Getty's "Leonardo Da Vinci”Art and Sculpture: Inspiration and Invention”
Here’s the plan. We take the day off to go on a mini vacation, jump on the tram leading us to the top of the hill of the Getty Center, surrounded by Italian travertine and Mexican cypress trees and enjoy the view towards the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Monica mountains before entering the focused exhibit “Leonardo da Vinci” Art and Sculpture: Inspiration and Invention.” The result of it? Within an hour we feel transformed by the mix of Californian nature and Italian culture. Latter presented to us by 17 drawings and one painting by Leonardo, along with sculptures by the Renaissance masters, Donatello, Andrea del Verrochio and Giovanni Francesco Rustici.
The exhibit, organized by the High Museum of Art, Atlanta and the J. Paul Getty Museum, is located on the ground floor in the West Pavilion. In the right gallery close to the entrance door we get to see the marble “Bearded Prophet” by Donatello, who was the most important living sculptor at that time and master of Leondardo’s teacher Verrochio. Hence Leonardo was influenced by both of them. The sculpture is one of the five statues for the Campanile of Santa Maria del Fiore and had never before been seen outside of Florence. It served as a model for a standing figure in Leonardo’s unfinished painting “Adoration of the Magi.” What catches one’s eye, while looking at the life-sized statue, are the enlarged hands, feet and the head.
There are many sides to Leonardo, the son of a notary and a peasant woman. Leonardo the painter of the most famous painting “Mona Lisa”, the sculptor, architect, designer, writer, engineer, inventor, and geometrician; and although he made himself learn many things, he abandoned them after having begun them, yet never ceased drawing. Two adjacent galleries feature a collection of those drawings, most of them borrowed from the royal collection of Elizabeth II. Magnifying glasses attached to the wall allow us to get a close look of the fine and masterfully applied lines of each work.
In the first gallery, there’s a sketch of a child in profile that may have been a study for a bust, as one could find them on sideboards or above doors by other Florentine artists. Furthermore there’s a sketch with Michelangelo’s David with seahorses added to transform it into a figure of Neptune, the god of the sea. We also see Leonardo’s studies of the human head to show optic and aural nerves and a sketch of a head sectioned to show the cerebral ventricles and layers of the scalp compared to an onion.
The other gallery features preparatory drawings for sculptures which were never made. For instance the studies for the Sforza Monument, a work which was supposed to be an equestrian monument, if the war between the French and Milanese hadn’t come in between, showing the Milanese duke Francesco Sforza on a horseback.
A gallery across from the hallway is dedicated to one of Leonardo’s paintings, of which there are less than a dozen in the world. The unfinished painting in a mixed technique of oil and tempera on Walnut panel called “Saint Jerome in the wilderness “ has been associated by art historians with a difficult and melancholic period in Leonardo's life, an observation they based on his diary: "I thought I was learning to live; I was only learning to die.”
The exhibition continues with the three bronze statues of Leonardo’s friend and associate Rustici. Placed in one of the high-ceilinged galleries, where natural light falls on them, the statues are the most impressive part of the exhibit, depicting a Levite, John the Baptist and a Pharisee. The statues were modeled between March and September 1508, when Leonardo and Rustici were working together. Therefore, they are essential to the exhibit, since they show Leonardo’s impact on the art world at that time. According to biographer Giorgio Vasari, Rustici finished them with Leonardo’s advice. By taking a close look, one can see similarities between a Levite and Saint Jerome, both of them having bald heads. The statues are particularly beautiful, because of their details, the folds and creases in their gowns and the various facial expressions and postures, suggesting cogitation, indignation and attention. Like “Donatello” the statues are also being shown for the first time outside of Italy.
Although the exhibit is tantalizing in many ways, since we get to see Leonardo from the point of view of a genius who left us with many ideas and unfinished works, the title of the exhibit does not reveal this. Instead one is searching for his sculptures, but ends up standing in front of Rustici’s bronze statues looking at them with awe. And in an absurd way having them there at the Getty and being outside of Italy for the first time, it takes a bit the light away from Da Vinci, although they were created under his influence and possibly based on his ideas as the exhibit suggests.
The show will be on display from March 23 -June 20, 2010
Reviewed by Simone Kussatz
Images from the Getty Center
From left to right, A Pharisee, A Levite, John the Baptist Preaching by Giovanni Francesco Rustici (1506-1511).
Study for the Sforza Monument by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
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