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Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Leonardo Da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan, National Gallery

Tickets are being resold for £400 (face value £16) and apparently it is the show of a lifetime... the hype is certainly overwhelming when visiting the Leonardo Da Vinci at the National Gallery. I felt worried about being mugged, not because of my purse or phone, but in case, God forbid, someone stole my Leonardo ticket - by far the most valuable item in my handbag. Indeed visiting each of the European cities that hold his work in galleries could quite possibly cost less than £400 - is it really worth it?

On entering I felt a sense of relief... at least now I can say I've seen it, and can be included in the privileged elite of Leonardo viewers, and when people discuss the show in years to come I can say, oh yes I was there, wasn't it incredible? And it is incredible, the work of this great master is stunning and the rare chance to view this collection should not be underestimated. His innovative output has inspired generations of artists, scientists, inventors and the chance to see it in the flesh is magnificent.

Like many of the big art shows in London, lighting is low and space is limited... you have to be dedicated to survive the struggle of the unforgiving crowds. Fighting through, I felt hungry to get my dose of Leonardo. Many of the intended works were not completed and the exhibition is small and dense, a glorious selection of paintings and drawings, sketches and studies from his time in Milan. Among the complementary works are pictures by Leonardo’s most promising students like Giovaqnni Antonio Boltraffio and Francesco Napoletano.

The drawings are delicate and divine, often on very tiny pieces of paper (supposedly originally from Leonardo’s pocket notebook) where the artist scribbled away furiously when something or someone aroused his curiousity. I loved the studies in red chalk, this medium was ideal for Leonardo to capture the light on soft skin, the drawings are sensual and naturalistic, the red also gives a luxurious feel.

Seeing the famous paintings was a highlight for me, images I have only ever seen in glossy books. A large central room holds the two versions of ‘Virgin of the Rocks’. It is phenomenal that these paintings were made so many hundreds of years ago and yet are in such vibrant, wonderful condition, they glow impressively in the room. The first picture was a commission for Leonardo, with particularly beautiful chiaroscuro, the light falls romantically on the flesh and the figures appear quite sculptural. They are epic oil paintings that I could stand and stare at for hours.

Don’t forget to go up to the Sunley Room for the final part of the exhibition, arguably the most magical room of the show. Here the work investigates character and emotion and the viewer is introduced to the Last Supper in a magnificent full-scale copy by Giovanni Petro Rizzoli, called Giampietrino (painted in about 1520), a copy that has proved invaluable during the twenty year restoration (1978-98) of the masterpiece. It is thought that Giampietrino was an assistant resident with Leonardo during his time in Milan. In this room there is also an adorable tiny little book that displays Leonardo’s miraculous and characteristic mirror writing, inscribed from right to left. Leonardo often used words alongside his sketches to elaborate ideas. This book is gorgeous and shows the essence of Leonardo’s inquisitive character and deep and powerful intellect.

Leonardo Da Vinci continues until 5 February 2012, visit the website here for more information. For tickets queue up early in the morning and cross your fingers that you'll be one of the first 400 there to snag the daily released tickets.

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