Comment: Da Vinci Knesset exhibit a missed opportunity

Only one side of six double-sided leaves from Codex Atlanticus is on show.

By JONATHAN BECK
February 27, 2010 21:54
2 minute read.
Da Vinci sketches

da vinci 311. (photo credit: Leonardo)

 
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Art historians often viewed Leonardo da Vinci’s output as a missed opportunity: The commensurate renaissance thinker, he spread his superhuman curiosity and talents on a range of subjects so vast that he rarely finished a single project.

A massive project for a bronze horse was left as a sketch, only cast in metal several years ago according to Leonardo’s plans; the Last Supper in Milan painted in an experimental technique that, more than anything, made the work of restorers all the more difficult as they grappled with the unorthodox chemical combinations he used, and indeed, his greatest surviving work, even following careful restoration, is but a shadow of its former glory.

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It is therefore symbolic that a small exhibition of his drawings in the Knesset lobby is also a missed opportunity; symbolic, but also very frustrating.

The six leaves from the Codex Atlanticus, out of Italy for the first time and on view in the Knesset until March 18, was brought here by the delegation accompanying Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi earlier this month.

The pages arrived in Israel after a massive restoration project where the codex, Leonardo’s greatest collection at 1,119 pages, was taken apart leaf by leaf and each of its pages framed. The main effort took place between 1968 and 1972, but the most recent restoration work was carried out as late as 2008.

Each of the pages has a recto and a verso side; Leonardo did not treat his scientific treatises as works of art and made drawings and notes in his famous inverted handwriting on both sides.

It is therefore infuriating that the six leaves, each enshrined in a dedicated double-glass panel meant to show both sides, were placed in the Knesset near a wall so that only one side is visible.

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To add insult to injury, the makeshift squares of cardboard covering the backs of the pages fell down in two of the glass installations and now show through the front. The hallway where the pieces are on show is wide enough for them to be placed in the middle of the room and there is no reasonable explanation for showing only one side of them.

When this reporter looked behind one of the panels where the cardboard moved out of place to see what he was missing, he was promptly scolded by a Knesset security guard barking at him “not to look behind.”

It is quite sad, as from the ink that bleeds through the paper one can tell that the backs of the pages are just as exquisite as their fronts.

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