It was exhilarating to walk into a movie complex and experience an art exhibit from a world class museum. Arguably, the single most important grouping of the paintings of Leonardo da Vince in history was captured through the medium of a documentary film in a "one night only" screening in select American theaters.
The film presents the celebrated National Gallery in London's exhibit of nine of the extant fifteen paintings of Leonardo da Vinci. The film was built around historical background on Leonardo's life, the behind-the-scenes planning of the exhibit, and detailed analysis of the individual paintings.
The film's producers invited guest commentators from a wide range of disciplines, including art history, dance, film, photography, and theater. This eclectic mix of expertise was a fitting tribute to the myriad-minded Renaissance man, Leonardo da Vinci, who was fascinated by every artistic and intellectual discipline of his age.
The high definition filming of the individual paintings was a revelation. I have visited the National Gallery on multiple occasions and spent hours in front of Leonardo's "The Madonna of the Rocks." But recently, the painting has undergone a major restoration. The high definition imagery provided details of the painting that I never perceived in person at the museum. The greatest achievement of the exhibit was to persuade the Louvre to loan Leonardo's second version of "The Madonna of the Rocks" to the National Gallery for an instructive comparison of these two similar masterworks.
There were many surprises in this exhibit, but none greater than the human side of Leonardo's portrait of "The Lady with an Ermine." Although I have seen this painting in countless reproductions in books, I never grasped the lifelike quality of both the woman's face and the animal. With his intuitive grasp of human nature and his sensitivity to animals, Leonardo succeeded in bringing the pulsating figure of the ermine to life and making the animal inseparable from the woman who lovingly holds the pet. Because this painting was on loan from the permanent collection of the Czartoryski Museum in Kraków, Poland, I know that this will be the most intimate experience I have of this great painting in my lifetime.
The exhibit also made the bold claim for a newly "discovered" Leonardo painting tentatively authenticated by art experts. The high definition images of the so-called Salvator Mundi (Christ as Savior of the World) allowed viewers the opportunity to make an informed decision about whether this painting should be placed in the same category as the other works of Leonardo. Is this a genuine painting by the master, or is it one of the many imitations completed by other artists?
Sadly, the studio was only a quarter filled and almost exclusively with senior citizens for the screening of "Leonardo Live." It is an unfortunate commentary on our culture that this unique documentary film did not attract a greater and more diverse audience. In Renaissance Italy, Leonardo was never fully appreciated and he was constantly on the move in search of his next commission. The film conveyed that while he left undeniable imprints of his genius, Leonardo was a loner in his time. Despite the attention generated from Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code," Leonardo the human being still remains an enigma and not fully recognized for his genius. But for the small audience of "Leonardo Now," the miracle of his paintings was self-evident and absolutely captivating.
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