Issue Number: 92
Decoding Da Vinci
Leonardo’s codices reveal the workings of his imagination, claims Emma Crichton-Miller. They are the stars of a show at the V&A that kicks off a year of looking at Leonardo
Following hard on the heels of the hugely popular exhibition of Michelangelo’s drawings at the British Museum, this autumn the V&A provides a rare opportunity to examine the drawings of that other Renaissance titan, Leonardo da Vinci. As Professor Martin Kemp, renowned Leonardo scholar and curator of this exhibition insists, Leonardo drawings were not just sketches for larger paintings but the seed-bed of his imagination. In studying them, you engage directly, not with the product, but with the process of his thought, the conjuring from nothing of ideas as various as the physics of flight, the motion of the waves, human anatomy, the structure of engines of war and the physiognomy of old age.
While it is a miraculous achievement to have brought so many of these precious codices together in one place, Professor Kemp is anxious that we do not venerate them like holy icons of a silenced mind, but engage directly with their dynamism and fluidity. To this end, he has worked with a team of model makers and animators to bring these drawings to life, projecting the animations into the air above the drawings so that we might, as it were, see the ideas forming in Leonardo’s mind. As Kemp puts it, though the drawings themselves are small, ‘the scale of thinking is enormous’.
This exhibition is the opening fanfare for a year-long celebration of Leonardo’s achievements and continuing influence. Led by Professor Kemp and Professor Marina Wallace of the University of the Arts, London, ‘Universal Leonardo’ is the largest ever series of linked exhibitions across Europe devoted to the legendary artist. Rather than mount one blockbuster exhibition involving the transport of fragile objects, the ‘Universal Leonardo’ team has co-ordinated exhibitions at or near the places where the works currently hang – in Florence, Munich and Budapest, as well as in Oxford and London – encouraging the public to embark on a winter pilgrimage. Not only does each of the shows tackle a different aspect of Leonardo’s work, from his scientific inventiveness to his love of anatomy and design, they are held in institutions that reflect the staggering diversity of his achievement: science museums, national art galleries and botanical gardens.
Leonardo Da Vinci: Experience, Experiment and Design, Victoria and Albert Museum (020 7942 2000), 14 Sep–7 Jan; Imagining Leonardo, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (01865 278000), until 5 Nov, is one of several exhibitions on the artist around Oxford this autumn. A painted copy of Leonardo’s ‘Last Supper’ by Giampietrino is on display at Magdalen College, Oxford, on long-term loan from the Royal Academy Collection. For details of these and other related shows across Europe, visit www.zooartfair.com
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