Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan

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Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan

Date and time

9 November 2011 – 5 February 2012

Sainsbury Wing

Past exhibition

'One of the exhibitions of the century' – Roy Strong, Telegraph 
'Serious ideas – and a serious exhibition' – Jonathan Jones, Guardian
'Truly remarkable' – Duncan Macmillan, Scotsman  

‘Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan’ was the most complete display of Leonardo’s rare surviving paintings ever held. This unprecedented exhibition – the first of its kind anywhere in the world – brought together sensational international loans never before seen in the UK.

Leonardo the artist

While numerous exhibitions have looked at Leonardo da Vinci as an inventor, scientist or draughtsman, this was the first to be dedicated to his aims and techniques as a painter. Inspired by the recently restored National Gallery painting, The Virgin of the Rocks, this exhibition focused on Leonardo as an artist. In particular it concentrated on the work he produced as court painter to Duke Lodovico Sforza in Milan in the late 1480s and 1490s.

As a painter, Leonardo aimed to convince viewers of the reality of what they were seeing while still aspiring to create ideals of beauty – particularly in his exquisite portraits – and, in his religious works, to convey a sense of awe-inspiring mystery.

Works on display

Featuring the finest paintings and drawings by Leonardo and his followers, the exhibition examined Leonardo’s pursuit for perfection in his representation of the human form.  Works on display included ‘La Belle Ferronière’ (Musée du Louvre, Paris), the ‘Madonna Litta’ (Hermitage, Saint Petersburg) and ‘Saint Jerome’ (Pinacoteca Vaticana, Rome).

The two versions of Leonardo’s ‘Virgin of the Rocks’ – belonging to the National Gallery and the Louvre – were also shown together for the first time. Find out more about the two paintings.

The final part of the exhibition featured a near-contemporary, full-scale copy of Leonardo’s famous ‘Last Supper’, on loan from the Royal Academy. Seen alongside all the surviving preparatory drawings made by Leonardo for the 'Last Supper', visitors were able to discover how such a large-scale painting was designed and executed.

Exhibition guide

This free guide provides an overview of the exhibition and includes labels of all the paintings.

PDF fileDownload the exhibition guide [PDF 610kb – opens in a new window] 

Leonardo da Vinci
1452 - 1519

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Image above: Detail from Leonardo da Vinci, 'Portrait of Cecilia Gallerani (The Lady with an Ermine)', about 1489-90. Property of the Czartoryski Foundation in Cracow on deposit at the National Museum in Cracow © Princes Czartoryski Foundation

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