Belfast Telegraph

Da Vinci works exhibited at 'once in a generation' display by Ulster Museum

By Claire McNeilly

His portrait of the Mona Lisa is arguably the best known work of art in the world - while his Last Supper is the most reproduced religious painting of all time.

And, two years ago, his depiction of Christ holding a crystal orb (the long-lost Salvator Mundi) sold for a world record $450m at auction at Christie's in New York.

Now, a special exhibition showcasing 12 of Leonardo da Vinci's greatest drawings will be on display to the public in the Ulster Museum from today until May 6.

Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing is part of a nationwide event, organised by Royal Collection Trust, to mark 500 years since the influential artist's death.

It means 12 museums and galleries across the UK will open simultaneous exhibitions of his drawings on the same day - giving the widest-ever UK and Ireland audience an opportunity to view his work.

Belfast audiences will be able to see two of Leonardo's most famous creations - The head of St Anne, made around 1510 in preparation for his renowned masterpiece The Virgin and Child with St Anne, which hangs in the Louvre, and an anatomical drawing from 1489, The skull sectioned.

Drawings selected for display locally - positioned on walls painted in a carefully chosen Farrow and Ball London Clay shade to match all 12 exhibits - reflect the Italian's expansive knowledge of and interest in architecture, anatomy, engineering, cartography, geology and botany.

The exhibition includes examples of all the drawing materials employed by the artist, including pen and ink, red and black chalks, watercolour and metalpoint.

Senior curator of art at National Museums NI, Anne Stewart, said this "ambitious exhibition" represents a unique opportunity for people to see Leonardo's work in Belfast.

"It's wonderful to be part of the project and I think our selection is possibly the best," she told the Belfast Telegraph.

"Beyond a handful of drawings, most of Leonardo's great projects were never completed. His surviving drawings are therefore our main source of knowledge of his extraordinary achievements. Each drawing in the exhibition offers its own fascinating story and insight into the exceptional talent and mind of Leonardo."

The delicate works on paper can never be on permanent display due to the potential risk of damage from exposure to light so this has been described as a once in a generation opportunity to view some of da Vinci's work.

Theresa-Mary Morton, head of Exhibitions at Royal Collection Trust, also said the display is being held in a dimly lit room to protect the drawings, which date back to the 15th and 16th century.

"You learn so much from looking at Leonardo," she said.

"You learn how an enquiring mind can work. He never really finished anything.

"His treaties on anatomy that he planned, he never published, but if he had, the whole history of anatomy would have changed. The discoveries he made, no-one else discovered for 200-300 years afterwards."

Martin Clayton, Head of Prints and Drawings, Royal Collection Trust, estimated that 34 million people, around half the UK population, live within an hour's journey of one of the exhibitions.

He added: "In 2019, in collaboration with our partners we will be giving the widest-ever audience across the UK the opportunity to see the work of this extraordinary artist."

In May 2019, the drawings exhibited at Royal Collection Trust's partner venues will be brought together to form part of an exhibition of over 200 sheets at The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace, the largest exhibition of Leonardo's work in over 65 years.

The exhibition runs at the Ulster Museum until May 6. Admission is free

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