LA CIVETTA April 2019 - Page 28

W: What do you think the young producers did differently and added to the exhibition?

C: I think they were able to approach [the drawings] in a very different way, with a lot more freedom. They treated it as an artistic response – I think museum curators are always so anxious to present a balanced view, alongside making sure they are only selecting the most important information from a museum perspective, to convey what they are displaying. Whereas the young producers were looking [at the drawings] more as interesting forms and ideas in themselves. They’ve put a bit more voice and personality into it, and have created some fairly crazy collisions of objects that don’t make a lot of sense in most museum presentations.

W: Do you think [the response section] runs the risk of telling people what to think?

C: I’d hope it’s just a way of inspiring people. I think it’s almost the opposite of telling people what to think – that’s what we were trying to get away from and what the producers sort of felt like museums still do; even though they’re trying to change, it’s still a didactic knowledge-imparting way of sharing material, culture and history with people. Because it is the first time we’ve tried doing something like this, it’s ended up being a slight compromise – the young producers’ artworks have still needed labels that read in a fairly formal way, but we could’ve probably been a bit braver really!

W: What’s your favourite piece in the collection [of Leonardo drawings]?

C: It’s the deluge, I have to say. Although it’s changed – some days, it’s the animals! I also really love the double-sided drawing as well; it’s stunning but also perplexing, as you can see he came back to it on several occasions, because the ink is in different colours and has faded to different degrees in places, but it’s like he knew everything he was going to put down on that page before he started. That’s impossible, but it’s that precision and economy of how he’s drawn the diagrams, and the fact that it is diagrammatic is amazing, because there weren’t diagrams then; we didn’t understand the human body in the way we do now from textbooks. He must’ve definitely carried out some messy dissections…

M: Can you tell us more about these dissections?

C: He definitely carried them out himself, but certainly would’ve had assistance from his students; in fact, the reason we have these drawings today is because he left them to his favourite student, Francesco Melzi. The next person they ended up with after Melzi was the one that bound [the drawings] into volumes, some of which ended up in Milan at the time, and others in the UK. The translations of the notes on [Da Vinci’s] drawings are a bit dull to read, but he’s basically instructing his students in it, saying things like, “Now you will open up this part of the muscle etc.”.

M: How come we don’t see Da Vinci’s drawings on show more often?

C: They physically can’t be, as exposing the papers to any light causes immediate damage, so it’s an offsetting process, I suppose, that you wouldn’t put any historical document on paper out for more than three months at a time. The drawings are so valuable and we want to look after them as best as possible.

M: What’s the process of moving a work like all [his drawings]?

C: It’s fairly straightforward, actually – because the drawings are relatively small and portable, they travel in a specially-designed vehicle (that’s the case for most museum artefacts); it’s climate-controlled, and has special sprung suspension to protect the artwork from knocks. The drawings came here in two crates, which are specially customised so they can support the frames and the drawings are separated from each other. The crates themselves are like works of art, as everything has been beautifully cut like a giant jigsaw puzzle and the pieces of foam that fit in all the spaces have been shaped like sculptures. Luckily these works have just travelled within the UK, so didn’t have to go through the entire ball-game of customs and such.

W: Is Leonardo worth his status as such a prolific thinker and household name?

C: Yes, and perhaps even more so than others because his work - in terms of his drawings – has survived. Who’s to know that there weren’t other people studying an equally wide range of subjects to an equally proficient degree whose work just hasn’t survived?

M: Claimed as such a profound polymath, his interests all intertwine and link, but is there a specific aspect or trait of his that you think is the most important? We all know him for his paintings, and scientific discoveries, etc., but is there something that sticks out through all of it? What do you take away from Da Vinci?

C: I suppose the value of not taking things for granted, if that makes sense? He questioned everything. And himself, over and over again. He never seemed to come up with an idea and go for it – he had dozens of iterations and wanted to explore everything from various angles, and it wasn’t enough for him to have an unelaborate understanding of the anatomy or draw a person and get the balance or pose wrong – he went miles beyond that!

In a way, [Da Vinci] was in a luxurious position. He was not from a privileged background; he was illegitimate; his father was a lawyer; but he somehow ended up, for example, being commissioned to create a huge sculpture when he never even made any. It was meant to be the biggest bronze [sculpture] that had ever been produced in the world at that point. So he was obviously very good at selling himself and he ended up in this privileged position of being first at the court of the Dukes in Milan, followed by the court of the French King. This all enabled him to follow his nose in a way that maybe a lot of other artists would not have been able to do.