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Sacred Art – A Visit to the Leonardo Da Vinci - A Life in Drawing Exhibition, Glasgow

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum

Sacred Art – A Visit to the Leonardo Da Vinci - A Life in Drawing Exhibition, Glasgow

About the Exhibitionbest car hire Glasgow

The Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing exhibition is being displayed simultaneously in 12 venues across the UK from February 1st to May 6th, 2019 marking the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death.

The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow is the only Scottish venue hosting this exhibition, with different works on view in museums and galleries across the country. The number of exhibits in Glasgow amounts to 12 with a total of 144 drawings on show around the country.

The 12 drawings on display at the Kelvingrove Museum have been provided by Her Majesty the Queen from the Royal Collection.

Who was Leonardo da Vinci?

For those of you who are not aware of Leonardo da Vinci, he was born on April 15th, 1452, near the village of Vinci in Italy.  His father had visions of the young Leonardo becoming a notary like himself, but as he was born “out of wedlock”, this meant he was barred from joining Florence’s guild of notaries. He then focussed on recording in notebooks, the sights around him, by studying the mechanics of how birds fly and the study of fossilised shells and whale bones. He recorded all these notes and drawings using a silverpoint (a traditional drawing technique first used by medieval scribes), dragging a silver rod or stylus across a red-tinted page. Leonardo was left handed, and although he wrote backwards, his numerical calculations were written in the conventional fashion.

After a successful career as an artist, scientist, cartographer, mathematician and anatomical artist (all self-taught), Leonardo da Vinci died in France on May 2nd, 1519. His classic paintings have included the Mona Lisa, The Adoration of the Magi, The Annunciation, Lady with an Ermine, Virgin of the Rocks, and of course the Last Supper mural painted on the wall of the Santa Maria delle Grazie church in Milan, Northern Italy.

Entry to the Exhibition

The exhibition, which is free entry, is based within the basement area of the museum and is accompanied by a rather over-stocked gift shop selling Leonardo souvenirs including Vitruvian Man t-shirts and cufflinks, accompanied by several books and cushions depicting the” Lady with an Ermine”.

The exhibition room is lit by very low lighting to protect the 500-year-old exhibits. Photographs are not permitted, and each exhibit is wall-mounted with a detailed description of each of the sketches or drawings. On the far wall there is a small “theatre” area showing a documentary of the life and works of Leonardo da Vinci.

The first thing I noticed was how small each of the drawings were, approximately A4 sized, but with extremely minute detail. You can visualise the master drawing each of these at a very close proximity, his nose almost touching the drawing surface.

The Exhibits

His depiction of a dramatic flood in “A Deluge” needs a keen eye to pick out the detail. One thing that stands out are the swirling water jets curling towards the viewer. These swirls reminded me of the hair curls used by Leonardo in many of his famous paintings including “Ginevra de’Benci” and “Baptism of Christ”. Leonardo was very interested in the impact of the movement of water and the ripples and waves involved.

“A hillside with an outcrop of stratified rock” depicts various layers of hillside and rocks – needs a good pair of eyes to understand fully what is going on.

Continuing with the geographical theme, Leonardo was responsible for producing many sketches of maps showing the contours of the land and the paths of rivers in detail. These would be used for general information purposes and for military purposes. “The rivers and mountains of central Italy” is a great example of Leonardo’s map making skills.

Also, on show is the “A Star-of-Bethlehem and other plants”, again quite small, drawn with red chalk, and full of swirling curling leaves and stalks of the plant.

One of the exhibits I noticed was of great interest to younger children. This was “Designs of Chariots and Weapons”. This depicts several sketched ideas by Leonardo as to how chariots could be adapted to add flaying canon balls when travelling at speed; an archer with a shield and bow combined and a horse fitted with lances on each side to add to the fearsome lance already held by the rider.

Staying on the horse theme, “Recto: Studies for an equestrian monument verso Studies for an equestrian monument” displays detailed sketches of a horse in motion. Leonardo had been commissioned to build a commemorative statue of a horse for Ludovico Sforza in Milan – a project that was never completed.

“The Bust of the Madonna”, is red chalk drawn on red paper, which takes a good pair of eyes to pick out the detail.

