Leonardo da Vinci at the National Gallery

In my last post, I mentioned several of Dublin’s fab (and free) local museums, including the National Gallery of Ireland. Although the museum is small, down to only 2 galleries during renovations, it has some major gems right now. I came for the da Vinci, but stayed for the, well, everything else…

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After seeing ads around town for months, I finally got my shit together and checked out the Leonardo da Vinci drawings exhibition in the main gallery. Tickets are (say it with me!) totally free and, even though its the last weekend, seem to be pretty easily available. I booked last night and had my pick of times.

But onto the art: the exhibition is made up of 10 original da Vinci drawings on lend from the Royal Collection in England and although that might not seem like very much, they really make the most of the pieces. The exhibit includes historical context of each piece, discusses da Vinci’s process of study, and even presents a video explaining the way da Vinci created the paper, ink, and pigments he used to create the drawings. There was an interesting mix of content, as well: some studies of famous paintings, early representations of scientific theories (like the anatomical drawings below), and even, above, a map of the Arno river in Florence.

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But what I loved the most was how unusual it felt to see works-in-progress exhibited on their own, instead of as supplements to the finished pieces. It felt like seeing the dress rehearsal of a play with all its stops and restarts and unpolished realness. I’ve always loved looking at people’s beautifully haphazard class notes or finding old annotated books, so this felt like the ultimate journal porn. What also struck me was how amazing it is that these pieces even still exist; the exhibit talked about how the drawings were passed from artist to artist and then across Europe, eventually, making it to England where they were preserved by the royal family. But at any point over the last 500 years they could have just as easily been destroyed as a bunch of useless, unfinished papers. Sort of amazing when you think about everything that’s happened in Europe since da Vinci’s time…

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The National Gallery is also a beautiful space to grab lunch or coffee with a big light-filled atrium and lots of lunch choices so it makes a great midday break. And check out their other exhibit on early 20th century European painting, it’s actually so good. I ducked in after seeing the da Vinci and was seriously blown away by some of the pieces they have tucked away in there. Like I said before, small but mighty museum.

Needless to say, if you’re in town this weekend and have a free half hour, pop over to the National Gallery. Things seemed pretty slow so even if you don’t have tickets, just show and see what happens – it’s totally worth it to get a little glimpse into the mind of one of the world’s greatest thinkers.

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