; da Vinci practically deconstructed the form by delivering incompatible states that sometimes showed nothing but black. The artist described the approach as componimento inculto or intuitive composition. The works to be on display produced accordingly to this approach are The Madonna of the Cat and The Madonna with a Fruit Bowl. A newly found creative freedom enabled him to produce incomplete motifs and scenes and this incompletion became the main characteristic of Leonardo’s painting. After moving from Florence to Milan in 1482, this fruitful period continued and there he produced the works such as Virgin of the Rocks, the Portrait of a Musician and La Belle Ferronnière.

Science is focused on the artist’s scientific contribution to civilization. Along with notes, studies, experiments, reflections, and theories in this segment, this body of work will demonstrate his genius and an ongoing desire to explore what at the time seemed impossible. As a matter of fact, Leonardo was in a quest for truth similarly like Plato and Pythagoras; he was concerned with philosophical problems that transcended the problematic of perspective and form. The drawing on display here that encapsulates this phase of his practice and his interest in science is The Vitruvian Man.

The last segment called Life will focus on the explorations of human form in the great master’s practice. Although Leonardo's scientific approach was quite complex, it gave him the set of skills to perfect shade, light, space, and movement in painting. As mentioned, componimento inculto enabled him to combine forms and express through the revolutionary medium of oil. That is how da Vinci perceived painting – as science which resulted in some of the world’s best-known masterpieces such as Saint Anne, The Battle of Anghiari, Last Supper, and the Mona Lisa.

Leonardo da Vinci - Study of Madonna and Child and Study of hands
Left: Leonardo da Vinci - Study of Madonna and Child, called Madonna with Fruit © RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre Museum) / Michel Urtado / Right: Leonardo da Vinci - Study of hands. Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019

Leonardo da Vinci at the Louvre

This exhibition will surely revisit Leonardo da Vinci’s practice and once again underline why he is considered such a genius on many levels. To get closer to all the visitors regardless of age, the whole presentation will accentuate the portrait of an exceptional innovator and artist in regards to contemporary moment through a virtual reality experience enabling visitors to get to the Mona Lisa closer than ever.

Leonardo da Vinci will be on view at the Louvre’s Hall Napoléon in Paris, France from 24 October 2019 until 24 February 2020.

Featured image: Leonardo da Vinci - Study for Saint Anne: the mantle of the Virgin. © RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre Museum Paris, France) / Michel Urtado. All images courtesy The Louvre.

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