Respect For The Master: Experiments on Innovation to Demonstrate An Innovator
❗️ Caution: Contains Spoiler!
‘Leonardo: Experiencing a Masterpiece’ is considered as a controversial exhibition for many art lovers. As the name suggests, this exhibition is an immersive experience that takes you to discover the secrets of Leonardo’s masterpiece “The Virgin of the Rocks” through virtual reality technologies.
The exhibition consists of five main areas built on different aspects of the masterpiece.
Meet the Mind of a Genius
The exhibition starts from a hallway that gives clues as to how the Genius produces his works: the mirror-written – Leonardo wrote from right to left – notes on observing nature, a visual introduction accompanied by music and nature sounds and landscape photographs. The exhibit let us observe the small pieces of the landscape through mirrored cubes. This area is the only bright space of the exhibition.
The Secret Revealed Soon
The next area, completely dark; is dedicated to present the discovery of the secrets of the masterpiece. The venue is designed as a painting studio. On a digital display placed on an easel, the secrets of the masterpiece are revealed one by one. Like all other viewers, it was a digital show that I watched in amazement. Even my 5 and 7 year old girls are locked into what they’re watching.
In fact, today there are two versions of the masterpiece. The first was completed in 1485 and is now being exhibited at the Louvre Museum, and the second version, completed in 1506, can be seen here free of charge at the National Portrait Gallery.
The secret is how Leonardo innovated his paintings. X-Ray technology shows that there are three versions on the canvas. Leonardo did not want to use the same shading, landscape and painting techniques in the second version, and changed his mind three times while sketching the composition. Using the lights, music and the 3 dimensions of the room, the show fascinates the audience so much that I have watched it with my daughters many times.
The eye is always caught by light, but shadows have more to say – Gregory Maquire
As an admirer of the realist movement, I think the performance of a painter is measured by how he rules the light.
The next area is dedicated to how Leonardo works on the shadows. There are 3 niches in this room: geometric 3D objects, a jagged rock and a portrait of a man made of clay. My 5-year-old has long tried shadows by pulling and pushing the mechanical knobs to create dramatic changes for the light beams in the niches. There is also a huge photograph replicating the masterpiece. In this photo of a model dressed as the Virgin Mary – with a control panel where you can simulate the movement of the sun during the day – you can move the imitated sunlight and thus the shadow on the model. My girls also loved doing the shadow experiment on the panel.
Immerse the Space As Well As the Masterpiece
We moved on to another room showing the basic laser 2D drawings of the San Francesco Chapel in Milan. The masterpiece was commissioned to this chapel. This room was obviously a bit weak. I know it’s too early for this technology, but I’d prefer to navigate the 3D digital version of the chapel.
The Moment of Truth
In the last room, you come face to face with the masterpiece, hanging on a wall in another dark room. It is all alone on an empty wall. But the digital design is so impressive that there is an altar around it. Yet we are watching the changing altars made by virtual reality, as if we are time-travelling by a display of a parade from empty stone walls depicting the humility of early Christianity to the rich miniature drawings presenting the Golden Age of Christianity.
It’s such a fascinating show that none of the audience did not dare to go near the masterpiece. We all were afraid of losing the whole picture. My daughters were also mesmerised that they sat on the floor for 20 minutes and watched the same show over and over again.
I am not an art critic. As an art lover, the only drawback of the exhibition is being insufficient in the explanations. From the history of the chapel to the preparation of the exhibition, many questions remained unanswered. I believe the curators wanted to have a magical effect in the exhibition deliberately. However there is a certain need for a backstage section just done in Olafur Eliasson’s.
The cost of this exhibition is £20 per person. Although the brochures say it took 30 minutes, we were in the exhibition for almost an hour.
Having the opportunity to examine the clues of an art-piece is enough to be worth what I pay. That is the immersive experience I paid for. While the transition period in art galleries is considered as awkward by many critics, contemporary museums and galleries will survive with the use of interactive technologies. In my opinion, the high level of participation of my daughters in the exhibition shows that such experiential exhibitions are promising for the next generations, beginning with Gen Z.
I recommend you to see the exhibition especially with your children. I would say this is really a family treat. The exhibition can be seen until January 26th.
The upcoming immersive exhibition starts by February. Next time we are going to Meet Vincent Van Gogh.
See you then!