Source: China State Council Information Office 3
As the world’s art mecca, the Louvre in Paris, is bracing for its October Leonardo da Vinci extravaganza, a recently-opened Da Vinci show in Beijing has already successfully stolen the limelight amid the global celebrations of the fifth centenary of the Renaissance master’s death.
Leonardo and his Outstanding Circle, hosted by the Art Museum of Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA), was shrouded in doubts and criticism even before its opening on Thursday.
The show, putting the spotlight on the Leonardeschi, the Leonardo School, presents 30 paintings from personal collections that are said to be created by the Renaissance titan, his disciples and followers.
Four of the showpieces, including Lucan Portrait of Leonardo da Vinci and Mary Magdalene, can be attributed to the Renaissance genius. Such is the belief held by Nicola Barbatelli, an Italian art historian and the exhibit’s curator.
However, the validity of Barbatelli’s judgment and the general quality of the exhibits were questioned and panned by You Yong, an influential art blogger on Weibo, China’s Twitter equivalent.
You, a CAFA alumnus now pursuing his doctorate in oil painting at the Chinese National Academy of Arts, wrote several long posts on his Weibo account to cast doubts on the show and its curator, calling for a boycott.
“This exhibition is a blatant mockery of Da Vinci, his times, and the general public. The showpieces fail to convincingly support the theme, and they are revelry of fake paintings and imitations,” read a line from You’s highlighted post, which has attracted nearly 10,000 likes and thousands of reposts.
“Controversies surrounding epic paintings are not rare in the world. For example, industry insiders are still bickering about who is the real painter of the Song Dynasty landscape scroll, A Thousand Lis of Mountains and Rivers,” responded Zhang Zikang, director of the CAFA Art Museum.
Speaking of the most engaging part of the show, the director thought the controversial paintings could engage visitors the most as the controversies around them can inspire visitors to learn more about the painter, his artistic hallmarks, and his influence.
In response to the doubts about the quality of the showpieces, Zhang shared his views with China Daily Website.
“In recent years, studies on Da Vinci in Italy and other places in the world have been revolving around his great artistic genius. However, after I viewed the exhibition, what impressed me was that Da Vinci is a great artist, but not a great teacher, as his paintings are far better than his students’. This discovery affords modern education a salutary lesson,” Zhang commented.
Noting the academic significance of the show, Zhang said these paintings, perhaps uninteresting when viewed separately, can enable viewers to learn about the Leonardeschi when they are put together.
Through these artworks, they can learn about the relationship between the master and his pupils, and that between the school and the society of their times. Hence the viewing is a process that can generate new knowledge and perspectives about this Renaissance master, the director added.
According to Franco Amadei, cultural counselor of the Italian embassy in China, the show’s significance lies in two aspects.
“First, he implemented his theories on teaching painting. We can read his theories in his writings. If we didn’t have these pupils’ paintings, we can’t see how his theories were practically implemented, which is an important academic perspective,” Amadei told China Daily Website.
Second, as Leonardo’s works were eagerly sought after by European private collectors in the first half of the 16th century, it triggered the movement of seeking facsimiles of Leonardo’s works or paintings in his style from his students and followers.
This group of artists, regarded as the Leonardo School, played an unalienable role in promoting Leonardo’s style and artistic innovations in 16th century Europe. This is what this exhibition aims to reveal to visitors.
As a painter, Da Vinci’s surviving body of work is disappointingly slim – less than 20 paintings can be safely credited to him. So far, the 17 widely accepted Da Vinci paintings are housed in 11 museums in Europe.