Arts exhibit review

Leonardo da Vinci and the Idea of Beauty

The collection features portrait sketches and the Codex on the Flight of Birds

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Leonardo da Vinci drew this study for the angel in the “Virgin of the Rocks” around 1483–85.
Courtesy of Boston MFA

Leonardo da Vinci and the Idea of Beauty

Showing at the Museum of Fine Arts until June 14

From now until June 14, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts is featuring an exhibit on Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings. In a more refined way, the exhibit is analogous to the behind-the-scenes reel of a movie — you won’t find his most famous paintings like the Mona Lisa or The Last Supper. Instead, the exhibit features an intimate series of sketches and drawings, ranging from portraits of women to the anatomy of a bird. Many of the featured works are loans from Italian collections, including the Uffizi Museum in Florence, and the Biblioteca Reale in Turin.

At the front of the gallery, sketched caricatures of men represent da Vinci’s fascination with the human face, detailing even the weathered wrinkles of the elderly. The second section of the gallery continues the series of portrait sketches, but instead focuses on da Vinci’s idea of youthful beauty. The works display da Vinci’s belief in precise facial proportioning, such as the distance between the eyes being the width of one eye. One of the drawings was the Head of a Young Woman (Study for the Angel in the ‘Virgin of the Rocks’), which art historian Sir Kenneth Clark deemed to be “one of the most beautiful drawings in the world.” Interspersed among da Vinci’s drawings, however, were some of da Vinci’s pupil’s drawings, inviting viewers to analyze the subtle differences between them. For some of the drawings, it is unknown whether the artist is one of da Vinci’s pupils or the master himself, so viewers have to draw their own conclusions.

The last section of the exhibit features da Vinci’s scientific drawings, which include sketches detailing the anatomy of his horse’s legs. In addition to these technical drawings, a highlight of this section of the gallery is the Codex on the Flight of Birds, which includes 18 folios that examine the flight behavior of birds.

For me, the exhibit was inspiring because it was relatable. I wasn’t standing in front of an enormous painting by da Vinci that he painted as a commission. Rather, I was looking at a series of drawings that he casually sketched. I could see the individual strokes of his pencil, or an incomplete neck in a portrait sketch. They make me want to start drawing the human face and all of its complicated curves and proportions — to find my own idea of beauty.