“More alive than life itself”: Leonardo: The Works

The award-winning Exhibition On Screen series’ latest feat grants unique insight into never-before-seen details of Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous works, writes Katie Greally

As I settled into the plush, yellow chair in the dimmed theatre of the Lighthouse Cinema, I gave the programme handed to me upon entry a final glance. This was a personal touch from the film’s director, outlining the aspiration behind Exhibition On Screen’s newest release. Eight years after their first production, a live film showing the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition that took place in The National Gallery, Phil Grabsky explains his decision to take a deeper and more detailed look into the life and work of the great Renaissance artist, 500 years after his death. 

The opening of the film presents the audience with a still of each of the artist’s attributed works, accompanied by the voices of a hauntingly beautiful choir. This ghostly and sublime atmosphere imbues the length of the film, as we’re guided through each piece of art, from his time working as a garzone in the workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio to his final works and death in Amboise, France in 1519. 

Along with every exquisite piece that we are shown, we’re not only given an extensive insight into the culture and society of 15th and 16th century Europe, but also commentary from other Renaissance contemporaries such as Giorgio Vasali, as well as a detailed analysis of the composition of each work by leading critics and historians such as Luke Syson, Martin Kemp and Professor Evelyn Welch. What I found extremely interesting was the objective commentary that accompanied the artworks, even while contrasting different works against each other, including captivating snippets of the polymath’s notebooks. While we’re provided with the factual context, we are ultimately encouraged to take what we desire from each piece.

One prominent aspect of the film was the quality in which each piece of art was shown. The ultra-high definition on the big screen allows for an incredibly authentic view of works such as the Mona Lisa and the Virgin on the Rocks without having to endure a burning hole in your pocket after flights to Paris, or the suffocating crowds of tourists using flash photography. Focusing on the most notable aspects of each piece, we as an audience are given the opportunity to see meticulous detailing that we would never otherwise be able to observe. 

On top of everything else, this Exhibition on Screen production emphasises the importance of the restoration of historical pieces as well as the commendable efforts that are made by art galleries and national museums worldwide to preserve such curios. Leonardo: The Works is an impeccable culmination of paintings, drawings and writings accredited to one of the most honoured and distinguished figures in history. 

The company’s other upcoming films include Lucien Freud: A Self Portrait, Easter in Art and Frida Khalo, all of which I would expect to contain the same stunning capacity to captivate an aesthete as Leonardo: The Works.