Thursday, 15 December 2011

Exhibitions in England: Da Vinci and Vermeer

Cambridge, the Fitzwilliam Museum

There are two exhibitions currently on display in England which are being flooded with attention.
The first is the exhibition being held at London´s National Gallery: Leonardo Da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan. As you may know, Leonardo da Vinci underwent training to be a painter in Florence, but from 1482 to 1499 he was in the service of Ludovico Sforza (nicknamed Il Moro, the Moor for his dark skin color), the head of the Sforza family and Duke of Milan.
In the exhibition, the focal point is da Vinci’s work as a painter from his Milan period. Beside the work Lady with an Ermine (Czartoryski Museum, Kraków, Poland), thought to be a painting of Ludovico’s mistress Cecilia Gallerani, the two famous versions of the Virgin of the Rocks, owned by the Louvre and the National Gallery of London, and the Madonna Litta (from the Depository of the Hermitage) are on display. The two paintings of the Virgin of the Rocks have been exhibited facing each other in one room so a viewer may make comparisons. This exhibition provides a golden opportunity to see these famous works, brought together.
On view for the first time is the painting Christ as Salvator Mundi (private collection) which came to light this year as having been painted by da Vinci specifically. Since it is a work that has been missing for so long, I expect we will not be able to avoid a debate on its authenticity, but I certainly felt fortunate to see it with my own eyes.

Of da Vinci it is often said that nearly all of his works are unfinished. However, the painting of The Last Supper, remaining on the wall of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, is known as one of few exceptions. The Last Supper is one of the last on display at this exhibition -but not the wall, of course. It is a faithful reproduction in oil from around 1520. It has retained its vivid colors, and moreover, several details, such as Christ’s foot, can be seen which are no longer visible on the original. We still remember the long period of restoration for the original mural painting, lasting from 1977 to 1999; the reproduction on display was vital to the restoration of details lost to the original.

Next is the pride of Cambridge: the Fitzwilliam Museum, currently showing the exhibition Vermeer’s Women: Secrets and Silence. The exhibition is compact, featuring 32 paintings, all in oils. The group of works are paintings of women taken away from the ordinary, by the 17th century Dutch master Vermeer and several of his contemporaries. Of the works, Vermeer’s are these four: The Music Lesson (Royal Collection, St. James's Palace, London),  A Young Woman Seated at a Virginal (National Gallery, London), The Lacemaker (Louvre, Paris) and a second version of A Young Woman Seated at a Virginal (private collection). The works by Vermeer’s contemporaries Gerrit Dou, Jan Steen, Pieter de Hooch, Nicolaes Maas, are all in very good condition and make a wonderful addition to what I am not afraid to call a gem of an exhibition. Surprisingly, there is no entrance fee. The daily amount of visitors, I was informed by happy museum staff, is indeed as large as when the Fitzwilliam Museum first opened.

National Gallery
Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DN
Opening hours:
Weekdays 10am – 6pm
Fridays 10am – 9pm

Fitzwilliam Museum
Trumpington Street, Cambridge CB2 1RB
Opening hours:
Tuesday to Saturday: 10:00 - 17:00
Sundays, Bank holiday Mondays: 12:00 - 17:00
Closed on Mondays, Good Friday, from December 24-26 & 31, and on January 1st 2012