A Night at the Louvre: Leonardo da Vinci (Pierre-Hubert Martin, 2020)

Don’t confuse this with the Night at the Museum series of films — those sound like a whole lot more fun, but I’ve never seen them.

This film does something remarkable.

It takes the art and life of Leonardo da Vinci and makes it dull. The start is not promising: what feels like half an hour of footage of the pyramid at the Louvre and then some Freudian wandering of corridors before you get into the exhibition itself, in the company of curators Vincent Delieuvin and Louis Frank — the latter  looks distractingly enough like Tim Burton to prompt pangs for kookiness. There’s a voiceover by Coraly Zahonero, a leading French actor.

We’re told early on that there’s a lot of documentation about LdV, but not much on his early years — he’s illegitimate and lives with grandparents “for family reasons”, educated to follow his father’s footsteps and we hear of some of his moves. We don’t really get a sense of the man — his personal relationships (he was friendly, I think we were told), his political actions, his treatment by those around him, his sexuality.

The focus is on a handful of paintings — those in the exhibition, although a copy of The Last Supper is used — and the drawings, many of which are HM Betty’s. The interesting point is when you see the Xrays and other technical pictures of the paintings — I don’t think I’d realised how much of his work is on wood and I also realise I don’t know when canvas was first used. The curators do some discussion of the paintings, some times in the way, and Frank gets to read Vasari’s Lives of the Painters from his little black notebook.

I long for a Waldemar Januszczak to shake it up.

Again, I don’t think that I’d made the explicit connection with oil painting being part of the Northern Renaissance rather than the Italian one, despite being taught it at A Level.

The other thing to notice is how many of Leonardo’s paintings are incomplete — apparently part of his brilliance rather than his tendency to get distracted by inventing helicoptors or internets. I hadn’t come across the Saint Jerome in the Wilderness before, and will take a closer look.

The other famous painting, Mona Lisa, isn’t in the exhibition as the thirty thousand who see it daily wouldn’t fit in the ten thousand of the exhibition. So, cue more corridors and staircases, and it turns out we know precisely who she is and we should call her Mrs Happy

The other, other famous painting, infamous perhaps, is the Salvator Mundi, which was hyped as a long-lost Leonardo, shown at the National Gallery, sold at auction for shitloads of money and … vanished. Presumed misattributed. It seems as if it had been hoped to be included in the exhibition, but… nope.

In the end I simply didn’t get excited about the painter of the world’s most famous painting — and that has to be wrong.

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