LA CIVETTA April 2019 - Page 27


C: I’m the exhibition officer, so I worked on project management.

M: How did you come about choosing the works? And how did you get to those specific 12 Leonardo drawings on show in the exhibition?

C: Well, in some ways it was actually quite random; the Royal Collection Trust have about 500 sheets of Leonardo’s in total (including sheets of notes). They’ve got over two hundred drawing sheets and they wanted to share those with audiences in the regions, so the selections by large were made by Martin Clayton, who is the head of Principal Drawings at the Royal Collection Trust, and they wanted to make sure each venue had a spread of Leonardo’s drawing media that he used, the time frames of his life – or, as much of his life that is covered by their collection, so from about aged 30 up to the end of his life – and the different subject matters he was interested in as well. We all did a few swabs; It was like collecting stickers in school! We were reasonably happy with the collection we had and we thought that it seemed a nice way of exposing a more whimsical side of Leonardo

M: Yes, as he’s got the dragons, but also the flowers and anatomical studies.

C: Exactly, and the grotesque heads of animals and the Beautiful Deluge, which is the latest drawing in the exhibition.

M: These drawings also prove that he was a polymath, no?

C: Definitely, as they reveal him as someone with

such an imagination; he was a visionary, a dreamer, and an obsessive (rather than somebody with just a scientific, calculating, mathematical side)

W: What do you think is so special about this exhibition, considering it is commemorating the 500th anniversary of Da Vinci’s death? What’s different about the exhibition for you?

C: I know it’s the biggest project of its kind that has been attempted in the UK with Leonardo’s work since 1965 I think – it’s been a long time since anything of this scale has happened, and the idea that it’s spread out across the country simultaneously. Obviously, many people are not going to see all of [the exhibitions], but it is possible to do so and we are doing an offer with Cardiff whereby you can visit one and then show your ticket to the second to receive half price entry.

The scale and ambition of [the project] is one thing, but I think that having all of these drawings out at the same time – because they are drawings- works on paper – and because they are usually not on display, and they go out [on show] every few years.

Getting to see a whole body of his works that present pretty much everything he did is very unusual, and the drawings have this kind of spontaneity to them as well. Obviously, the ones that are studies from life are very precise and he was looking at [his subjects] to learn specific things, like The Bones of the Arm and

Hand, and he was looking at why the arm is slightly shorter when you have your hand facing upwards rather than downward because the bones cross over.

W: That’s the fun of him, isn’t it, and that’s what I really enjoyed about the exhibition – it fosters a Leonardo-styled creativity at the end; you can go into the final room and play around in the same way that he was able to discover the world around him. What’s also interesting is that it’s not just works based on the body – Do you think that’s an important distinction that the exhibition draws out?

C: Yes, and I think that’s part of what the curator at the Royal Collection Trust was hoping to achieve – it’s not only his scientific studies (which are amazing!) like the Right ventricle and tri-cuspid valve; it’s actually an ox’s heart he’s dissected and he was looking at how the different chambers of the heart operate in conjunction with each other to make the circulation work. Martin Clayton was telling us that [Da Vinci] went as far as having a glass cast of a heart made and then pumping water through it with seeds in it, so that he could see how the water was travelling from one chamber to another. He made discoveries about the heart and circulation work that weren’t proven until recently. It does show that amazing, incisive, scientific mind he had – a kind of insatiable curiosity. But it also shows the dreamlike side to him; we can see this from the drawings of grotesque heads of animals, probably because he was working as a court artist at the time, and a court artist’s job covered many different things (some we might not expect, like writing and playing music). One of the things was designing costumes and sets for carnival-type pageants – there is a theory that the two heads of animals were initially ideas for masks, which would’ve probably been worn by servants. One of [the animal head drawings], if you look closely enough, it’s got a bit in its teeth and a bridle – so there are more fanciful things like that! There’s also his interest in exploring the world, which was fairly unusual at the time. He liked climbing up mountains at a point when that wasn’t really something anybody did – everybody thought he was nuts, not to mention he was getting on a bit [in age] – he was reaching 50 doing this, which is much older than it is today. He must’ve been climbing quite high, as he was observing how the arc of the sky appears darker the higher you climb. And he was looking over a valley during a storm either advancing or receding down it – and he could see above the clouds, so he was depicting the darkness of the clouds below and the brightness of the sky above.

W: It’s almost an Aristotelian manner, of experiencing and then learning from that experience. With that, he was a man ahead of his time.

C: Yeah, and then there’s also that obsessive side – he was clearly obsessed with following avenues of thought and exploration way beyond what was necessary for fulfilling his “mission”. He also seemed to get stuck on ideas and in the last few years of his life, he drew lots of tempestuous scenes – catastrophic scenes of the end of the world.

M: Do you think this was his sense of foreshadowing?

C: Yes, maybe, we today can only speculate that it was an artist reaching the end of his life, potentially thinking on the fact that actually a lot of what he’d done hadn’t been completed; hadn’t been successful in a way; that he hadn’t achieved most of his ambitions. Maybe we could also say that he was foreshadowing the damage that we are doing to the planet, and that’s one of the themes the young producers have picked up on.

By: Maria Shevchenko