To mark the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci, one of the greatest artists and scientists the world has known, the Royal Collection Trust has collaborated with twelve museums and galleries to stage simultaneous exhibitions of Leonardo’s drawings across the UK. Having visited ‘Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing’ at Southampton City Art Gallery, Arts Ambassador Jenny Banful was keen to find out more.
Sometimes I’m much more interested in the process than the final product as a form of artistic expression. For this reason, I was interested in the idea of attending the talk ‘Leonardo: Inspiring Science and Engineering as well as Art’, at John Hansard Gallery on 12 March programmed to complement the Leonard da Vinci exhibition at the neighbouring City Art Gallery, Martin Clayton, Head of Prints and Drawings for Royal Collection Trust helpfully illuminated the artist’s methodology along with providing some historical context on the artist’s life.
Clayton summarised da Vinci’s life drawings by describing them as ‘the perfect marriage of art, and science’ – I couldn’t agree more. The drawings combine da Vinci’s knowledge of mechanics and his fascination with the conception of nature. Clayton talked into detail about the level of intricacy behind da Vinci’s life drawings which I found remarkable as I was beginning to consider these in terms of mechanics (I know, wild). I noted the way that da Vinci’s drawings were meticulous as he was concerned with proportions and scales. It was interesting, therefore, to see how these elements were aestheticised. In the area of anatomy, his drawings became a scientific endeavour, particularly concerned with dissection. In one of these drawings, he portrayed the muscular detailing of the forearm with such a level of intricacy and precision. For me, it was a drawing that helpfully illustrated the intersection between science and art, highlighting the aesthetic components of anatomy.
It was also interesting to learn that da Vinci was seen as a ‘renaissance man’, concerned with capturing the spontaneity and vivacity. Not only this but through his works he illustrated the belief that conception was not just material but spiritual. This sentiment is perfectly captured by ‘The Creation of Adam’ a painting that most of us will be familiar with and one that still continues excite the curiosities of many.
Overall, I really enjoyed the evening as it offered a different perspective. Sometimes gallery spaces can be quite daunting, so it helps to be able to connect with the artwork by going beyond the iconography of a piece.
Jenny Banful is an Arts Ambassador and BA English Student at the University of Southampton.
‘Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing’ is at Southampton City Art Gallery until 6 May 2019. Admission is free, see website for further details.
Arts Ambassadors is a paid opportunity, supported by the Careers and Employability Service’s Excel Southampton Internship programme, University of Southampton.