Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan focuses on the artist’s career during the 1480s and 1490s when he worked as court painter for the city’s ruler, Ludovico Maria Sforza, nicknamed il Moro (‘the Moor’). Bringing together the largest ever number of Leonardo’s rare surviving paintings, it demonstrates his extraordinary observation, imagination and technique.
While numerous exhibitions have looked at Leonardo as an inventor, scientist or draughtsman, this is the first exhibition dedicated to his ambitions as a painter. Leonardo’s time in Milan was the making of him, both as an artist and as a public figure.
It was during this time that Leonardo executed two different versions of the mysterious 'Virgin of the Rocks', as well as his wall painting of 'The Last Supper'. This work is represented in the exhibition by an early full-scale copy by his pupil Giampietrino.
Other works in the exhibition, including 'La Belle Ferronnière' from the Louvre in Paris, show how Leonardo's salaried position at court gave him the artistic freedom to explore new ways of perceiving and recording the natural world – focusing especially on the human anatomy, soul and emotions. 'The Lady with an Ermine', his portrait of Ludovico's mistress, Cecilia Gallerani, is arguably his greatest masterpiece of these years. Conveying a sense of the sitter's inner life through its twisting pose and nuanced expression, it has been acclaimed as the first truly modern portrait.
More than 50 drawings relating to the paintings will be exhibited for the first time. These show not only how drawings of different kinds were used to design the pictures, but also how certain categories of drawings (anatomical, proportional, caricature) sprung precisely from his activity as a painter. Evident in these works is Leonardo's artistic personality that combines astonishing boldness with startling uncertainty. As a painter, Leonardo aimed to convince viewers of the reality of what they were seeing while still aspiring to create ideals of beauty – to convey a sense of awe-inspiring mystery.