< Back to results

Art Editorial

leonardo19.jpg Top draw stuff from an Italian master

One of the most eagerly awaited exhibitions ever to be held at the Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens – Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing – opens in February.

Is Leonardo the greatest artist who ever lived? It’s an endlessly debatable proposition. You may be on less shaky ground however, if you describe him as the world’s most famousartist. The Italian Renaissance master is certainly responsible for the best-known work ever created in the ‘Mona Lisa’. (You could also make a case for his ‘Last Supper’ as being the second most famous painting of all time – it’s certainly the most reproduced religious image.)

He has provided clues for Dan Brown’s best-selling (and very terrible) novel, and in 2017 his painting of Christ, ‘Salvator Mundi’, became the most expensive painting ever when it sold at Christie’s for $450 million.

Some experts, however, dispute the fact that this record-breaker is an original work by Leonardo. Indeed, when it was acquired at auction back in 2005 by a consortium of art dealers, it was described as “a wreck, dark and gloomy”, and after heavy restoration it appears curiously lifeless. Such accusations could never be levelled at Leonardo’s drawings – which teem with invention and a real sense of humanity – and 12 of them are heading to Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens as part of a national tour to mark the 500th anniversary of his death.

Sunderland is just one of 12 UK venues chosen by the Royal Collection Trust to simultaneously host the exhibition, which will feature a total of 144 of Leonardo’s drawings.

Keith Merrin, Chief Executive of Sunderland Culture who delivered the programme at the museum on behalf of Sunderland City Council, said: “This is an exciting opportunity to see the extraordinary drawings of perhaps the world’s most famous artist. We’re delighted Sunderland will be hosting part of such a major exhibition and we’re sure it will prove popular throughout the region and beyond.

“The 12 drawings selected for Sunderland reflect a range of Leonardo’s interests – architecture, music, anatomy, engineering, cartography, geology and botany. They also include a range of examples of the drawing materials employed by Leonardo, including pen and ink, red and black chalks, watercolour and metal point.

“The exhibition also presents new information about Leonardo’s working practices and creative process, gathered through scientific research using a range of non-invasive techniques, including ultraviolet imaging, infrared reflectography and X-ray fluorescence.”

A range of artistic projects and programmes will complement the exhibition as Jo Cunningham, Exhibitions, Collections and Archive Manager at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens, explains: “We’re using the drawings and high-profile exhibition as a catalyst to inspire and educate through a programme of projects and activities for people of all ages.

“These include a variety of activities, assemblies and workshops for schools and a project with University of Sunderland students working at FabLab and responding to the question: ‘If Leonardo was alive now, what would he create?’”

There will be a family programme which includes a Leonardo-themed week during February half-term (February 18-22); Leonardo trails around the museum and a takeover by the Dominic Wilcox Little Inventors project during the Easter holidays. There will also be monthly exhibition sessions for families with children who have additional learning needs or learning disabilities.

An adult learning programme will include: a free talk by Martin Clayton, Head of Prints and Drawings at Royal Collection Trust on Wednesday 27 February at University of Sunderland’s Murray Library Theatre (6.30pm-8.30pm) and then a guided tour of the exhibition by Martin the following day (11am); a botanical illustration workshop at the museum on Saturday 27 April and life drawing classes exploring nudes, drapery and theatrical costume on each Sunday in March (12.45pm-4.45pm).

It’s not very often that we’re given the chance to see works from the best-known (and, yes, perhaps best) artist of all time. Do not pass it up.

Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing, 1 February-6 May, Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens, Burdon Road, Sunderland. £2.50 (entry is free for under 16s, but they will need a ticket). Tickets can be booked online or at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens’ reception during opening hours. sunderlandmuseum.org.uk