Exhibition Visit – ‘Leonardo Da Vinci: A Life in Drawing’ at Leeds Art Gallery

This was an exhibition of some of Leonardo’s sketchbook pages, focusing on his sculptural work. It was incredible to me to read about and see the lengths he went to to research and plan his works, with so many failing to come to fruition because he was pulled off onto a new project before he got there.

One of the sketchbook pages was for casting the Sforza monument, a huge bronze horse commissioned by the ruler of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, in memory of his father. It was to be made of 75 tons of bronze and required a foundry to be built on site just to cast it. Leonardo got as far as making the full sized clay model before the threat of invasion meant that the bronze was requisitioned to make cannon and the project was suspended. When the French invaded five years later, the clay horse was used as target practice by the troops and destroyed, which must have been distressing to him.

The sketchbook pages show Leonardo’s plans for casting the sculpture with the sprues needed to feed in the bronze, how the work would be joined together with tie-bars, designs for the foundry and also a lifting mechanism to get the statues out of the ground after casting it, as well as some notes and some poetry. The drawings show great skill and are very modern in their use of perspective. They are small and crammed onto the page, with little of the paper’s surface wasted and were obviously designed for his eyes only.

His studies of a sectioned skull are exceptional in their detail and skill in rendering. They were studies to help him to understand the proportions and structure of the skull and very beautiful drawings. If I saw them in a text book I would have imagined the originals to be much larger and shrunk down, he must have had very good eyesight and steady hands to have achieved this level of detail at this scale.

A fascinating exhibition and I hope to see more of the concurrent exhibitions whilst they are on.

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