Four Fragile and Rarely Shown Drawings by Leonardo da Vinci Are Going on View at the Met This Month

The quartet is being shown together for the first time in more than 15 years.

Wenceslaus Hollar, A Young Man Caressing an Old Woman (1646), a reproduction of a lost Leonardo da Vinci drawing. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Wenceslaus Hollar, A Young Man Caressing an Old Woman (1646), a reproduction of a lost Leonardo da Vinci drawing. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

As the 500th anniversary of the death of Renaissance great Leonardo da Vinci approaches, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is reaching deep into its archive to exhibit four rarely shown drawings by the Old Master.

The incredibly fragile artworks, normally kept in storage due to their sensitivity to light, will go on view in the museum’s prints and drawings galleries on January 29. There, they will be joined by other works on paper by masters such as Rembrandt van Rijn and Wenceslaus Hollar to illustrate Leonardo’s lasting legacy. (A full-scale exhibition, “Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing,” is being held across 12 cities in the UK to mark the occasion.)

“It’s no surprise that Leonardo’s brilliance continues to fascinate people to this day,” said Carmen Bambach, a curator in the Met’s department of drawings and prints, in an email to artnet News. She is the author of Leonardo da Vinci Rediscovered, a four-volume book 24 years in the making set to be released by Yale University Press in July.

The Met’s upcoming presentation will be the first time that the four Leonardo drawings—taken from six in the museum’s collection—will be shown together in over 15 years. The last time was during the Met’s 2003 blockbuster “Leonardo da Vinci: Master Draftsman,” although all four have been on view separately in the years since.

Leonardo da Vinci, The Head of the Virgin in Three-Quarter View Facing Right (1510–13). Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Leonardo da Vinci, The Head of the Virgin in Three-Quarter View Facing Right (1510–13). Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Highlights of the display will include two separate takes on his famed Last Supper, including a sketchy rendition by Rembrandt (who never saw the work in person) and a skillful engraving by Giovanni Pietro da Birago, which is the earliest surviving copy of the painting, and helped to make the artwork renowned. The installation will also feature a number of Hollar etchings after Leonardo, some of which are being exhibited at the Met for the first time.

“The four drawings each illuminate a different important aspect of his artistry,” said Bambach: “Leonardo’s lifelong fascination with physiognomy, his process of loosening his creative juices while sketching for larger compositions, his famous sfumato technique and ability to create infinitesimal gradations of shadow and light, and even his fun-loving side.”

A number of preparatory sketches for an altar piece resembling his Virgin of the Rocks can be seen in Designs for Altarpieces of the Virgin Adoring the Christ Child (circa 1482–85), while Study for the Head of the Virgin (circa 1510–15) and Man in Bust-Length, Profile View (circa 1490–94) illustrate Leonardo’s talent for portraiture.

The last piece, Sketch and Notes for an Allegory on the Fidelity of the Lizard (recto), from 1496, is likely a drawing of a medal or brooch that would have been worn during a stage production at the court of Milan, where Ludovico Sforza employed Leonardo as set designer as well as his official artist.

See more works from the presentation below.

Leonardo da Vinci, <em>Sketch and Notes for an Allegory on the Fidelity of the Lizard (recto)</em> (1496). Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Leonardo da Vinci, Sketch and Notes for an Allegory on the Fidelity of the Lizard (recto) (1496). Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Leonardo da Vinci, <em>Designs for Altarpieces of the Virgin Adoring the Christ Child</em> (circa 1482–85). Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Leonardo da Vinci, Designs for Altarpieces of the Virgin Adoring the Christ Child (circa 1482–85). Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Rembrandt van Rijn, <em>The Last Supper</em> (circa 1634). Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Last Supper (circa 1634). Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Wenceslaus Hollar, Title Page: Divers Anticke Faces (1677), a reproduction of a Leonardo da Vinci drawing. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Wenceslaus Hollar, Title Page: Divers Anticke Faces (1677), a reproduction of a Leonardo da Vinci drawing. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Leonardo da Vinci, <em>Man in Bust-Length, Profile View</em> (circa 1490–94). Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Leonardo da Vinci, Man in Bust-Length, Profile View (circa 1490–94). Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“Selections from the Department of Drawings and Prints: Leonardo da Vinci” is on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gallery 690, 1000 Fifth Avenue, New York, January 29–April 28, 2019.


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