Da Vinci Horses Silk Tie
The expression ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’, might have been coined for Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, commonly known as Leonardo da Vinci or often simply as Leonardo, yet like almost everything one might associate with the man, this English language idiom appears to have only been firmly arrived at centuries in his wake.
Not only was it a personal philosophy of the archetypal ‘renaissance man’, that visual evidence was more persuasive than academic argument, but for 500 hundred years since his death at Clos Luce, in Amboise, France, academics, historians, artists, mathematicians, architects, medics, botanists, engineers, journalists and the public at large have discussed, argued and written about a genius largely evidenced in pictorial form.
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As of 2017 the painting Salvator Mundi (c.1500) an imagining of Jesus Christ by the artist holds the record for the most expensive painting ever sold at auction recording a $450.3M sale price. His commission for the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria della Grazie in Milan, known as The Last Supper, is the most famous western religious image ever created. Annually, upwards of 6 million people make a pilgrimage to the city of lights to come face to face with la Gioconda, ‘the laughing one’ making it likely that the Mona Lisa (1503–05/07) is the world’s most recognized work of art.
Yet despite the enduring enormity of these examples as testimony to the magnitude of this artist, Leonardo was not a prolific painter. The overwhelming amount of his output was as a draftsman, producing thousands of pages of drawings with notations to display in abundance the intrigue that the mechanics of the world offered his giant mind, as well as the imaginings and inventions of it.
Perhaps the most instantly recognisable of these drawings is the Vitruvian Man, a sketch that elegantly illustrates human proportions.
Vitruvian Man Silk Tie
Fitting then, half a millennia on from the end of his physical life, the spirit of Leonardo Da Vinci remains as influential as ever, and this year will see celebrations of the figure yet to be surpassed in the cohesion of what we now consider erroneously to be the divergent disciplines of art and science.
In the UK, the Royal Collection Trust will bring together some 200 drawings by Leonardo to form Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing, the largest single exhibition of works in over 65 years when in May it opens the doors to the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace.
As a preamble to this, from this month 12 select examples will be on individual display at 12 nationwide locations, and following the London exhibit’s end in October, curators will offer 80 drawings at the Queen’s Gallery, Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh from November.
As home to nearly a third of paintings by the artist, the Musée du Louvre in Paris will bring together others this autumn, adding sculptures and drawings, the latest research findings, critical editions of key documents and conservation work by the museum.
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Also due for release this year are the findings of DNA testing on remains unconfirmed as those of the artist that were begun in 2016. Although known to have been initially interred at the Collegiate Church of Saint-Florentin at the Château d'Amboise in the Loire Valley, the building was destroyed in 1802 and the burial location lost.
Unimaginable as it may seem, it took over 60 years for excavations to begin on the site. During these works, a partially complete skeleton noted for its ‘unusually large skull’, and with inconclusive partial stone inscriptions nearby were elected as identifying the artist, with the caveat displayed by plaque on re-interring that this is only a presumption. The DNA testing seeks to resolve if this guesswork is in fact correct.
Far and away the focus for all things Leonardo Da Vinci in 2019 will be on Milan, the city in which the artist resided for the best part of 30 years of his professional life, where he was commissioned to paint the Virgin of the Rocks (1491/2-09), The Last Supper and the never completed ‘Gran Cavallo’, a giant equestrian sculpture intended in honour of the 4th Duke of Milan, Francesco Sforza.
Da Vinci Horse Chiffon Scarf
Various exhibitions as well as sites that formed the backdrop to the life of the artist, such as Leonardo’s vineyard, will be part of the Leonardo 500 celebrations.
Already in place as of last month, in the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria della Grazie, the site of the Last Supper, is an exhibition entitled ‘Leonardo da Vinci: First Ideas for The Last Supper’ displaying 10 preliminary drawings to the masterpiece by the artist and his apprentices.
As is clear and already mentioned, the influence and spirit of Leonardo Da Vinci continues and The Last Supper after Leonardo beginning in April at the Fondazione Stelline Corso Magenta 61, will detail how his work has impacted contemporary creations and artists.
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The official beginning of the festival happens in May, the month of the artist’s death, at the Sala delle Asse, or ‘Room of the Wooden Boards’, at the Sforza Castle. Leonardo and the Sala delle Asse converging nature, art and science will take place at the location of the recently further restored trompe-l’oeil of trees, and fruits that the artist created in honour of his patron at the time, Ludovico il Moro, Duke of Milan. A multi-media installation and works by other renaissance artists will accompany this exhibit.
Described as a a ‘georeferenced’ visual map, the Virtual Museum of Leonardo’s Milan, will reconnect visitors to the Museo di Arte Antica, Sala delle Armi also at the Sforza Castle, with the sights and sounds of the high renaissance and the street reality of 15th and 16th century Milan.
On recapturing Milan in 1515, King Francis I of France effectively requisitioned the aging Leonardo Da Vinci to his service. Some 10 years prior to that, the then Duke of Angoulême, commissioned one of the earliest copies of The Last Supper to be made as a tapestry. Following recent restoration, this unique item will feature in Leonardo’s Supper for Francis I: A Masterpiece in Silk and Silver, on loan from the Vatican museum to be displayed in the Palazzo Reale from October 7th through to January 23rd 2020.
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And just as a footnote, my personal favourite work by Leonardo is a collaborative one. As a designer and artist with a background in science education, for me it is the Divina Proportione for which Da Vinci provided illustrations to accompany the treatise of his friend Luca Pacioli, that offers an inspirational insight into the unified approach of the great man.
The title of the book refers to the ‘Golden Ratio’ or ‘Divine Proportion’, and is a foundation principle for architects, geometricians, artists working in perspective, even for designers of typography in the digital age, and those curious to the mathematics of the natural world.
Pacioli was not only a friend of Da Vinci, as well as a teacher to him of mathematical principles but is also regarded as the 'Father of Accounting and Bookkeeping'. Evidence, if any further were needed that then as now, if you want to make your name and your fortune, first get yourself a good accountant!