Leonardo at The Queens Gallery – The Royal Trust Collection

I had signed up for a talk given by the curator of paper at Windsor Palace where it seems much of the Royal collection can be found. The talk was really spectacular. She brought props and we touched paper and saw how inks were made. She spoke about the challenges of conservation and , well, I was enthralled. Following are some notes I took and then photos of the exhibiton.

As for the Queens Gallery, the area where the exhibit was held were three or four small overly crowded rooms. They time your tickets so they really have no excuse. I suppose they want to give everyone who wants to come an opportunity, but there really should be some control. Many people in the lecture hall which held about 50 people complained that they had to wait in lines to get in. I, of course, pushed my way to a man at the front, showed him my ticket, and he graciously let me through. First through a metal detector where you can get your entry stamped which allows you to return free of charge for the following year. Sadly, in order to do this you will need to wait in a ticket line because neither a mobile ticket nor a printable is allowed because they want to see ID for your return visit.

Over 500 of Leonardo’s works are in the collection at Windsor. They arrived at some point prior to 1870s in a book. The originals had been sorted, organized, cut and bound after Leonardo’s death by his heir. And they estimate about 200 to be on exhibition.As with many exhibits, I find I am more interested in the layout and the building and the process than the actual art. And this was no exception, especially after hearing the preservationist speak.

In the 1870s the trust began displaying items from the entire collection for public viewing and at that time the pages of the book that held Leonardos work were separated from their binding. Then in the 1970s the separate works were all put into a framing sort of contraption for conservation.

Interestingly she said today they would never have taken the books apart, which means they would never have been available for viewing in the way I saw them today.

Once again I credit the conservators with putting together a fabulous show with full information and interesting explanation and in this case there were many tables explaining the inks that were used at the time.

She described how they curate. Showed slides of looking through the actual paper that was used to see the microscopic makeup and the lengthy process to decide what sort of paper the works are on and how best to preserve them.

Paper originally came to Europe from the Middle East in 1300s. She shows us how under lights you can see the parts of the paper. Primarily cloth and misc debris. Some wood. Not like today where most paper is from wood. The dots on the right hand photo are impurities in the paper.

Leonardo used a lot of blue paper and when I got into the exhibition I could clearly see what she meant by blue, it was blue.. differing shades but all clearly blue. . This blue paper was made with fibers of indigo. He used a lot of this blue paper, that varies in depth, for his anatomical drawings.

He also prepared his own paper to different colors by adding an over brush to what would originally have been plain white paper

She did talk about paper creation and molds and watermarks that could still be seen some 500 years later. All this information is regularly used to identify quality and origin of paper for conservation purposes. Some curators suppose that some of his 15th century work is found on paper from the 14th century???? So this suggest perhaps he was using old leftover paper early in his career

Typical of artist during training in the workshops of the renaissance they used metalpoint. It’s actual pen with a silver or natal point as opposed to lead. To use the metal they prepare a paper with bone ash and pigment and an adhesive so the metal point will mark it. Actual fragments of the metal remain on the paper.

Overtime the metalpoint , reacting to the environment, changes. They used gold, silver, even copper. She says they are quite stable but still need special care in transport. And there are many pieces of his work that have degraded

We saw examples of how a faded page can be put under a UV light and voila, an image appears.

She talked about ink a writing quills and how he wrote backwards perhaps because he was left handed so writing backwards would cause the ink to be less likely to smudge

She seems astounded at how little underwork or changes or pre preparation in his drawings. How his talent is so great. He knows so well what he wants that it only takes a single try

Not that there aren’t sketches where he is working out a method but in the actual drawings it is mostly a single try

He used a charcoal transfer method of “pricking” through an existing drawing and smooshing charcoal across it to mark an underpaper. Maybe to duplicate?

He also used chalk and watercolors. To color. Especially his maps.

and then on my wander back I saw this… and it made me smile.

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