Tuesday, January 24, 2012

DA VINCI at the National Gallery

As I have the week off from work but am staying in London for the duration, I've got lots of errands and lunches and touristy activities planned:

Tuesday - housebound; have agreed to babysit mid-day and so will be doing a massive clean of the flat around that
Wednesday - culture with Alex; a trip to the V&A and/or a matinée (perhaps of Noises Off at the Old Vic)
Thursday - lunch with Karen, evensong at Westminster, dinner with Rose, and errands in between
Friday - outing to Hampton Court Palace and dinner with the girls

On Monday, I spent the day at the National Gallery.  Not in the National Gallery, mind you, but around it.  See, I was dying to visit their Leonardo da Vinci show, but all advance tickets were sold out and I was advised to arrive very early if I wanted to snag a same-day timed-entry ticket.  I live-tweeted my adventure, but the short version is this:

6:00am - alarm went off
6:30am - left the house
7:10am - arrived at the National Gallery and got in line
12:20pm - bought my ticket
3:30pm - entered the exhibition
4:45pm - left the exhibition

That's five hours, dear readers.  Five [expletive] hours of standing in line, 4h40m of which was outside in the [expletive] cold.  (For the record, the girls at the front of the line had arrived at 1am though the people directly behind them showed up at 5am; the people at the back of the queue didn't get there until 9:30am and I think they were advised that they might still be able to secure tickets.)  But I was victorious and, after a lunch break in Covent Garden with a lovely American girl who was studying in London for the month and found me through this blog, I headed into the exhibit.

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) trained in Florence, but his most prolific period was during his tenure in Milan, 1482-1499.  This show followed his artistic and philosophical development while court painter to Ludovico Sforza, the ruler of the city, during which time his "ideas on the status and purpose of art... were transformed."  According to the leaflet, "Leonardo emerged as a painter-philosopher, convinced his art could not just mirror nature but reveal a higher reality of divine harmony and beauty."

The National Gallery show gathers together for the first time every painting started by da Vinci during this period - except for The Last Supper, which remains in place - plus as many of his sketches and drawings as well as works by his students and followers.  My favorite piece was a sketch called Bust of a Woman.  I can't find the exact image online, but it's similar to this work, held in the Royal Collection:

It's a massive exhibition, beautifully crafted and thoughtfully put together, and well worth all of the hype artistically.  However, I've got to be honest: I don't think the show was worth five hours of standing in line in the cold plus a £16 admission fee.  As breathtaking as the works are, my experience was nearly ruined by the crowds.  The exhibit was packed, which was to be expected, but I was surprised at how selfish the other viewers were.  Most were listening to the audio guide, which rendered them completely unaware of their surroundings and of their fellow ticket-holders, but even those without headphones seemed to feel no shame at planting themselves front and center and not moving to accommodate anyone else.  It was an unpleasant scrum, and I am truly glad that I had the opportunity to see so many incredible works of art by such a master in one place but I wouldn't recommend that you put yourself through the same.


  1. Sounds like an interesting experience. I would like to have gone but find that tickets shows generally are a bit over-crowded at the London museums. I am pretty lucky that I have seen several of da Vinci's works in various museums and often you can be left alone with amazing pieces of art under those circumstances. Obviously it is not as grand as seeing them all at once but you get a little alone time with the greats.

  2. Hi Betsy, great post and thanks for sharing it. It was instrumental in our plans for our own visit to the exhibition yesterday. I agree that the crowds inside turned into a bit of a selfish scrum, but I think was worth the queuing and jostling in the end; it was great to see so much of his work in one place. Thanks again!

    1. James, I'm so glad it helped - and I really am glad that I went, rant aside; it just helps to be armed with information :) Your review is much more thorough than mine, artistically - congrats on making it through!


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