Arts / Museums

The World’s Favorite Artist Gets a Movie Moment at MFAH — Leonardo da Vinci as You’ve Never Seen Him

When Legendary Paintings Come to Life on Film

BY // 01.25.20

Arts savvy Houstonians would be well advised to book reservations to see a brilliant new documentary on the world’s favorite artist — Leonardo: The Works — this weekend at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in the wake of last Saturday’s sellout crowd.

At 2 pm on Saturday, January 25, the MFAH will present its last showing of a highly praised, ultra-HD Armchair Travel: Exhibition on Screen documentary that uniquely spans all of Leonardo da Vinci’s attributed paintings.

This represents a special opportunity for arts aficionados who’ve yet to see the blockbuster “Leonardo da Vinci” exhibition at the Louvre in Paris, perhaps dissuaded by the long French transport strikes that only recently showed signs of easing and are still in flux. The big Louvre show and the Exhibition on Screen film were both organized to mark the 500th anniversary of the death of the popular painter (1452-1519).

Andrew Pulver of The Guardian calls the film “undeniably impressive” and commented that “the cumulative effect of seeing one masterpiece after another roll across the screen is amazing.”

“As gallery films go, this is pretty monumental,” he wrote.

“The aim is maximum clarity and it works well, even if the five minutes or so each picture gets inevitably seems brief,” Pulver noted, referencing the Exhibitions on Screen style of providing access to the close-ups that exhibition-goers so covet, complemented by insightful comments from art experts as well as voice-over quotes from original documents.

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The film takes armchair travelers to such splendid venues as the Louvre in Paris, London’s National Gallery, Florence’s Uffizi and St. Petersburg’s Hermitage to see priceless da Vinci masterpieces like the Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, Lady with an Ermine, Ginevra de’ Benci, The Baptism of Christ, Saint Anne, and The Virgin of the Rocks.

The film’s astonishingly clear, super-high resolution perspective magnifies each painting so the smallest detail can be seen and appreciated in a new light. I was especially struck by the close-up I was afforded of the Virgin’s ineffably poignant expression in The Virgin of the Rocks, giving me a better understanding of the message Leonardo wanted to convey. The sudden sense of empathy created an emotional connection that was enhanced by the illuminating comments of the art expert providing background information.

Tickets for Leonardo: The Works are priced at $9 for adults ($7 for MFAH members and seniors.) Short, docent-led tours of related works of art in the Houston museum will follow each screening. A special treat is in store at 4:15 p.m on Saturday when Duo Dramatique will present a gallery concert entitled “The Art of Proportion and Emotion: Leonardo’s Ideas in Music.” The post-film concert presented by the violinist and pianist comprising the duo is 45 minutes long and free with museum admission.

If the film sufficiently whets your appetite, the “Leonardo da Vinci” exhibition, which opened at the Louvre late last October, is slated to run through Feb. 24. However, “to ensure optimal visiting conditions for this much-awaited event” you’ll need to make advance, timed reservations – if you can still get them — on the website of the Louvre, which was unexpectedly shut down for a day Jan. 17 by protestors opposing the government’s pension reform proposal.

“Blockbuster’s plastered all over it, and rightly so,” The New York Times declared in its review. “Marvelous.”

As Audrey Hepburn famously observed, “Paris is always a good idea” — a thought that frequently occurs to arts lovers and Francophiles who appreciate the city’s plethora of spectacular shows at museums and galleries, as well as its artistically innovative fashion shows. Sometimes a traveler’s plans may be affected by the possibility of a strike, although that can be difficult to predict on a particular day or at a particular site.

Meanwhile, Houstonians have the advantage of taking the easy route across town to the MFAH to see Leonardo on screen and enjoy a wonderful virtual journey.

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