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Leonardo At The Movies: Lessons For The Future — And News

Most of you, I’m guessing, did not travel to London to see Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan at the National Gallery (which I’ve written about here and here). Neither did I.

So I was very curious to see Leonardo Live, in HD, the movie version. It was simulcast live to movie theaters in the U.K.on the night of the exhibition’s opening, and now it is being shown here in the U.S. and in other countries, mainly last Thursday. But I went to a showing at NYU on Tuesday night, where my friend Robert Simon, the dealer who has been involved with the newly attributed Leonardo, Salvator Mundi, representing the owners, made a little news. More about which in a minute.

First the movie: it’s worth seeing, but it is flawed. On the pro side, it explains how the exhibition came to together, a bit about the conservation of the National Gallery’s Madonna of the Rocks, including how the chief framer purchased a new period frame in Italy and made up the missing pieces, and gives a pretty good tour of the galleries, along with background on each painting and on Leonardo himself. That was a scripted in advance.

On the negative side is almost all the unscripted material. The two anchors, especially during impromptu interviews, try to whip up excitement in a way that rings false. Their questions are often insipid, frequently trying to plumb whether Leonardo’s works are “relevant” today. (I will refrain from being sarcastic about that.) The producers’ choice of interviewees — with the exception of curator Luke Syson, art historian Evelyn Welch and and the aforementioned conservator (Larry Keith), chief framer and perhaps one or two others — is dreadful. How could there be many more? There are — one for each painting and the Burlington Cartoon. There’s an Anglican bishop, who calls the artist “da Vinci,” a composer or two, an actress… etc. They are mostly uninformative, at best.

Should you see it? Probably.  (Here’s a little preview.)

There’ve been hints that producers, eying the success of Metropolitan Opera simulcasts, want to do more of these for once-in-a-lifetime exhibits. But should future producers in this genre do it differently? Also yes. It seems the makers this time were afraid to have too many “experts,” lest they turn off ordinary people. But none of the experts in this movie — except Charles Nicholl, one of Leonardo’s biographers — spoke in high falutin’ language. Nicholl’s final statement, or rather the face he made at the end, was greeted with laughter on Tuesday night. People can see through his condescension.

Now to the news: Simon was interviewed in a Q&A after the viewing, and one member of the audience asked whether we New Yorkers will have a chance to see Salvator Mundi.  Simon didn’t promise, but he essentially said he’s talking with… he didn’t say.

But Luke Syson, the exhibition’s curator, has moved to the Metropolitan Museum* from London. My betting is that’s where it would go.

Photo credit: Leonardo Live

*I consult to a foundation that supports the Met




  1. Hi, I’m the producer and I agree we need to learn from this first attempt. Never before has an art exhibition been distributed in this way – I’m delighted that we jumped through the many hoops to achieve that. When I made In Search of Mozart and In Search of Beethoven, the whole film is composed of the elements you so enjoyed in Leonardo Live: background, experts, close-ups. BUT we had to get this funded and distributed in the UK first and they wanted the ‘live’ side of things. I’m old-fashioned and believe in intelligent comment rather than live frivolity (though some of the guests were actually very good: actress Fiona Shaw on drama in Leonardo was very interesting). Fortunately what the experiment has proven (as I’d hoped and believed it would) is that folk didnt come to see it because it was live but because of the paintings. Great! Filming live is a pain. Now I can proceed with more exhibitions like this which will do exactly what you want. Your side of the bargain is to buy the ticket to see them – unless you are happy with $100m Hollywood schlock….So, thanks for your feedback: and I hope for your continued support. Phil

  2. http://james%20Bright says

    Well….it was interesting…yes…but it was rather silly and light in content. Yes it was on the exhibit….but some of the superlatives were rather embarrassingly silly and seemed to be filling up time. I was waiting for a…”Live from” ….Here we have action packed gallery news…right here and right now…”.
    It was interesting….would I go to one of the new productions in the future…yes…probably yes. I could never afford to go to the actual showing…but I guess I was expecting something of a well presented professor style lecture…or a Ted talk on art kind of coverage…some of the people , the guests were rather vapid in their input. For me, less on the street opinions and more of those who study and have true well thought out and well spoken input. It would have been nice to have ventured out of the museum and talk about the Mona Lisa and the new develops regarding her and the Prado Mona Lisa. All in all a good 7/10. And Yes I would go to any and all future movies and presentations of this type. Thanks.

  3. http://Diana%20Nemiroff says

    I do not recommend seeing this film if you care at all about art and Leonardo. It will make you cringe. First, why does the filmmaker have us standing outside the National Gallery for 15 minutes while an inane quiz about Leonardo’s life appears on the screen as if he were a film star? Then there’s the credits for the frightfully mismatched music, complete with “also available on YouTube” at the beginning and the promotional quotes for the show – “best show of the century,” surely a dubious claim for a exhibition taking place a mere eleven years into this century! The commentary is at best insipid and at worse foolish and the intitial fast pan through the galleries reminiscent of the dizzy camera work of The Blair Witch Project. The entire film had the tone of a promotional video intended to get people to the show. It does not make sense for an international audience.

    • http://seanie says

      Diana, couldn’t agree LESS. I loved seeing the painting and the exhibition – and would never have done so otherwise. It was beautifully shot – calm and well informed. the 15 minute intro was while people were arriving. D’oh! It wasn’t the start of the film. Woukd you have preferred a black screen? And people where I was loved it. The music was of the period – hardly mismatched. D’oh! The ‘fast pan’ was a steadicam track and hardly the wobblycam of Blair Witch. I wont change your mind but most people I know – in this international audience – cnt wait till the next one – with maybe more paintings and less guests.

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