‘Leonardo Opera Omnia’ — the Renaissance man at his best in KL

Head to the National Art Gallery in KL for a glimpse of Da Vinci’s best works that are being showcased through high-technology reproductions from July 15 to Aug 15

by AZALEA AZUAR/ pic by MUHD AMIN NAHARUL

‘The Last Supper’ consists of 12 pieces, so the team had to assemble them first before fixing them on the canvas

ART enthusiasts are known to shed tears when they are placed face to face with their favourite paintings and artwork.

Any fan of Vincent Van Gogh’s work would certainly jump at the chance to experience his paintings and sketches at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, while a stop at Pablo Picasso Museum in Barcelona is a must for those who are into cubism.

For those who can afford a flight to Paris, the Louvre is for sure a place of interest that would connect them with “Mona Lisa”, one of the most iconic paintings by the Renaissance man, artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci.

Even if you get to stand face to face with “Mona Lisa”, you might have to be in front of rows of people with their arms and cameras raised to take snapshots of the little painting.

And yes, before getting your chance, you’d need to brace the long queue to get into the Louvre and into the room where “Mona Lisa” resides.

He was a genius. He was really a Renaissance man, who was really innovative. And we can still learn up to this day from Da Vinci, says Salvi

The painting is small and far away from the viewer. Since it is protected by bullet-proof glass, you might not have the opportunity to check out “Mona Lisa’s” impressive details

There are only six of Da Vinci’s paintings kept in the Louvre, while the rest are in other museums all over the world.

With the pricey flight fare, accommodation and museum tickets, viewing of Da Vinci’s paintings could easily be scratched out of your bucket list.

So, here is your plan B. Head to the National Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur (KL) for a glimpse of the genius’ best works that are being showcased in an exhibition called “Leonardo Opera Omnia”.

The one-month event — to commemorate the 500 years since Da Vinci’s death on May 2, 1519 — started on July 15 and allows you to really take your time to enjoy all of Da Vinci’s digitally reproduced works.

Even if all the 17 pieces are not the real McCoy, the experience of absorbing the spirit of the works and what they represent could be as moving.

After all, the paintings were reproduced using a special technique that has resulted in similar effects akin to the originals, as explained by the cultural officer of the Embassy of Italy, Eliana Salvi.

The exhibition attracts fans from all over the country, especially art students and enthusiasts

“We should not forget that the original paintings are scattered throughout the world, in different countries, in different cities. Nobody would be able to see them all in one go.

“Even Da Vinci himself never saw all his paintings together, because as soon as he finished painting, he would sell them. So, it is a privilege to be able to see them all in one place and this is the beauty of the ‘Opera Omnia’,” she said.

“Leonardo Opera Omnia” is commissioned by Italian media company, Rai Com SpA, with the cooperation of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“Basically, what they want to do is to export

Italian culture abroad by using touring exhibitions like this, which would include the entire paintings that were done by Da Vinci or other painters,” said Salvi.

The exhibition in KL was a result of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ communiqué with other embassies throughout the world about the possibility of showing the works. The Italian Embassy in KL responded and decided to bring the project to KL.

“We wanted the exhibition to be able to stay in one place for a bit. There would be no point in bringing an exhibition like this for only one week…so, we are happy that it is able to stay here for a month,” Salvi said.

Visitors taking photos of one of Da Vinci’s works at the National Art Gallery in KL

For the novice and the uninitiated, Da Vinci was born on April 15, 1452, in Vinci, Italy, as an illegitimate son of a notary and a peasant woman. At the age of 15, he was apprenticed to an artist, thus training him in painting, sculpture and technical-mechanical arts. With his incredible skills in observation, critical thinking, drawing and innovation, Da Vinci has truly become a jack of all trades.

“He was a genius. He was really a Renaissance man, who was really innovative. And we can still learn up to this day from Da Vinci.

“Not only in terms of art, of how it could render in paintings, but mostly as a man — as a man who is curious to know, and who wants to know. He had an insatiable thirst for knowledge,” Salvi said.

Matteo Ive — an Italian architect who works on the setup for “Leonardo Opera Omnia” — utilises high technology to “reproduce the experience” as real as possible, complete with the special lighting techniques.

“The original one has a different light, but we try to give the exhibits another take. The old pictures are backlighted as we want to recreate the emotions of the real painting,” Ive said.

His aim is to get the visitors to go very close to the paintings, something that is unachievable with the original “Mona Lisa” or any other works that are placed further from the viewers while being protected by two glasses for safety purposes.

“The concept is different, because we want the people go close to the paintings so that they can appreciate them. I can say that they are as 99% real as the originals,” he added.

The best part is, viewers don’t need to queue for the “Mona Lisa”, while still having the chance to immerse in its details — even though it is just a reproduced version, that is.

One could clearly examine the details on the painting like never before, immerse themselves in the painting’s faint rocky background, the texture of Mona Lisa’s dress, her expressive eyes and perhaps, the shadows on her hands.

Ive said the process of capturing the spirit of each painting was very tedious.

“First of all, we have to start from the photograph. Since we need a very high-definition (HD) photograph of each painting, it was very hard to do. It took us four years to get the project done. We had to ask every museum to allow us to remove the glass,” Ive said.

After Ive’s team took the HD photos of the paintings, they processed the images with a software before “painting” it with a new technology printer. The team used water ink to ensure they do not pollute the environment during the process.

“And then, we started backlighting them with double lights — a warm one and a cold one. In mixing them, we have the perfection of the reproductions,” Ive said.

For the exhibition in KL, the adjustment to the lighting had to be done accordingly since the gallery’s floor is mainly wood, which reflects mainly yellow lights to the paintings.

“It took about three to four days to set up the exhibition here. Since the ‘Opera Omnia’ is a touring exhibition, it is easier for us to join all the pieces to suit different environments,” Ive said.

All the pieces on exhibit were shipped from Italy and assembled in KL. For instance, “The Last Supper” consists of 12 pieces, so the team had to assemble them first before fixing them on the canvas.

“Well, we go to a lot of countries to celebrate Da Vinci’s death. We already went to China, and now, we are in Malaysia. We also went to Africa and to Georgia and many other countries,” Ive said.

As we speak, the exhibition is already attracting fans from all over the country, especially art students and enthusiasts.

Homemaker Teh Way Chin said she was aware that the “Leonardo Opera Omnia” exhibition had been taking place in a few countries around the world, but did not expect Malaysia to be on the list.

Being a fan of Da Vinci’s work, Teh was among the first to arrive at the National Art Gallery on the first day of the exhibition.

“There are reports on the Internet about this exhibition and very good feedback from the public. I think this a chance that’s not to be missed because it’s free of charge and everyone should come and see,” she said.

Teh said the exhibition opens a window of opportunity for those who can’t afford to travel overseas.

“It’s a great opportunity for us because the paintings are actually scattered around the world. Even though it’s not the original painting, at least you can still enjoy them,” she said.

Teh herself had travelled to Paris, but never had the chance to visit the Louvre.

“‘The Codex on the Flight of Birds’ is so special, and because we are talking about a work that was done 500 years ago, the opportunity to look at Da Vinci’s works is a great experience. Everyone should come and see them, rather than just reading and learning from books,” Teh said.

On the first day of “Leonardo Opera Omnia”, over 1,000 visitors flocked the National Art Gallery to visit his iconic paintings. The exhibition, from 10am to 6pm, is free of charge.

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