“Leonardo’s great accomplishment was that he erased the distinctions between art and ideas, putting a positive, endgame value on long-term exploring over short-term arriving”

, art critic for the New York Times. Thoughts about the Louvre retrospective of Leonardo da Vinci and honoring the 500th anniversary of his death.


PARIS — To judge by the marketing hullabaloo, the Leonardo da Vinci retrospective that opens here Thursday at the Louvre should be the visual equivalent of a 21-gun salute and a trumpet-and-trombone choir. Blockbuster’s plastered all over it, and rightly so. Timed-ticket sales for its one-stop run are moving right along.

But the marvelous show you actually see, honoring the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death, is, tonally, some other thing: quieter, slower, better. It’s a succession of major painterly melodies set among ink-drawn pre-echoes and reverbs. It’s a confluence of presences and absences — art that’s there and some that’s not — both equally potent.

And it’s a biographical vapor trail of a talent who has been used as a romantic model of what a Great Artist should be — large-gestured, face-to-the-sunrise — but who largely departed from that ideal, who identified himself above all as a science-wonk, who spent as much time writing as making art, and who ignored (and missed) commission deadlines almost till the day he died.

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