“The bust of a masquerade in profile”, again combines red chalk, along with black chalk. The most noticeable thing here is the woman’s profile, along with the pronounced nose. This profile is seen in many of his sketches.

From an anatomical perspective there are 3 exhibits – “Recto: The surface anatomy of the shoulder and arm. Verso: The vertebral column” which goes into great detail of the bone structure of the arm and the spine. From what I can make out, this also gives a great example of Leonardo’s ability as a left-handed person to write from right to left, and to draw each letter facing backwards – mirror writing.

“The Brain” – this contains detailed drawings of a dissected brain and “The anatomy of a bear’s foot” showing the muscular and skeletal similarities of a bear’s foot to a human foot.

Leonardo da Vinci produced many great anatomical drawings, many which were drawings of cadavers personally dissected by Leonardo – deceased patients at his local hospital.

Finally, for the me the most haunting sketch is “A man tricked by Gypsies”. This depicts a group of 5 detailed caricatures – an old man wearing an oak leaf crown, has the typical Leonardo profile, long nose and protruding jaw. He is facing an elderly woman with challenging features. The other 3 men have evil grins on their faces.

There are several interpretations as to what this depicts. Some believe the old man is about to marry the old lady and his surrounding friends are projecting feelings of derision and compassion. Another theory is that the old man is having his palm read by the old woman, while being surrounded by Gypsies, perhaps about to pickpocket him. This is a great example of Leonardo’s use of hatched lines to give depth and proportion to the sketch.

Thoughts on the Exhibition

To summarise, this is a great opportunity to witness at close hand, the work of the best artist, scientist and mathematician our world has ever known. His work is imaginative and timeless. It is strange to think that in another 500 years similar exhibitions will amaze future generations of art lovers, students and inquisitive children.

Do not expect any of his famous works like the Vitruvian Man or obviously the Mona Lisa, but please take the time to visit Glasgow and the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum for this once in a lifetime cultural opportunity.  

What Happens Next?

In May 2019, all the exhibits (over 200 drawings) currently on display in Birmingham, Leeds, Southampton, Sheffield, Bristol, Belfast, Cardiff, Derby, Liverpool, Manchester and Sunderland will be pulled together and displayed at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, and then moved to the Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyrood, Edinburgh, in November 2019.

Where is the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum?

The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is a grand red sandstone building, located within Kelvingrove Park and lying under the towering shadow of nearby Glasgow University.  Built in 1901, the Art Gallery is located on Argyle Street, between the student-populated Byres Road, West End of Glasgow and the recently resurrected Finnieston area, with its long avenue of trendy hipster restaurants.

The museum boasts a collection of outstanding European artworks, but the star of the show is the painting “Christ of Saint John of the Cross” by Salvador Dali.

As well as the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition, from 22nd January to 6th May 2019, the museum is also hosting Dippy the Dinosaur, the Natural History Museum’s iconic Diplodocus dinosaur skeleton.

Kelvingrove Museum Opening Times

Mon, Tues, Wed & Sat – 10 am to 5 pm

Fri & Sun 11 am to 5 pm

Travelling to the Kelvingrove Museum

Glasgow has an underground system, nicknamed “the clockwork orange” due to its orange colour.

2 subway stations are nearby to the Kelvingrove Museum - Kelvinhall (5-minute walk) or Hillhead Station on Byres Road (10-minute walk).

If driving by car set your Satnav to the postcode G3 8AG.

Argyle Street, Glasgow is on a main bus route with the following numbers passing the Kelvingrove Museum – 17, 2, 3 and 77. Please confirm bus timetables prior to travelling.

Car Parking at the Kelvingrove Museum

There is a car park surrounding the Kelvingrove Museum with prices as follows: -

Mon - Sun 0-1 hour £1.60, 1-2 hours £3.20, 2-3 hours £4.80, 3-4 hours £6.40, 4-5 hours £8.00, 5-10 hours £10.00

About the author

Malcolm McNeill is a technology project manager, manages his car-hire and motorhome-hire websites and lives in Glasgow Scotland with an interest in the life and works of Leonardo da Vinci.