Ten hours after leaving the house I have returned from the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition in London at the National Gallery. 15 of his completed paintings have been gathered for the first time ever surrounded by work from his students and his own sketches.
To see such a master at work, with perfection of detail and of scope expands your own. Within a few pictures, you are moving more gently, speaking more fluidly and, it feels, seeing more clearly. An hour in there is a revolution in vision. Hearing, movement, touch and smell equally alerted. And then it cascades: the oceans of meaning of the Virgin on the Rocks, St. Jerome similarly dis-posed, Musician, Christ and remarkable, remarkable Woman.
Walking around is falling in love*. You glimpse, sometimes immediately struck, sometimes held by something you can’t identify seeing and then BLAM: the full force of intricate detail, scope of composition, or sheer exquisite beauty hits /creeps up on/stills you and you’re held, in that moment, with awe that peeling away feels like a tender heart break and so you go again
there’s another painting, or a sketch where Leonardo has seen something so much deeper than you can and is teaching it to you so you can see
There was a sketch of the head of a bear, beautifully set in a square oak frame. Nestling amongst the master pieces, perhaps my favourite of the sketches.
The queue is by now legendary and arrival at 8.25am (sunrise in Trafalgar Square) was enough to secure us 300th place in the queue, receive our tickets at 11am and be invited back for 14.30. We (my sister and I) snoozed in a café and headed back invigorated for a treat that the wait could hardly scar.
Choice quotes from fellow goers:
“I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.”
He really hasn’t done that lion at all well.”
“Reckon I could do that one.” (Man looking at the first sketch. i giggled and it turned out he was serious “…if only I’d started 30 year ago” “Or 600” I replied)
Most of the rest was spoken in an excited hush.
* Falling in love with a painting can be easier than human beings. Because they do not move. Taking this and bringing it into the world would be a precious thing. I can see why people get obsessed with these things because it’s so much clearer and stays where you put it. Movement belies and undermines, perhaps has more opportunity for depth (or more repeatedly) but…I find it difficult to imagine feeling the same as the Virgin on the Rocks when I meet most people. Though it’s a lovely thing to aim for. There’s also something here about clarity of perception and love being inextricably linked, but I’ve written beyond the intention of this footnote.