“Most Beautiful Drawing in the World” and Recently Discovered Self-Portrait Headline Leonardo da Vinci and the Idea of Beauty at MFA Boston

  • BOSTON, Massachusetts
  • /
  • April 14, 2015

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Head of a Young Woman (Study for the Angel in the "Virgin of the Rocks"), about 1483-85, Leonardo da Vinci

For the first time in Boston, the “most beautiful drawing in the world” and a recently discovered self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) will be displayed. Presented at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), from April 15—June 14, 2015, Leonardo da Vinci and the Idea of Beauty features a number of highly admired drawings by Leonardo. The exhibition, organized by the Muscarelle Museum of Art, explores the artist’s concept of ideal beauty through 30 drawings and manuscripts by Leonardo, Michelangelo and their followers.

Because he left so few paintings, Leonardo’s drawings have been recognized for centuries as the deepest window into the workings of his mind. One drawing, Head of a Young Woman (about 1483–85), has been considered by some to be the “most beautiful drawing in the world,” bringing together his ideal of beauty and convincing naturalism to an astonishing degree. The Codex on the Flight of Birds (about 1505), an important loan from the Biblioteca Reale in Turin, features a newly discovered self-portrait. Identified five years ago, the partially hidden portrait depicts the artist at age 50.

Works on view in the exhibition include a rich and varied selection of loans from Italy—primarily from the Uffizi Museum in Florence and the Biblioteca Reale. On view in the MFA’s Lois and Michael Torf Gallery, the exhibition also includes seven drawings by Michelangelo (1475–1564) and one from his studio, offering a unique opportunity to compare a series of these rivals’ drawings. Through the artists’ works, visitors can see how their ideals of beauty were often polarized, with Michelangelo more concerned with abstract, super-human ideals than the natural world that tantalized Leonardo.

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