The most comprehensive collection of drawings by Leonardo da Vinci ever assembled in the United States, is on exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The exhibition is taken from major collections from around the world, and features many pieces not seen in public since the 1930s.
Even for seasoned art historian and curator Carmen Bambach, who put together the exhibition of nearly 120 drawings, seeing so many works by Leonardo da Vinci in one place is a moving experience. "It is possibly the most emotional time in my entire life, that I am likely to have. To think about these works you will see on the walls, or that you have already seen on the walls, that normally live in dark, black boxes. To see them all together here, so many of them, is a very, very emotional thing," she said.
Leonardo da Vinci - Master Draftsman follows da Vinci's entire career, from his artistic apprenticeship in Florence, Italy in the 1470s, to his highly productive years as a scientist and an inventor in Milan, through to his return to Florence in the beginning of the 16th century, and death in France in 1519.
Ms. Bambach said the drawings in the exhibition provide a rare opportunity to confront the diverse talents that made Leonardo da Vinci, artist, scientist, engineer, theorist, teacher, the original "Renaissance Man."
Curator Carmen Bambach said, "He very much believed in revealing, and in the process of revealing, rationalizing. At the same time, he was deeply and humbly aware of the mysteries of the world, the mysteries of human life. He talks a great deal about that. The mysteries of life, the great depths of human emotion as a kind of shaper of physical gesture. That is why his figures are so deeply convincing."
Although Leonardo da Vinci is perhaps best known for paintings such as the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, very few paintings by the master exist today - 15 at most, whereas there are 4,000 pages of his drawings and notes in various collections throughout the world.
The one painting in the exhibition, the unfinished St. Jerome Praying in the Wilderness, has the imprint of the artist's fingers in the upper left corner. Metropolitan Museum Director Philipe de Montebello says tiny details like this are what make the Master Draftsman exhibition so compelling.
"You get that magical sense that you are looking over the shoulder of the artist as he draws and creates. It brings you in touch with one of the greatest personalities in the world on such a close basis that it is deeply moving," Mr. de Montebello said.
The exhibition includes studies for Leonardo's most famous paintings, Virgin and Child with St. Anne, The Last Supper, Adoration of the Magi, as well as a recently discovered, two-sided sketch of a Hercules statue, possibly meant to compete with Michaelangelo's David.
Interwoven in the exhibition are the results of copious new research into such subjects as Leonardo da Vinci's patrons, his teachers, and the work of his pupils.
Mr. Montebello said the new research helped convince some reluctant lenders to temporarily part with their da Vinci treasures. "There is no question that it took a lot of reassuring and cajoling, in terms of security and insurance and the like, but ultimately what prevailed was the seriousness of the project. The new research, the scholarship, the fact that the exhibition will make not only a contribution to the general public, but a contribution to knowledge," he said.
Some art experts have questioned the wisdom of transporting and showing such valuable work because of its fragility. The old work is particularly sensitive to light and temperature. But Francoise Viatte, chief curator of drawings at the Musee de Louvre in Paris, says it is a risk worth taking.
"If we never attempt this kind of thing, very few people will see the works of art in the world. Part of the job of the museum is to make exhibitions between them in partnerships. Especially for drawings. Drawings are difficult to see in a museum. Drawings are a special section in a museum. You have to make a special request and get authorization to see them. So it is very important to make a big exhibition like Leonardo," Ms. Viatte said.
Twenty-nine of the drawings in the exhibition come from the Louvre. Other major contributions come from museums and private collections in the Netherlands, Portugal, Hungary, Italy, Germany, Austria, and the United States. The Royal Library of Windsor Castle in England lent 31 drawings.
The exhibition will travel to the Louvre later this year.