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dinsdag 11 september 2007

Expo Leonardo Da Vinci

August 18 2007 till March 16 2008 you can visit the exposition Leonardo Da Vinci. The European Genius at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, also known as the Basilica of Koekelberg (Brussels). Since they have used the available room in the fifth largest church in the world, it is a fairly large exhibit. Without really dawdling it took my girlfriend and me about two hours and a half to get through.

The exhibition is divided into several themes:

The person: the first part is constructed as a biographical sketch by means of paintings, statues and video images of the places he’s been. You start in Vinci, with a video wall that shows the house he was born in for instance. Then you go to Tuscany, where he developed his love for nature and science. Next is Florence where he worked as an apprentice with renowned artists. His drawings from that period are excellent. Next you are taken to Milan, Venice, Rome, the Adriatic and Val de Loire for his period of patronage (by the Medicis, Sforzas and the French King François I). It was nice to see how his ideas and skills developed over time, but, although it is an interesting introduction, for me it took a bit too long to get through. Especially because there was not much art to be seen from the hand of Leonardo. Most of it was comprised by works from other, contemporary artists. Nothing wrong with that as such, but that’s not what we were there for. Although the pieces that were there, were good, they weren’t extraordinary. A nice touch were the works that were inspired by him, e.g. Verochio’s statue of David, where Leonardo supposedly stood model for, Rafael's School of Athens (this was a lithography I think), where his face was used for Plato and Louis Gallet's painting of his death with King François I at his side (based on a popular French rumor). A bonus was his famed self portrait (or so I thought, in fact it is a "remake").

The artist: this was a mixture of paintings, drawings and video images with small documentaries about specific parts of his work. The most important piece in the first room of this part of the exhibit is the, well known, Vitruvian Man, depicting the perfect proportions of man. Together with the Mona Lisa, this image has become emblematic for Leonardo. So I enjoyed seeing it for real instead of on some poster. How wrong I was. But more on that later. Other works include different paintings and drawings by his hand, as well as mechanical sketches and a handbook that he had compiled. A bit further paintings of his students could be seen, some of which were quite remarkable. After this came the best paintings of the exhibition: Madonna (or Virgin) of the Rocks, the newly accredited Maria Magdalena and the Tongerlo abbey’s copy of the Last Supper.

Three copies exist of the Madonna of the Rocks, one in the National Gallery of London, one in the Louvre in Paris, and the one on display here coming from a private collection. In 1483 Leonardo and the de Predis brothers were commissioned by the Milanese Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception to paint a work celebrating the Immaculate Conception for their new chapel. The images to be portrayed were stipulated in a contract. Although Leonardo did paint what was asked he gave it his own interpretation. However he finished the painting too late, which led to a legal dispute. Eventually he made several versions with each a slightly different emphasis.

Maria Magdalena: this is the pièce de resistance of the exposition. The first mention of this painting was in a reproduction in a monograph of 1929 by Wilhelm Suida, who exhibited it in 1949. Since, this work was only shown to the public once, in Ancône in 2005. Although it has been named Maria Magdalena, there are virtually no elements of the traditional iconography to be seen. We see a woman with a scarlet cloak, bare breasted, holding a tip of the cloth in her left hand. Scans show that underneath the part of the cloak that is being held, there used to be something else. What, cannot be seen. One theory states that this was a dagger. If this is the case, it is reminiscent of Lucrezia Romana. The famous Roman Historian Titus Livius tells her story. She was raped by a nobleman, after which she takes her own life with a dagger.

The Last Supper: well, who doesn’t know this painting? The copy of the abbey of Tongerlo, of which we get to see a huge poster, is one of the best. Thanks to a different technique it is extremely well kept and still shows certain elements indiscernible on the original (whose decay took place within years of completion).

The engineer: here of course we were able to see the mechanical improvements and other inventions of his. On display were wooden models of his tanks, flying machines and bridges, among other things, flanked by his drawings on the subject.

The humanist: in the last rooms his (original) illustrations and codices were shown in the field of anatomy. His attributions to our understanding of the human body can hardly be underestimated. After years of studies he comes to understand the human anatomy on an unprecedented level, as revealed in his mirrored writing and detailed illustrations.

Although it is definitely an interesting exhibit if you don’t know anything about Leonardo Da Vinci, it cannot be said that it was more than that. The concept of the themes has an instructional value, but at some points there wasn’t enough contextualization to really do justice to the offered information and ideas. Just before seeing the machines you walk through a room portraying the mechanical ideas of Leonardo. Drawings are on display and video images show certain principles. Which principles isn’t clear since no explanation is being offered. All in all, these are only minor annoyances; the real letdown was the fact that hardly any original work by Da Vinci is to be seen. Except for the anatomical studies at the end of the exhibit, and the Madonna of the Rocks and Maria Magdalena, all of Leonardo’s works are copies, including his self-portrait at the beginning. Even the Vitruvian Man is a facsimile. Luckily I was able to get in for free thanks to my teaching staff card (I’m not a teacher though, for the moment I’m working for the College of Antwerp, Hogeschool Antwerpen) while my girlfriend got a discount because she’s still a student. If not, €10 for an, albeit elaborate, exhibition of mostly fakes is quite expensive.

Conclusion: this exposition is ideally suited for a visit by a school to instruct their students about the importance of Leonardo, but a tad expensive if you already know more about his life and work. If you want to see something amazing go to the Louvre or the National Gallery in London. It was nice to see models of his machines. Another way of seeing them is to go to Le Clos Luce Chateau in Amboise (France).

1 opmerking:

Anthony zei

I would have to agree with the conclusion. This is expensive when you consider what it is. While it is a rather fascinating exhibition, I found a number of problems with it:

- don't let the fact that it is at the world's fourth largest church fool you. The exhibition is housed in a single nave of the church, and walls have been erected all round the church so you can't actually see it. You could be in the basement of any art gallery for all the difference it makes
- the reconstructed models of Da Vinci's work are minatures
- despite the fact that this is an EU financed exhibition, exhibits are only explained in French and Dutch, you need to pay an extra 2.50 for an audioguide if you want anything more
- the audioguide is horrendous. It doesn't explain most items, and when it does, it asks you to zig-zag across a room, which is usually impossible due to the crowd flow
- most items are very poorly laid out. For example the original vitruvian man, is placed in the corner of a tiny room, meaning that 3 people max can view it at once, when there's usually about 20 wanting to do so
- while there are a large number of original leonardo sketches, the painting collection is poor.

In short, if you can't visit one of the big galleries where there is Leonardo's work, this could be a useful and interesting exhibition. Otherwise, stay away, or at least don't get your hopes up