London's National Gallery is to limit visitor numbers to a major exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci works in an attempt to prevent large crowds detracting from the viewing experience. Admissions will be fixed at 180 every half hour – 50 fewer people than the gallery is legally allowed to let in. Advance booking opens even though the exhibition doesn't open until November.
“We've looked hard at the problems caused by very popular exhibitions… and decided to take action,” gallery director Nicholas Penny told The Times. The decision to reduce the number of admissions is “in response to visitors' comments regarding overcrowding in exhibitions” the gallery said. Longer opening hours and the decision to open the exhibition on 1 January 2012 will add 20% to normal capacity, it said.
Leonardo Da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan will bring together the largest ever number of Leonardo's rare surviving paintings. While numerous exhibitions have looked at Leonardo da Vinci as an inventor, scientist or draughtsman, this is the first exhibition to be dedicated to his aims and ambitions as a painter. The “landmark” exhibition, which includes works never shown in the UK before, runs from 9 November 2011 to 5 February 2012.
Leonardo was born in or near Vinci in Tuscany and was trained in Florence by the sculptor-painter Andrea del Verrocchio. In about 1482-3 he moved to Milan, slightly later finding work as a court artist for the ruling Sforza family. He remained there until just after the city was invaded by the French in 1499. He may have visited Venice before returning to Florence in 1500. A second period in Milan lasted from 1506 until 1513, and it was then that he finished the London ‘Virgin of the Rocks'; this was followed by three years based in Rome. In 1517, at the invitation of the French king, Leonardo moved to the Château de Cloux, near Amboise in France, where he died in 1519.
The exhibition will concentrate on da Vinci's career as a court painter in Milan in the 1480s and 1490s, it will display more than 60 paintings and drawings by the artist. Nearly every surviving picture that he painted in Milan during this period will be exhibited. These include the ‘Portrait of a Musician‘ (Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan), the ‘Saint Jerome‘ (Vatican, Rome), ‘The Lady with an Ermine' (Czartoryski Foundation, Cracow), the ‘Belle Ferronnière' (Musée du Louvre, Paris) and the National Gallery's own recently restored Virgin of the Rocks. These pictures show how Leonardo, benefiting from his salaried position, used his artistic freedom to find new ways of perceiving and recording the natural world – focusing especially on the human anatomy, soul and emotions.
Leonardo da Vinci's time in Milan was the making of him – both as an artist and as a public figure. It was in Milan that Leonardo executed his two profoundly different versions of the mysterious ‘Virgin of the Rocks', as well as the almost uncannily perfect wall-painting of ‘The Last Supper'. This work will be represented in the exhibition by a near contemporary, full-scale copy by his pupil Giampietrino (1500–1550), lent by the Royal Academy.
For advance tickets to ‘Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan' call +44 0844 248 5097 (booking fee) or buy tickets online (on sale 10 May – booking fee).
‘Portrait of a Musician‘ from the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.