The week before Christmas an old friend of mine got me and Thathusband in to the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition at the National Gallery. A rare proper grown-up night out, with drinks and canapés and time to read the descriptions by the paintings, for once, ha ha, to see the writing on the wall.
And, obviously, they aren’t half bad. Some of them are famous enough to make you feel like some weird kind of faker in their presence; others are immense and seem to glow in the dark almost, to strange you out in their familiarity, otherness, modernity and agedness.
There are lots of sketches and there’s something in their peculiar fragility and what they reveal about the obsessive attempt to capture first reality and then perfection. The emphasis on dimension and symmetry, the again and again and again-ness of the hunt for the look of a hand, an ear, an ermine, a back, a muscular calf, a child’s face – all scrawled in red or blue or black. The search for authenticity is fascinating.
There are some wonderful pieces, perhaps the big guns being the two versions of The Virgin Of The Rocks. But relieved as I was to get to gen up and take my time I found myself pulled, as ever, to seeing the exhibition through the filter of my new self and the tiny world I now inhabit since having children, and probably since I last had a leisurely walk through a gallery with my husband and without a changing bag.
For a thousand reasons, I’m still breastfeeding newborn. Mainly, I guess, because whenever I try to stop he can sense my ambivalence and either cluster-feeds like a newborn to bank his supply, or goes nuts at night bringing my paper-thin grasp on my mind and my happiness shuddering to a sleepless halt.
Maybe that is why I was drawn to a series of sketches and a painting: The Madonna Litta and in particular the idea of authenticity and what that means. Now, I’m told by better art critics than I that, though long attributed, many think this wasn’t painted by Leonardo but by one of his followers (or at least finished off).