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First major exhibition on Leonardo da Vinci comes to Netherlands for first time

On the eve of the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci's death, Teylers Museum in Haarlem is presenting the first major exhibition of his work in the Netherlands. Concentrating on his portrayal of individuals, this fascinating exhibition is another really good reason to visit Haarlem

Study of the Head of a Young Warrior in Profile to the Left, Leonardo da Vinci c.1504-5. Red chalk on paper with a pale pink preparation. Szepmuveszeit Museum, Budapest

The warrior's face literally jumps out of the paper towards you - his mouth open, eye staring straight ahead. You can almost hear his battle-cry. He has no hair or body beyond his neck and a slight shoulder, but you are in no doubt that this man is alive and could turn to face you at any time. This is Leonardo da Vinci's (1452-1519) wonderful Study of the Head of a Young Warrior in Profile to the Left, drawn with red chalk (above).

This drawing is part of an exhibition being held at the fascinating Teyler's Museum in Haarlem, which concentrates on Leonardo's drawings, and in particular his representations of real people as studies of subjects that he may have used in later paintings as his apostles, angels, warriors or Madonnas. Here we see exquisite representations of women and children, old men, a young woman. All are beautifully studied, as we know he was keen to portray different emotions successfully. Many of the drawings are from his time in Florence as a young man, and you can see his interest in his fellow human beings right from an early age.

The first room of the Leonardo exhibition at Teylers Museum. Photo: (c) F. Richards

Interspersed with Leonardo's drawings are other drawings that are believed to have been followers of his, or copied his style. Leonardo is said to be the first Renaissance artist to use 'real' people for his Biblical scenes, and these drawings show that he studied a diverse range of characters: many of the drawings in a second room show people with more misshapen or less flattering faces: characters with large chins or noses, or look like animals - it would seem that he was fascinated with them. And other artists also followed his lead (for example, Francesco Melzi, below).

Five busts of Men and Women with deformed faces and of three busts of an old main profile to the right. C.1560. Attributed to Franscesco Melzi (c.1491/93-1570). Royal Collection Trust/ (c) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

A third room is devoted to his painting of The Last Supper which is projected as a life size replica (4.6 x 8.8 m), onto one wall. The original lives in the refractory of the monastery of Santa Maria della Grazie and it was originally painted between 1494-1498 for the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza. But this room at the museum has an interesting twist: on the opposite wall is an early copy of the same painting from the abbey in Tongerlo, and this shows some of the details that are now lost to us in the original painting. It is also interesting to note some of the figures we have previously seen as studies in other rooms are in this painting. There are also five single drawings in this room that relate directly to The Last Supper.

The Teylers Museum is in itself a fascinating destination. Called the 'Museum of Wonder' it was formed as a legacy by Pieter Teyler (1702-1778) who left instructions for his fortune to be left to encourage the arts and sciences. His museum was opened in 1784 and at its heart is the oval room, which was the garden in Teyler's home. The aim of the establishment was to provide access to knowledge, promote critical thinking, questioning and curiosity and to allow free reign to creativity and the imagination.

Therefore the museum has a wide collection encompassing the arts and sciences. It has a fine collection of paintings, two fossil rooms, an instruments room, an auditorium and a library. In 2017 King Willem-Alexander reopened the Lorentz Lab, the laboratory where the Nobel laureate Hendrik Antoon Lorentz worked for years and received guests including Albert Einstein.

Leonardo da Vinci, Young woman washing a child's feet. c.1478-80. Pen and brush in brown ink over traces of black chalk. Faculdade de Belas Artes, Universidade do Porto, Porto

The exhibition includes many loans from the Queen's collection, the Louvre, and museums and galleries in Rome, Turin, Venice and Vienna as well as many private collections. It is only on until 6 January, so get your skates on as you won't want to miss it. Entry is by timed tickets only, so book in advance. Combined tickets with the exhibition at the Frans Hals museum are available and I would encourage you to definitely see both shows. Haarlem itself is a charming city, easy to reach from Amsterdam and so with the chance to see two excellent exhibitions, there is no excuse for not jumping on the first plane or train to get there!


Leonardo da Vinci: The Language of Faces,

Teylers Museum, Haarlem, the Netherlands

Showing until 9 January, 2019.

Tickets must be purchase in advance. For more information see:

For combined tickets see:


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