Leonardo Da Vinci: A Life In Drawing

When I heard that the Millennium Gallery’s next exhibition was to be a showcase of drawings by Leonardo da Vinci, I’ll admit it didn’t strike me as an event I’d be particularly interested in. Despite being one of the most famous artists in the world, a familiar name even to those with no interest whatsoever in his work, I’ve always been more drawn to exhibits of modern art myself. Still, with the exhibition taking place so near my house, and knowing a little of da Vinci’s massive importance in both the arts and the sciences, I finally decided to take a look.

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The exhibit was small, taking up only a third of the gallery’s already limited space, and relatively basic, giving a broad overview of da Vinci’s life and a tiny selection of his drawings - but that’s by no means a criticism. I have no formal education in art and don’t come from a background of artistic knowledge, and as such I firmly believe galleries should make viewing art as accessible and unpretentious as possible, which the Millennium certainly did. Art historians or those with prior knowledge of the subject matter may not find much new information here, but coming at the material with no expectations, I found the works to be clearly explained and came away feeling I’d learned something. I wasn’t alone; the exhibition was fairly busy at the time I visited, and attendees ranged from suited professionals on a lunch break to small children on a school trip.

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As part of a nationwide commemoration of the 500th anniversary of da Vinci’s death, the drawings on display nevertheless stood complete in their own right. The main takeaway for me was the unparalleled way in which da Vinci combined art and science, be it through detailed anatomical studies or sketches of water and the natural world. The exhibition also invited visitors to have a go at mark-making using similar methods to da Vinci; a nice touch that brought the drawings to life (and made them seem all the more impressive next to my effort!).

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In addition to the original da Vinci artworks, the gallery also offered an additional installation to be viewed alongside them, titled The Vehicle of Nature by a local design studio called Universal Everything. This combination of video, light, sound and sculpture aimed to provide an immersive experience while also responding to da Vinci’s understanding of fluid dynamics in nature and applying them to the 21st-century  world. Apparent in everything from the movement of crowds to the flow of a river, this part of the exhibition was interesting in its own right while also complementing the Renaissance artwork in the room next door.

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It may not have been the exhibition I got most excited about before attending, but I’m certainly glad I paid it a visit before it disappears in May - I gained some knowledge of a household name and reminded myself why it’s good to try something different, even if that something different is an artist all of us have heard of.

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Leonardo da Vinci: A life in drawing is at the Millennium Gallery, Sheffield until May 6, 2019. Admission is free.

Lucy AllisonComment