This exhibition of da Vinci’s works has been billed as ‘The London Event of the Year’. It is quite remarkable as it is the largest exhibition of his works ever. As well as paintings by Da Vinci and his pupils, the exhibition also includes several of his drawings showing how the great artist worked. The most interesting of these are housed in the room where a copy of The Last Supper is hung. Here we can see clearly that producing a truly outstaning piece of art takes exceptional talent, but also hard craft and years and years of observation of your subject(s).
Seeing the many sketches da Vinci had made of the characters in the fresco truly struck a chord with me. I can only refer to my own limited experience as a writer, but I could definitely relate to the amount of work, the many hours of editing, re-editing, re-writing, editing, re-editing, re-writing (you get the picture) to produce a somewhat presentable piece of fiction. This same piece of work, a novel, say, then only takes a day or two, or a few weeks at most, to be consumed by the reader.
In the book shop customers often ask me if a particular favourite writer has a new book out yet. Often the latest one is still in hardback, and it’s hard to explain that the average time it takes to write a novel is two years. Of course many writers take much longer, and some are much quicker.
A second thought that the exhibition gave me was how very inventive and talented da Vinci was. He experimented in so many other arts too, and had a first rate scientific mind. And it occurred to me that had he been a woman, and not a man, producing theories about flying and the mathematical symmentry of a perfect face and body in the fifteenth century, da Vinci would probably been burned at the stake.
Then as I thought about this on the way home, watching the darkening streets of London from the top of double-decker bus, I realised this last thought about witches was probably fuelled by a crime novel I’ve recently read by the Icelandic author, Yrsa Sigurdardottir. In her first title with the inquisitive lawyer Thora, Last Rituals, she writes about the murky history of the European witch hunts.
‘You read too much,’ said an old friend of mine to me once. She was probably right….
Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan
9 November 2011 – 5 February 2012