Art News Roundup: Da Vinci Deluge Edition

Since 2019 has been declared the “Year of Leonardo Da Vinci”, on account of this being the 500th year since his death, there is a deluge of Leonardo-related projects currently in the works: books, documentaries, exhibitions, you name it. There are at least two films about the artist currently in development, one slated to star Leonardo DiCaprio and based on Walter Isaacson’s recent biography, although whether we’ll see those on the screen this year or not who knows. The really big event, if you happen to find yourself in Paris later this year, is going to be the upcoming Leonardo retrospective at the Louvre, which will probably be a once-in-a-lifetime event for fans of Da Vinci’s work. There are certainly plenty of interesting Leonardo-related stories swirling around the Louvre at the moment, even long before the retrospective opens.

For one thing, there’s still no news on whether Leonardo’s “Salvator Mundi”, the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction, will be part of the Paris show or not. In fact, neither is there any news about why, more than a year after it was sold and then donated to the Louvre Abu Dhabi, it’s still not on exhibition. Rumors continue to swirl about in the art press that experts made a mistake in attributing the work to Leonardo, and that the piece is not by him at all, but rather by one of his assistants. We shall just have to wait and see how this controversy shakes out.

Back in France, experts at the Louvre are now saying that they believe a drawing, which is currently held in a collection outside Paris, could be a preparatory drawing for the “Mona Lisa”, perhaps executed by Leonardo with the assistance of his workshop. As with most Leonardos, the figure in the drawing is rather odd, and somewhat androgynous. That being said, artists for centuries often employed their assistants as models for either sex when sketching out a composition, and it would not have been at all unusual for Leonardo to do this. We may never know for certain the origin of this particular drawing, but the closeness of the position of the arms and hands in the drawing to those in the final, autograph work in the Louvre is hard to ignore.

While this particular drawing won’t be in the Louvre show in the Autumn, other, important pieces by Leonardo from other collections will be. This includes a series of works from Italy, such as Da Vinci’s early, circa 1472-1475 “The Annunciation” from the Uffizi, that were being held up over a diplomatic row between the left-wing French and right-wing Italian governments. That fracas now appears to have been patched up, and the show will be going ahead with loans from Italian museums, after all. In exchange, France will agree to lend Italy a number of works by Raphael for the upcoming 500th anniversary of *his* death next year. I wouldn’t go to Paris to see the world’s greatest assemblage of Leonardos, but I would definitely go to Rome to see the world’s greatest assemblage of Raphaels, if that comes off. Stay tuned.


Raphael Restored 

Talking of Raphael, the artist’s scale drawing of the lower half of his most famous fresco, “The School of Athens” in the Vatican, has now been restored at the Ambrosian Library in Milan following a four-year conservation effort; a detail of the drawing appears below. The massive “cartoon”, as this type of drawing is known, is somewhat unusual in that it was not used to transfer the outlines of the design to fresh plaster, but rather prepared by Raphael for his patron, Pope Julius II, to show at full size what he planned to paint. Not only does it demonstrate the incredible skill and attention to detail employed by this Mozart of painting – Raphael was only 25 when he created this – it’s also the largest surviving Renaissance drawing in existence, at over 6 feet long and nearly two feet high.


Van Eyck Enigma

Over on the blog of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Silvia Centeno and Sophie Scully are in the middle of a fascinating series of posts on a recent discovery which they made concerning one of the most important Netherlandish pieces in the museum’s collection. Unusually, Jan Van Eyck’s circa 1440-1441 “The Crucifixion and Last Judgment”, which consists of a pair of panels depicting said events, still retains its original frames. Around the inner edges of those frames are Biblical texts in Latin, created using raised plaster. Recent radiographic studies have revealed however, that running around the outside of the Latin texts are texts in Dutch, which at present are mostly invisible to the naked eye. There’s a lot of fascinating scientific research here to enjoy, so keep checking back at the Met blog as the restorers/conservators continue their research.


Wright for Williamsburg

Captain Richard Bayly was an Irishman who fought in the British Army during the French and Indian War alongside the young George Washington, among others. After he returned to Britain in 1760 at the conclusion of his military service, he had his portrait painted by a young artist who eventually became one of the most interesting and unusual British artists of the 18th century, the fascinating Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797). Sadly Bayly died young, only four years after his portrait was painted, but now, this striking painting has been acquired by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, making it the first work by Wright to enter their permanent collection. As the Williamsburg Art Museums are currently undergoing a massive expansion, my guess is that this picture will feature in their newly enlarged premises upon completion.