‘The most eagerly awaited show in living memory’: The National Gallery’s Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition opens this week

Leonardo’s 'Virgin of the Rocks'

Two versions of Leonardo’s 'Virgin of the Rocks' form the centrepiece of the National Gallery's exhibition

The National Gallery’s ‘Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan’ opens this week, and is the most complete display of Leonardo’s rare surviving paintings ever held. Today we look at this landmark event, and the beautiful exhibition catalogue Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan, which has been described by the Telegraph as the ‘new gold standard’ of books on Da Vinci

Over the past month, members of the British art press have been getting very exited about the National Gallery’s much-anticipated exhibition ‘Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan’, which brings together sensational Da Vinci works never before seen in the UK.

TimeOut magazine featured this ‘landmark’ exhibition on its cover, while leading broadsheet journalists have been praising the National Gallery’s acquisition of several seminal Leonardo works on loan from the Louvre and the Vatican (for instance, in an article entitled Lend us your Leonardo: how to make a blockbuster show the Guardian investigated how the exhibition was created behind the scenes).

Since being opened to the press ahead of the official launch, the exhibition has already gained enormous critical acclaim, with the Telegraph’s Richard Dorment calling it ‘the most eagerly awaited exhibition in living memory’ in a great four star review. Well, the media frenzy is about to get bigger, as the exhibition, which was five years in the making, opens this Wednesday at the National Gallery.

Madonna Litta

‘Madonna Litta’ (on loan from the Hermitage, St Petersburg)

While numerous exhibitions have looked at Leonardo da Vinci as an inventor, scientist or draughtsman,  ‘Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan’ is the first to be dedicated to his aims and techniques as a painter. Inspired by the recently restored National Gallery painting, ‘The Virgin of the Rocks’, the exhibition focuses on Leonardo as an artist. In particular it concentrates on the work he produced as court painter to Duke Lodovico Sforza in Milan in the late 1480s and 1490s.

Featuring the finest paintings and drawings by Leonardo and his followers, the exhibition examines Leonardo’s pursuit for perfection in his representation of the human form. Works on display include ‘La Belle Ferronière’ (Musée du Louvre, Paris), the ‘Madonna Litta’ (Hermitage, Saint Petersburg) and ‘Saint Jerome’ (Pinacoteca Vaticana, Rome). The two versions of Leonardo’s ‘Virgin of the Rocks’ – belonging to the National Gallery and the Louvre – will also be shown together for the first time.

The final part of the exhibition features a near-contemporary, full-scale copy of Leonardo’s famous ‘Last Supper’, on loan from the Royal Academy. Seen alongside all the surviving preparatory drawings made by Leonardo for the ‘Last Supper’, visitors will discover how such a large-scale painting was designed and executed.

More About the Exhibition Catalogue

Leonardo Da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan

Leonardo Da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan

The catalogue ‘Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan’ focuses on a crucial period in the 1480s and ’90s when, as a salaried court artist to Duke Ludovico Sforza in the city-state of Milan, freed from the pressures of making a living in the commercially-minded Florentine republic, Leonardo produced some of the most celebrated – and influential – work of his career. ‘The Last Supper’, his two versions of ‘The Virgin of the Rocks’, and the beautiful portrait of Cecilia Gallerani, Ludovico’s mistress (‘The Lady with an Ermine’) were paintings that set a new standard for his Milanese contemporaries.

Leonardo’s style was magnified, through collaboration and imitation, to become the visual language of the regime, and by the time of his return to Florence in 1500, his status was utterly transformed. Works in this catalogue represent the diverse range of Leonardo’s artistic output, from drawings in chalk, ink or metalpoint to full-scale oil paintings. Together with the authors’ meticulous research and detailed analysis, they demonstrate Leonardo’s consummate skill and extraordinary ambition as a painter.

The catalogue is already receiving praise from art critics, including the Telegraph’s In Richard Dorment:

The superbly produced catalogue by Luke Syson and Larry Keith is as measured, thoughtful, and original as any I’ve read. In terms of art history, their understanding of Leonardo is the new gold standard.

It truly is a beautiful book, and it makes a magnificent accompaniment to this landmark exhibition.

Page spreads from 'Leonardo Da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan'

Page spreads from 'Leonardo Da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan'

National Gallery Technical Bulletin v. 32; Leonardo Da Vinci: Pupil, Painter, and Master

National Gallery Technical Bulletin v. 32; Leonardo Da Vinci: Pupil, Painter, and Master

The publication of this catalogue accompanies the release of another Leonardo book from the National Gallery: National Gallery Technical Bulletin v. 32; Leonardo Da Vinci: Pupil, Painter, and Master. Published alongside the exhibition this extended volume of The Technical Bulletin documents new research undertaken on the life and work of Leonardo. It includes an analysis of his time in Verrocchio’s workshop, where he adopted the new technique of oil painting; an article on the recent conservation and redisplay of the London version of “The Virgin of the Rocks”; and, examples of Leonardo’s painting practice and influence while he was court painter to the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza.

A special edition Leonardo set is also available from Yale, which consists of both the exhibition catalogue and the Technical Bulletin. See more National Gallery books available from Yale.

‘Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan’ runs from 9 November 2011 until 5 February 2012 at the National Gallery’s Sainsbury Wing. Click here to see full ticket prices.

The exhibition catalogue ‘Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan’ is available now from Yale University Press.

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