THE biggest exhibition ever held of the works of Leonardo da Vinci opened in Paris yesterday.

For fans of the Italian genius it is the chance of a lifetime to see so many of his works in one place – namely the Musee du Louvre in the French capital.

It took 10 years to pull the exhibition together, including scientific examination of several of his most famous works and a new approach to the biography of Leonardo.

Strangely enough, his most famous painting which is owned by the Louvre will not be in the exhibition. The Mona Lisa won’t be far away, however, as it will remain on display in the galleries of the permanent collection behind its impregnable glass case.

The exhibition is only on till February 24, and if you want to see it you will have to book a time slot in advance.


THE exhibition aims to illustrate how Leonardo placed the utmost importance on painting, and how his investigation of the world, which he referred to as “the science of painting”, was the instrument of an art through which he sought to bring life to his paintings.

Alongside its own collection of five paintings by Leonardo, the largest in the world, with 22 of his drawings, the Louvre will display nearly 120 works – paintings, drawings, manuscripts, sculptures, objets d’art – from some of the most prestigious European and American institutions, including Britain’s Royal Collection, the British Museum, the National Gallery in London, the Vatican Pinacoteca, the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan, the Galleria Nazionale in Parma, the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Institut de France.


AFTER a huge diplomatic spat, the drawing that is arguably the most famous depiction of a man in the world was last week handed over to the Louvre for the exhibition.

The National:

Last November, Italy’s right-wing League party opposed sending Vitruvian Man from Venice, the then under-secretary for Italy’s cultural heritage ministry Lucia Borgonzoni saying: “Leonardo was Italian. He only died in France. France cannot have everything.”

The court in Venice ruled that the drawing could go because of “the exceptional global relevance of the Louvre exhibition and Italy’s desire to maximise its heritage potential.”

Proof, then, that this really is a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition.


LIONARDO di Ser Piero da Vinci was born to Ser Piero in the town of Vinci near Florence on April 15, 1452. Timing is everything in life and he was born at just the right time to become one of the most important figures of the Risorgimento – the Italian Renaissance.

According to the Louvre: “During Leonardo’s youth in Florence, he was apprenticed to the sculptor Andrea del Verrocchio. Around 1482, he moved to Milan, where he painted the Virgin of the Rocks. While in the service of the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, he created The Last Supper – a work that made him one of the most famous artists of his time.

“In 1500, he returned to Florence and produced a series of masterpieces: Saint Anne, the Mona Lisa, The Battle Of Anghiari and Saint John The Baptist. In 1506, he went back to Milan, where he stayed until the election of the Medici Pope Leo X in 1513, which led him to move to Rome. He left Italy for France at the invitation of the French king Francois I in 1516, and spent his last years in Amboise on the banks of the river Loire where he died on May 2, 1519.

(The 500th anniversary exhibition is thus slightly late in opening, but it’s worth the wait.)


VERROCCHIO taught him well, but Leonardo began to explore new and innovative artistic paths. In particular he became fascinated by the conveying of movement, described by Leonardo as componimento inculto – “intuitive composition”. Yet he was rarely satisfied – the list of his unfinished works is longer than that of the finished articles.

Leonardo also became fascinated by the science of things. Hugely intelligent and questioning just about everything, Leonardo had an “insatiable need to understand, which became a desire to demonstrate, then a systematic investigation of every aspect of the physical world”, as the exhibition descriptions put it.

The National: Leonardo da VinciLeonardo da Vinci

“The result was a vast compilation of notes, studies, experiments, reflections and theories in which writing and drawing were inextricably linked; this body of work, though often wandering and imperfect, nonetheless represents one of the most fascinating chapters in the history of natural philosophy.”

Thus Leonardo found himself engaged in many forms of science, especially anatomy and engineering – he risked prison by cutting up bodies to see what made them move, and he famously designed everything from guns to an early form of helicopter.

The Louvre again: “Leonardo’s rigorous scientific approach encompassed every field of knowledge, engendering an endless, multifaceted labyrinth in which the painter seems to have ultimately lost his way. This disappearance is illusory, however, as it was science itself that gave the artist the freedom to master shade, light, space and movement.”

While carrying out his scientific inquiries, Leonardo managed to paint The Last Supper, Saint Anne, the Mona Lisa, The Battle Of Anghiari, Salvator Mundi and Saint John The Baptist. Not bad for a dabbler.


INDEED he was, and many important figures in the Italian Renaissance knew and admired him. His contemporary in Florence, Niccolo Machiavelli, for one, came under his influence.

He was not always popular, however. He was accused of sodomy which then carried the death penalty, but was declared innocent because the accuser would not reveal himself. Scholars still argue about Leonardo’s sexuality.

He is still revered as the best – with his Salvator Mundi painting selling for a world record of $450 million in 2017.