Sunday, December 18, 2011

Leonardo da Vinci Exhibition at The National Gallery

The Leonardo Da Vinci: Painter at the Milan Court is probably the most highly anticipated art exhibition of the year. Rightly so. This is an unprecedented once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to see nine of fifteen of Da Vinci's paintings under one roof at the beautiful Sainsbury Wing of National Gallery.

Having missed the boat on booking advanced tickets, Keenan and I had originally planned on queuing for the exhibition in mid-January 2012 after our trip to Sri Lanka. However, a month ago we got an email from my jet-setting friend telling us that she will be in town in December. Some 3,000 miles away in San Francisco, she had also heard about the exhibition and was determined to see Da Vinci's work. 


So on Friday morning, I dragged myself out of my bed, bundled up in my heavy Northface down jacket, and slept walk over to Trafalgar Square, arriving precisely at 7:10 am to join the queue as #20 in line. Surely, if I survived Moscow and St. Petersburg in the dead of winter, I can withstand several hours of freezing temperatures. My friend met me in the queue at 9:30, we bought our tickets for the 5pm slot, and then went to the 3rd floor restaurant at the National Portrait Gallery to defrost over a cup of tea. We enjoyed the view of Trafalgar Square while catching up on life and the latest happenings in San Francisco. My friend and I did some window shopping, had a light lunch at Vinoteca in Marylebone, followed by afternoon tea and pastries back at her hotel, the JW Marriott Governsor House, before heading back to the National Gallery where Keenan joined us after his company's Christmas party. 

Da Vinci was a true polymath; he was not only a painter, but also inventor, scientist, botanist, and geologist. In other words, a pure genius. This exhibition focuses on Da Vinci's artistic work during his eighteen year tenure as the court painter during the reign of Duke Lodovico Sforza in the late 1480s. The six room exhibition is clustered by themes on the first floor and continues in the Sunley Room on level 2. For the first time, art lovers can view Da Vinci's two versions of The Virgin of the Rocks side by side on opposite ends of the room. It's interesting to see the subtle differences between the two versions. The first, on loan from the Louvre, has strong emphasis on naturalism, while the second version was painted with more hues of blue to capture the fall of the light. 


Other artwork on display include: The Madonna of the Yarnwinder, Portrait of a Musician, and Saint Jerome. The highlight was of course was The Last Supper displayed in the Sunley Room. This room contains Da Vinci's original compositional sketches of his idea for The Last Supper. He wished to depict the the distinct characteristic  and expressions of the 12 Apostles. 

I highly recommend this exhibition. While tickets are 16 GBP, it is well worth every pence and the long queues for a chance to see Da Vinci's original masterpieces. Advanced tickets are sold out, but here's all the information you need if you plan on queuing for tickets. The show runs until 5th February 2012. 
  • 500 day of tickets will be on sale on a first-come, first-serve basis. On Fridays and Saturdays (700 tickets), the exhibition is open until 10pm to cope with high demand; and until 7pm on Sundays (600 ticket).  Each person can purchase up to 6 tickets.
  • Visitors are limited to 180 per half hour to manage crowd control. Even with this, the exhibition was quite crowded as art lovers marveled at the paintings and sketches, many of which are owned by Her Majesty The Queen. 
  • It is highly recommended that you queue in front of the Sainsbury Wing before 8:15am or earlier to secure tickets. The National Gallery staff will let you know if there are no chances to secure day of tickets. If you arrive early enough, you can pick your time slot (in half time-slots).
  •  Admission tickets are timed but once you enter the museum, you can stay as long as you want. The exhibition continues upstairs in the Sunley Room, which is where the Last Supper is displayed.  
  • Dress warm, gloves, umbrellas, heat pads, bring magazines, books, Ipods/Ipads and you can expect to wait up to three hours.

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