Leonardo da Vinci @ Bristol Museum and Art Gallery

A chance to meet fellow OCA student, Dorothy Flint, and see some superb drawings from The Royal Collection. In our house, we have at least two copies of Leonardo’s complete works as well as various other publications about him or by him. In the last few years, I have been to a Leonardo exhibition at The Victoria and Albert Museum as well as another exhibition of Italian drawings in which Leonardo was featured at the British Museum while I missed his major exhibition of paintings at The National Gallery last year since it was booked up even though he lived some 500 years ago in another country namely Italy.

Dorothy is an octogenerian student who is doing the Illustration Level 1 module. She had seen the exhibition before and so was able to show me around. There are only 12 drawings, all of which have been exquisitely executed, using a variety of papers and drawing materials such as chalk and ink. The subjects are also varied and include references to war, the human body and the apocalypse.

Perhaps my favourite was of acorns, still in their pods and attached to the branch which still bore leaves. Not only was the detail exquisite, it had been done using a rusty red colour, which belonged to both the chalk used to inscribe it and the paper on which it was made.

I also liked the head of an old man who has a somewhat exaggerated beak-like nose and appears short of teeth. His flowing beard is intricately illustrated and restores any dignity he might have lost in the almost comical representation of his face.

Another striking  drawing is that of a woman’s face, the inherent beauty of which is used to advertise the exhibition. However, the point of this drawing is to be found in the complex arrangement of the hair rather than the face.

After taking tea with Dorothy, I go back to see the exhibition again. This time I am with a group of visually impaired people and the guide rather looses my attention by saying that the drawings were probably acquired by the Royal Family during the reign of Charles 1’st when the writing on the wall of the exhibition says it was Charles 2’nd. She also says one or two other things that seem out of place but it is good to be able to spend almost an hour going around having a closer look at some of the drawings. Another image that strikes me is done on blue paper and shows a rearing horse. This was a design for a statue that was never made because Milan was invaded and the copper which would have been used in the statue was required for cannon fodder while the mould made to cast the statue was used for target practice. The guide mentioned something about the impractical aspirations of the artist Leonardo rather than the reality of the situation at that time.

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