December 20, 2016, by Charlotte Anscombe
An early Christmas, the #tenleonardos way :-)
Dr Gaby Neher from the Department of History of Art talks about her experience of working on the Nottingham stint of the ‘Ten Drawings by Leonardo da Vinci exhibition’….
“Earlier this year, between 31 July and 9 October, Nottingham Castle played host to the ‘Ten Drawings by Leonardo da Vinci exhibition, a travelling exhibition drawn from the holdings of the Royal Collections.
Now, it’s not every day that drawings by one of the greatest artists of the Italian Renaissance are on show in Nottingham. Certainly, as a Renaissance art historian with a particular interest in Northern Italy, for me this was a dream come true when the Castle invited me to get involved in the exhibition.
This is how the #tenleonardos project started, which involved a group of University of Nottingham students and alumni, and meant working with Nottingham Castle on all aspects of the visitor experience for the exhibition. From work on the galleries leading to the room where the Leonardo drawings were displayed to input into the events programming and running a Twitter and Instagram account dedicated to the exhibition.
Of course, while I was quite pleased with delivering one of the public lectures, the event that really put the maw-wow (sorry for the awful pun) into proceedings was a collaboration with the Nottingham Kitty Cafe and pet artist Hannah Satchwell. It was a pet life drawing event inspired by one of the drawings in the exhibition, Leonardo’s Cats, Lion and a Dragon.
That drawing has always been one of my favourite Leonardo drawings, with its irresistible mixture of artistic virtuosity and playful humour, and seeing it in Nottingham meant an opportunity to write about it in The Conversation.
It was so much fun for the students and myself working on the #tenleonardos project, that seeing the exhibition move on to Swansea in October felt like saying goodbye to a good friend.
Working so closely with some of the most exceptional Renaissance drawings imaginable, was fabulous, but add for the students, the additional benefits of getting to experience the staging and delivering of an exhibition from conception to marketing to designing and delivering a public engagement programme – it was fantastic!
At this point, we thought that for us, #tenleonardos as a project was over.
But then came a wonderful Christmas surprise. Dr Martin Clayton, the Head of Prints and Drawings at the Royal Collections, made good on a conversation we had had in the summer, when he mentioned a visit to see the Royal Collections Print Room at Windsor Castle. And this is how #tenleonardos as a team reassembled and visited the extraordinary collections at Windsor.
By December, three of the team had actually graduated, so it was a wonderful opportunity to bring current and past students together for the day.
What can I say about it? It was the perfect arthistorical day: magnificent royal castle in continuous use for hundreds of years; St George’s Chapel and the tomb of Henry VIII (just about every student on the trip has taken my Tudor module, so that was an ‘oh my goodness, we really are here ‘ moment), a collection of paintings on display in the State Apartments that had us squeaking with excitement (actually, that may have just been me) and happy for hours and then, the visit to the Print Room.
It started with Martin Clayton and his staff giving us a tour of the print rooms, and then the opportunity to study some of the print collection’s highlights for a couple of hours. We saw not 10, but 20 Leonardos. There were drawings by Raphael and one by Michelangelo stained with his tears (!); we saw Hans Holbein’s drawing of Sir Thomas More; we saw the most wonderful things, including Sybille Maria Merian’s botanical drawings soon on show In Edinburgh Castle. It was unbelievable.
We left the Castle at dusk, after all the tourists had left, with our heads swimming. For us, Christmas had most definitely come early, and yes, proof if proof was ever needed #whyarthistorymatters.