This article originally appeared in ArtsBrum
Within the sprawl of the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Leonardo Da Vinci’s genius is on display with 12 exquisite drawings from one of the greatest to pick up a pencil. Set to an ambience of whispered mutters and walkie-talkie feedback, ‘A Life in Drawing’ showcases his immense talent and immeasurable contribution to a wide range of fields.
Marking 500 years since his death, the exhibition spans his observations, cartography, studies in anatomy, profiles and royal commissions, with these sketches providing a deeper understanding and appreciation of a towering figure in art. All of the architecture and sculpture that made his name has been lost to time, and as a result the works on paper before you represent his masterworks, a life of creative and intellectual ambition produced with pen and ink, chalk, watercolour and metalpoint. The space itself is a calming, quiet one, the walls are a deep blue and the lights are dim to protect the works, yet also allow for gentle reflection on the pieces that line the walls.
The nature of the medium brings you closer to the artist himself, the seemingly casual sketches of trees and forests remind you that there is a man behind the name, whilst the incredible detail shows why he is and was so revered throughout the world. The scratchy and vague red chalk drawings seemed to have started rough, and you get the sense Leonardo could not help but build up these works into a fuller picture, breathing immortal life into the picture and onto the paper that faces you.
The exhibition provides an insight into the workings of Da Vinci’s brain, some of these drawings are the foundations on which his most famous work rests, studies such as ‘Fall of Light on a Face’ are evidence of his pursuit of realistic depiction, attempting to capture facial expressions and reaction in a fashion novel to history. Other works such as ‘Sheet of Miscellaneous Sketches’ showcase his tireless mind, the page is littered with endless notations and minute scribblings of perfection, it is a fascinating visual representation of his artistic process. The exhibition finishes with Deluge’, a sketch of eerie ominousness drawn in the final years of Leonardo’s life, depicting a wave crashing through an anonymous building; It is a picture of destruction and chaos, of unknowing and catastrophe, yet still retaining curiosity for natural disaster and architectural debris that illustrates the artist’s unending imagination.
The exhibition runs from February 1st to May 6th, 2019, as the only opportunity in the Midlands to see the great man’s life in drawing.