Most people have heard of Leonardo da Vinci. Most will think of the Mona Lisa. But for me, its his drawings that capture the imagination. His sketches and technical drawings have a character and delicacy that just fascinates me. Da Vinci was one of the first artists whose work captured me, and it still does. Nottingham Castle is one of four venues across the UK and Ireland that is playing host to a touring exhibition of ten drawings from the Royal Collection. The drawings show the variety of da Vinci’s interests and curious nature, spanning anatomy, map making and engineering to botanicals.
Most of da Vinci’s best known paintings were commissioned. He was paid to do them. His sketchbooks, whilst containing drawings for these paintings, also portray his own creative interests. His drawings of human anatomy, of geometry and fantastically engineered machines all sit together with his mirror image writing. His way of thinking and how he wanted to investigate the world around him was unusual for the time. Today we are used to seeing contemporary art that is graphic, shocking and macabre. In fact, we may almost expect it. But it was not the case in the mid 15th century when Leonardo da Vinci was born.
There is a story that as young man, da Vinci was given a wooden shield by his father and told to paint it. He holes himself up in a room, taking all manner of creatures from lizards to maggots and bats inside to study. What he painted was a horrifying version of Medusa, breathing fire, issuing forth poison and smoke. His father was so stunned he tried to run out of the room. Mona Lisa it ain’t- sounds more like something that would win the Turner Prize!
Despite his fame, da Vinci wasn’t that prolific a painter, which means there aren’t a huge number of places to see his work. So when I heard this exhibition was coming to Nottingham, I was very excited! To be able to see the quality of these drawing up close was an amazing and rare opportunity. The start of the exhibition begins with a gallery wall filled with various artists work, all from the Nottingham City collection, in the manner of daVinci. Many were never meant for public exhibition, all show the beauty of quick sketches and studies.
You are first walk through exhibition with the history of the artist, including a very instagram-worthy Mona Lisa selfie opportunity. I’m not sure I quite mastered her expression….
Then into the main part of the gallery. The ten drawings are displayed in low light, behind glass, but what is lovely is that some have work on both sides and are hung in double sided frames, allowing you to walk around them. Just being able to get your nose up to these fragile papers, even behind glass, is a wonderful experience.
My favourite drawing was one unlike any da Vinci I had seen before. I knew he created maps and plans, but ‘A map of the Arno east of Florence’ was just beautiful. The detail, the colour; I could have stared at it all day!
Obviously, I visited the cafe for a cup of tea. Normally I would have then walked around the outside of the castle, which is set on top of a hill, with amazing views across the south of the city. But it was rather grey and drizzly, with most of the view hidden in low cloud.