I saw last night at the local cinematheque one of the oldest art documentaries of the series 'Exhibition on Screen', dedicated to Leonardo Da Vinci's paintings and made in 2012 by Phil Grabsky, on the occasion of the exhibition that had gathered in one place in 2011, at the National Gallery in London, 9 of the 15 authenticated paintings of the multi-disciplinary genius of the Renaissance. A new documentary film in this series will be released in November, commemorating the 500th anniversary of Leonardo's death. It will be interesting to see how the image - already so complex and interesting - will be complemented by Leonardo's integral work, which can probably never be brought together except in a virtual museum format.
The format of the documentaries in the series was not yet stable in 2012, but we already have quite a few elements from what made 'Exhibition on Screen' a formidable collection of testimonies and ideas centered around important exhibitions of the last decade in art. We are taken by hand and walked through the exhibition halls, we have both the visualization of the context and locations in which the works of art are exhibited, as well as a detailed description from the curators of the exhibition, experts in art history and general history, and specialists in the domains related to paintings (religion and music, for example). Missing, I think, are a more personal vision and a more original and less scholastic approach. These will appear in a few years in the documentaries of the series but are missing here.
Leonardo Da Vinci was a huge personality, who activated in multiple fields, and in many of them he was a pioneer and a revolutionary, his contributions changing the course of the disciplines in which he excelled. Painting is one of these areas, but the small number of paintings that have survived, make his influence in this domain (very strong at the time) to require more explanations and connections with what he has achieved in other branches of arts and sciences. It is precisely here that the text of the comments suffers from a schematic and simplistic approach in my opinion. Too little is discussed about Leonardo's technique of painter, or the luminosity of the overlapping layers of his oil paintings. Also, no connection is made between the physiognomy of his painted subjects and his deep knowledge of anatomy. The description of his engineering career and achievements seens to be supplied more as a filling material, without having a direct connection with the paintings of the Milanese period, although it is at that time a large part of his sketches and projects as architect and engineer were also made. I can only hope that the new documentary film that will be screened in a few months will fix at least some of these gaps.
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