Through February 2, 2014 The Morgan Library at Madison and 36th Street in Manhattan is featuring a show called “Leonardo da Vinci – Treasures from the Biblioteca Reale, Turin”. This exhibit is part of “The Year of Italian Culture in America”, which has meant similar showcases of many important art works from Italy that came to be with the encouragement of Italian government loans.
The small size of this exhibit belies the rich detail that you can learn and observe about one of the world’s greatest artists of all time. A tip is to time your visit to see this exhibit at The Morgan with one of the free tours. Our host and docent, volunteer Rick Matthews, certainly helped us to appreciate the import of what we were seeing.
First up was a 1480’s drawing in metal point “Head of a Young Woman (Study for the Angel in the ‘Virgin of the Rocks’)”. This technique, where da Vinci drew with a pointed metal stylus through coated parchment, is speculated to be a way to practice for the no-second-chances nature of painting frescos. Your hand had to be perfect for both methods. The fine lines and hatching of this work were nonetheless unusual for this period. Some art historians reportedly refer to this as “the most beautiful drawing in the world”. In the exhibit, a poster of the “Virgin on the Rocks” is nearby, showing you where this sketch eventually landed.
Many of the other works on display were made with red chalk. Da Vinci’s use of shadow to show how far the person being drawn was from the source of light was not only a revolutionary approach but showed the artist’s deep interest in observing reality through a scientific lens that is concerned with how natural phenomena work.
This same focus on science is seen in his famous notebooks, including the codex on the flight of birds,
his studies of horses, and closely observed insects.
The drawings of male torsos showing the layering on of skin over muscle suggests that corpses were used as models or subjects of study at some point, although not approved of by the Church.
All of these sample drawings and more are on display in this exhibit.
It is fascinating to see his backwards handwriting, only readable by viewing in a mirror, a subject of speculation among art and science historians as to whether da Vinci was concerned with secrecy, wrote backwards simply because he could, or something else again.
One of his many sketches of military armaments from his notebooks is also on display--- speaking to how the scientist/engineer/artist earned his keep.
A second tip on this exhibit is to save time to have a tea or coffee in the beautiful Renzo Piano courtyard that ties together the three Morgan Library buildings.
This is one of the most relaxing and rejuvenating spots in Manhattan.
The Morgan Library and Museum
225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street, New York, NY 10016
Tuesday through Thursday: 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Friday: 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Saturday: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Sunday: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.