At home of ‘Mona Lisa’, a retrospective on Da Vinci’s life and work

October 21, 2019

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PARIS: An infrared reflectography of the ‘Mona Lisa’ painting is pictured during a press briefing for the Da Vinci exhibition 
on Sunday.—Reuters
PARIS: An infrared reflectography of the ‘Mona Lisa’ painting is pictured during a press briefing for the Da Vinci exhibition on Sunday.—Reuters

FRANCE’S Louvre museum, home to Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’, is putting the final touches to one of the biggest ever exhibitions of the Italian master’s work with the presence of the world’s most expensive painting agonisingly unresolved. The Louvre has assembled more than 160 paintings, sculptures, letters and drawings from the Renaissance era in an exhibition to mark the 500th anniversary of the Italian master’s death.

Da Vinci left his native Italy when his patron died and spent his last years in France as the guest of the French monarch, until he died in May 1519 at the Loire Valley chateau that had become his home. The exhibition, which opens on Thursday Oct 24, shows 10 of the paintings now attributed to Da Vinci, including those kept in the Louvre — ‘Saint Anne’, ‘Saint John the Baptist’, ‘The Virgin of the Rocks’ and ‘La Belle Ferronnire’ — and works lent from other institutions.

The Da Vinci exhibition includes two dozen drawings lent by Queen Elizabeth II, along with paintings and sculptures. Some of the works are by Da Vinci himself, while some are by other artists and are there to put the Italian maestro’s work into context. The exhibition also features infra-red imaging of paintings by Da Vinci, revealing the layers of work that lie underneath the finished picture, so providing a glimpse of his working methods. “Leonardo da Vinci paints very slowly. Each painting is a long improvement of shape and content,” said Vincent Delieuvin, conservator of the Louvre Paintings department.

When his patron Giuliano de Medici died, Da Vinci left Italy for France at the invitation of French king Francois I. Appointed “First Painter, Engineer and Architect to the King”, the aging maestro settled at the Chateau du Clos Luce, near the royal residence of Amboise. The ‘Mona Lisa’, his most renowned work, has hung at the Louvre since the French Revolution and is viewed by around 30,000 visitors every day. That painting is not part of the exhibition. The museum expects the Da Vinci exhibition to have attracted at least half a million visitors by the time it closes on Feb 24.

Published in Dawn, October 21st, 2019