The Queen’s Gallery

Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci

I was invited to a lecture about Leonardo da Vinci at the Queen’s gallery, so I dug out some smart clothes and blagged a lift to the station with Husband. The gallery is a short walk from Victoria, and is tucked behind Buckingham Palace. I looked at all the people waiting, but none of them looked like my group, so I went inside and spoke to a very nice young man, who suggested I loiter in the shop and he would find me when everyone arrived.

The lecture was held in a private room above the gallery. A table was laid with white cups and saucers, the cups had gold rims (like the cups we were served with at St James’ Palace a few years ago). There were silver coffee pots and teapots, and a plate of biscuits. The Queen has very nice biscuits.

While drinking coffee, I chatted to the man who was giving the lecture, Martin Clayton. He was a quiet, intellectual sort of chap, very knowledgeable about Leonardo, and in charge of the collection. I asked if they ever lent the collection to other galleries, and he said they do—which must be a nightmare to organise, and I doubt if he sleeps while it’s in transit. Nothing can be replaced if it’s spoilt, I would hate to be responsible for such momentous work. Apparently, someone from the Queen’s Gallery always travels with the collection, but even so, must be terrifying.

The lecture was fairly short but interesting. Leonardo was born in Vinci in Italy (the “da Vinci” bit means “from Vinci”, it’s not part of his name) in 1452. He was illegitimate, so unable to go to university (but that doesn’t seem to have held him back at all). He was primarily an architect and designer, as well as making sculptures and the occasional painting. He produced copious drawings for all his work, and it is mainly the drawings that have survived. In 1472, printed books were gradually becoming popular, which led to paper becoming an everyday commodity rather than an expensive luxury. For the first time, artists could afford to experiment, to make drawings that would later be discarded. Leonardo drew using a quill pen and ink, and by metal-point (which is when paper is prepared with a thin layer of bone, and is then scraped with a metal point—it produces a brown line-drawing).

Leonardo was left handed, and because it’s harder to push a pen than pull it, he wrote backwards. His writing is very neat, and goes from right to left (perhaps we should teach children today to do this, if they are left-handed. It’s possibly easier.)

Leonardo was fascinated by how things worked, including the human body. Many of his sketches showed the internal organs of bodies, and he dissected dead bodies to find out how the muscles were placed, the chambers of the heart, etc. Much of his work was way ahead of his time. (Personally, I am suspicious as to where he found all his bodies. Some of the drawings, such as those of lungs, are very detailed. I would have thought that lungs collapsed soon after death, so how did Leonardo manage to find so many recently-dead bodies to cut up? Just wondering…)

On 2nd May, 1519, Leonardo died. He left his work to one of his students (he never married, and Martin C suggested he may have been gay). Many of his drawings were bound into a huge album, and this was given to the king in 1670. It has belonged to the Monarch ever since (so the Queen owns them, but only as the ruling Monarch, she cannot sell them).

We then went to look at the exhibition. Apologies for all the reflections on the photos–galleries seem to be unable to have lighting that does not reflect on the glass covering the pictures. Perhaps it’s something to do with preserving them, so they don’t fade, or maybe they need to update their lighting systems.

If I’m honest, I do not really like Leonardo da Vinci’s art. I can see that it’s clever, and his drawings of dissections are very interesting, but I don’t find I have an emotional response to his paintings. I find his people all have a sort of androgynous look to them—the men look effeminate and the women look masculine. I have never seen anything by Leonardo that is pretty or exciting or sad or passionate; they are the sort of highly detailed, very talented, drawings that you might see in an A Level biology portfolio. Even his more famous paintings, like the Mona Lisa or The Last Supper, are not really paintings that make me feel something. Do you like them? Honestly?

Thank you for reading.

Have a good week.

Take care.

Love, Anne x

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