“Leonardiana in Polish collections” – exhibition in 2020

An exhibition in the “What’s What: Original, Replica, Copy” cycle
Museum of King Jan III’s Palace at Wilanów, 2020

The historic Wilanów collection, created by successive owners of the palace, includes a mysterious image of Christ the Saviour (Salvator Mundi), whose value Stanisław Kostka Potocki estimated at 300 guilders in 1798, as well as other interesting paintings belonging to the group of the so-called Leonardeschi, including works by Bernardino Luini. Today, while the media around the world are following the fate of another version of Salvator Mundi (purchased for Abu Dhabi), the Museum of King Jan III’s Palace in Wilanów in cooperation with the Leonardo da Vinci Society and in consultation with the National Gallery in London and many other museums around the world, is organising an exhibition showing the “myth of Leonardo”, exemplified in Polish collections with several dozen works (paintings, drawings and engravings). Many of them still require thorough study, so this will be a “research” exhibition designed to show not only the unique works, but also the history and context of their acquisition. A separate element of the exhibition will be a demonstration of technologically advanced methods and results of the study of paintings and methods of assessing their age.

An exhibition in the “What’s What: Original, Replica, Copy” cycle Museum of King Jan III’s Palace at Wilanów, 2020

Certainly, most of the paintings associated with Leonardo’s circle preserved to this day in the Wilanów collection were purchased by Stanisław Kostka Potocki,  who appreciated the importance of the artist’s works. This is evidenced by the enthusiastic words in which he expressed the joy at obtaining Madonna and Child, which he believed to be painted by Leonardo: “she is three worthy of admiration”. The exhibition “Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan”, organised in 2011 at the National Gallery in London,1 brought many new questions to the study of the Leonardeschi. Leonardo’s works shown at the exhibition – created during his 18-year stay in Milan (1482–ca. 1500) could be compared with drawings and paintings by the circle of artists who either worked closely with the master (sometimes even painting together with him), belonged to a close circle that observed his work, or were his students. Sometimes the inspirations of character arrangements, sophisticated gestures and technical solutions were so close that, from today’s perspective, only very detailed conservation and material studies can confirm or exclude authorship. We know that ca. 1500, Leonardo worked closely with Bernardino Luini (1480/82–1532) and Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio (ca. 1467–1516). Also working in the Milanese circle were: Ambrogio de Predis (1455–1516), Martino Piazza (active until ca. 1527), Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo (1538–1552) and Altobello Melone (ok. 1485–1543). Giorgio Vasari, concluding the story of Leonardo’s life, also mentioned Marco d’Oggiono (ca. 1470–ca. 1549).

Salvator Mundi

"Salvator Mundi" (fragment), Museum of King Jan III's Palace at Wilanów collection, photo by Wojciech Holnicki

We know that Leonardo’s original aroused great interest and was reproduced by his students and followers in many (more than 20) copies, versions and replicas. As late as the beginning of the 20th century, it was considered to be the work of Boltraffio (or a copy in his style) [Leonardo..., 2011, p. 300]. 2011, s. 300]. We also know that the period around the year 1500 was also a time of close collaboration between Leonardo and the Luinis’ workshop. The discussion about the authorship of the Wilanów painting is therefore open and the planned research will probably help to reconstruct the history of this unique version. Careful examination of the painting, as well as the recent (September 2018) findings of the conservators of the Louvre Abu Dhabi indicate a close relationship between the painting and Bernardino Luini. According to Matthew Landrus, Bernardino Luini (ca. 1481–1532) painted most of Leonardo’s works, to which the master added from 5 to 20 percent “improvements”,2 and perhaps this was also the origin of the discussed painting.3

The Wilanów painting, with a new interpretation, will soon be published in the book Muzeum Pałacu Króla Jana III w Wilanowie. Arcydzieła malarstwa [Museum of King Jan III’s Palace at Wilanów: Masterpieces of Painting] Arkady, Warsaw 2019).

1. Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan, exh. cat., ed. Luke Syson, Larry Keith et al., National Gallery, London 2011.

2. Cf. Mariacristina Ferraioli, “A sorpresa il Louvre Abu Dhabi rimanda la mostra de Salvator Mundi di Leonardo. Ignoti i motivi”, Arttribune, 4.09.2018, http://www.artribune.com/dal-mondo/2018/09/louvre-abu-dhabi-salvator-mundi-leonardo/ [accessed  on 05.09.2018].

3.Matthew Landrus, “Salvator Mundi: Why Bernardino Luini should be back in the frame”, The Art Newspaper, 3.09.2018, http://artwatch.org.uk/tag/matthew-landrus/ [accessed on 05.09.2018].