Leonardo da Vinci and the Art of Sculpture: Inspiration and Invention
I know that this exhibition is already over, but I still think it is worth posting about because it had so many elements involved with the exhibition design.
The exhibition was located on the terrace level of the west pavilion of the Getty Center. I entered the space by walking down the stairway from the level above, which allowed me a great view of the behemoth horse by Nina Akamu. The work was a wall mural of a photo of Il Cavallo, which stands in the Parco dell’Ippodromo in Milan. The contemporary sculpture was inspired by the sketches of Da Vinci, for an unrealized equestrian monument designed for Francesco Sforza, the Duke of Milan. This unrealized sculpture was a big focus of the show, and this photo adhered to the entry wall helped to cultivate the theme of monumentality in Renaissance sculpture. Even though there were few sculptures (and none by Da Vinci) in the show. The Da Vinci work in this show is made up of sketches, many from the Royal Collection of Queen Elizabeth II.
There were some very significant loan pieces, which is what the Getty does best; the reason to go see a show at the Getty is their ability to negotiate such loans. (See for example French Bronzes, Bernini, or the display of Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère.) A major lender in to this exhibition was the Museo Del Opera Del Duomo in Florence. The very Tuscan, sand-colored rooms of the exhibition are divided into several themes.
Donatello and Da Vinci: This room was a kind of prologue to the show. One big room, with only one big work: Donatello’s Bearded Prophet. The huge bronze statue was illuminated by a single window in an upper corner of room. The starkness of the room highlighted the monumental borrowed work and allowed a visitor to circumvent the entire work, which you wouldn’t have been able to in its original setting—on the campanile of the Duomo. The wall text explains how Donatello enlarged certain parts of the sculpture because of the perspective of it being seen on high: like the hands and the saint’s head. This was a technique that was evidently adopted by Da Vinci.
Da Vinci and the Florentine Tradition: Because this show prominently featured works on loan I was not allowed to take any photographs, and the Getty has a very diligent and dedicated army of gallery guards who promptly tell you to put that camera away, this is why I have no images from this room. Let me describe it instead: the second room had an assemblage of pedestals with framed sketches set on top of them. The Da Vinci sketches looked precariously set on top of the pedestals, as if they would topple over if you bumped into one, which seemed unavoidable in the crowded forest of pedestals. Wall text contextualized Da Vinci into the Florentine tradition, with its emphasis on disegno—the “masculine style” which the Tuscans thought far superior to the feminine, Venetian style of colorito.
In between the room that focused on Da Vinci’s equestrian monuments and other projects, and the next was a corridor that could have been left empty and unremarkable. But no, the Getty exhibition designers weren’t going to waste a perfectly good wall. In this wall way, like beautiful antique wallpaper, was enlarged images of Da Vinci’s handwriting. I asked a gallery guard permission and was given the okay to photograph.
In the next room, which was almost tucked away, Da Vinci’s St. Jerome (on loan from the Vatican!) was displayed. The unfinished panel painting was the first work by Da Vinci in the show that wasn’t a sketch, not a sculpture, but still not a sketch. What this painting was doing in a show about sculpture was rationalized by the curators in that the figure of Jerome was painted in a very sculptural way…I might be oversimplifying, but that’s all the average visitor is going to understand anyway.
The final rooms were devoted to Giovan Francesco Rustici, an artist I had never heard of before this exhibition. Apparently he was friends and colleagues with Da Vinci. Because there are very few confidently attributed Da Vinci sculptures, and those probably are never allowed to move, the Getty provides this analogue (aka replacement) for the lack of Da Vinci sculptures. Once again there were a lot of loan works, the most glorious of which were the three Rustici sculptures that made up the sculptural group John the Baptist Preaching to a Pharisee and a Levite, also from the Museo Del Opera Del Duomo.
Again the large works (meant to be seen on the exterior of a public building) were given plenty of room to stretch their large bronze limbs, and basked in plenty of natural sunlight. The natural light helped to contextualize the works in their original location. The works were amazing, and would be on their own, even if you ignore the Da vinci-Rustici relationship so hyped in this exhibition. It really undermined Rustici’s talent as an individual artist, but at the same time exposed me to Rustici for the first time.
After exiting the exhibition, myself and all the visitors were forced into the adjacent retail space. Yes the Getty has a very large bookstore, but they also set up specialty boutique shops as it were for special exhibitions. It was like strategic planning in a mall, but I did almost buy a street banner from the exhibition.