Archive for December 10th, 2011

I should have paid a visit.

Saturday, December 10th, 2011
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"A resemblance of the divine mind"?

During my recent London sojourn, I passed the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square.  I hadn’t visited in years, and didn’t this time. Yet I remembered an old friend there: the Leonardo da Vinci charcoal cartoon of the Madonna, Child, St. Anne and John the Baptist.  I remember sitting contemplatively in the darkened alcove that housed it after I first moved to London years ago.

I should have stopped in last month.  Little did I know that a megawatt exhibition of Leonardo’s paintings had just kicked off.  On the other hand, a friend reminded me, do I want to fight my way to spy Leonardo intermittently through large mobs of chattering people?

My desire was piqued more than assuaged when I saw a magazine on a friend’s coffeetable, with another old friend on the cover.  No wonder the Lady with an Ermine was not available for viewing when I went to Kraków last spring (I’d introduced myself in 2008).  She was being gussied up for London.

“Yet what is even more impressive is the way that these spectacular loans have been devised, not simply to draw crowds – although they will, of course, do that – but to encourage us to think more deeply about Leonardo as an artist. Far more even than Michelangelo, he has come to stand as the archetype of universal genius – an anatomist, inventor and theorist pursuing his pioneering studies alone – to such a degree that the fact that he was primarily a painter operating in the commercial and courtly world of Renaissance Italy has been in danger of being forgotten.  The exhibition focuses on the 18 years he spent in Milan at the court of Ludovico Sforza.”

The article, by Michael Hall, was the cover story on a magazine I hadn’t thought about for years, ye olde Country Life, which I had always thought a stuffy, snooty sort of affair, filled with the names of people I’d never heard of.  It’s been revamped, and now it’s rather fun. There’s still a lot of pricey estates in the English countryside (though now it looks a bargain when compared to the Bay Area housing markets), but it also discusses a William Golding centenary exhibition, “Lord of the Flies and Beyond,” at the Bodleian, and a small tidbit on how the proceeds of the sale of two sketch-leaves of Edward Elgar‘s unfinished 3d Symphony are going to the great-great-granddaughter of the woman he he loved madly (she’ll be using the money to study at the Royal College of Music).

Meanwhile, the Leonardo exhibition continues till February 5, though I’m unlikely to catch it. It brings together more than half of his known paintings.  It also includes the first painting in over a century to be accepted as a hitherto unknown Leonardo:

“…an emphasis on perfect beauty that is strongly evident also in the newly discovered Christ as Salvator Mundi, begun in about 1499. … Leonardo strives to go beyond reality to embody an approach to art that he described thus: ‘The divinity which is the science of painting transmutes the painter’s mind into a resemblance of the divine mind.'”