Manchester Art Gallery,
1 Feb 2019 - 6th May 2019)
For a brief time at Manchester art gallery, the touring exhibit of Leonardo Da Vinci’s sketches are showing a behind the scenes look of his work, and personal insight into his interests, studies and humor.
The room is crowded with fellow visitors, a dimmed space to protect the delicate pages. There is a light buzz about the accessibility of seeing the revered artist in person. Presenting a range of his sketches created with pen, ink, watercolour and chalk, these delicate pieces show articulate sketches exploring fetus development, the ideal human proportion and other sketch studies.
Three pieces particularly captured my attention -
‘Two grotesque profile’ 1485-90 (pen and ink wash)- a satirical look at human proportion. From studying the idea mathematical formula of beauty Da Vinci could distort this to create ‘ideal ugliness’ the composition parody’s the typical 15 century couple portraits that were being painted at the time. For me, this sketch presents a side of his humor and satirical abilities, not having a large awareness of his private life, little highlights can be found.
‘ A woman in the landscape’ 1517-18 (Black chalk)
Being his most mysterious drawing for its lack of origin, the most plausible concept for this piece however is that its based of Dante’s ‘The Divine comedy’. In this sketch it would present us in Dantes position as Matelda indicates her earthly paradise to us. Drawing me in is that this sketch is different compared to the other sketches on show. This is more in the aesthetic of his famed painting. There is movement and a dream like quality. The chalk adds texture while highlighting enough details in her face.
‘ Studies of men in action’ 1508 (Black chalk, pen and ink)
This is one of a sequence of thumbnails attempting to capture every action of man, according to Da Vinci there is 18.
This piece from the exhibit is my favorite. Different in composition and unique in subject. The small men look like cartoons from a 90s football annual. There is a lot of negative space at the top, subjects are cramped into the footer.
Overall the exhibit is beautifully curated, has a good selection of sketches, from sketchbook work including his infamous backward writing, and individual studies of a range of subjects. I suggest going at an off peak time to have more space and intimacy with the artwork instead of fellow visitors. From being a tight space it can get heated and end up queuing to view pieces, adding a sense of guilt at your concentration of a sketch, making you move along.