Last week I finally visited the ‘Leonardo da Vinci: A life in Drawing’ exhibition at the National Museum & Art Gallery in Cardiff and it just so happened I was visiting on the actual day of the 500th anniversary of his death.
To mark the anniversary art galleries across the UK from Cardiff to Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester (just to name a few) held a simultaneous exhibition of some of his fascinating work.
As I walked into the building I was met straight away with the sight of a large banner advertising the exhibition, showing just a glimpse of one of the pieces that I soon found out was on display. What became evident to me almost immediately was that our native language was also used (and I’d soon see more of this throughout the entire exhibition). I feel the National Museum & Art Gallery value heritage and encourage visitors to be curious about our past culture. In the gift shop you’ll find a host of treasures giving a nod to Wales, from traditional gifts such as Welsh love spoons, to Welsh language books.
The exhibition itself was situated in a somewhat small room off from the main gallery and was guarded carefully by a member of staff. Tickets had to be bought before-hand in the gift shop and punched before you could enter (adult tickets £5, £4 concession, children free). Although I’m personally happy to support educational public spaces such as libraries, museums and art galleries, I wondered if some people may be put off by the price, particularly given the fact that we were given a limit of half an hour to view the pieces. That being said, I feel the majority of the visitors to this exhibition understood that to see first-hand some of da Vinci’s work is a rare opportunity. I should also mention that purchasing a ticket in Cardiff meant half price off your ticket if you visited Bristol Museum & Art Gallery.
The layout of the exhibition was fairly well thought-out given the slightly cramped space and it was nice to see ‘extras’ such as a corner dedicated to books on da Vinci, an interactive board and activity booklets for children (or big kids like me!). I feel like the exhibition was curated for a wide range of ages, though perhaps not very young children.
Whilst we were there we encountered a group of school children enthusiastically trying to re-create some of da Vinci’s pieces in their sketchbooks and I liked the fact that they were free to pick up magnifiers and activity booklets (though the magnifiers were so badly scratched it did very little to help see the pieces clearer). However, as there were a lot of people in the room it was very crowded and small queues had begun to form around paintings. I feel it would have been better for large groups to have been able to book in advance to avoid this.
The free booklet managed to pack in several suggested activities, whilst also revealing a bit about da Vinci and the way in which he worked. I felt this was a good way to get children participating in art and engaging with the exhibition. The reverse side of the booklet was in Welsh.
In addition to the pieces on the walls there were two plinths, one with a piece showing a technique da Vinci used, which was described in the information board below. I feel there was the right amount of information throughout the exhibition, with small descriptions next to each piece, but larger boards giving more in-depth details, such as da Vinci’s background and most interesting to me, the materials he used.
Although the 12 nationwide exhibitions have now finished it’s not too late to see da Vinci’s precious works. From the 24th of May to the 13th of October over 200 of da Vinci’s drawings will go on display at The Queens Gallery (link).
Overall, whilst things were a little cramped, I’m glad I saw this exhibition. I feel as a former art student (though still a student in some ways as we never stop learning) this was one exhibition I shouldn’t miss.