In 2018, it was announced that the Queen’s collection of Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings (usually held at Windsor castle and not open to the public) was to have its largest display. To mark the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death there were to be 12 simultaneous exhibitions held in cities across the UK.
Southampton was lucky enough to be chosen to host one of the exhibitions of these amazing drawings. The exhibition opened here in February 2019 with its last day being Monday 6th May, a bank holiday in the UK. It was decided to hold a Leonardo da Vinci day on Saturday 4th May where there would be various activities to take part in as well as the exhibition itself to see.
The date did end up clashing with our fourth litter pick but I left that in the safe hands of my husband and off I went for my first time volunteering with Southampton Arts and Heritage.
Although the gallery was open from 10am, the activities did not start until 11. As I arrived it was clear that many members of staff had already been there for quite some time preparing. I was immediately given a pair of scissors and some badge designs to cut out.
I had only just got started when the co-ordinator called the volunteers together to allocate tasks.
My job for the day was to greetpeople as they walked up the stairs to the gallery, give them a plan of the gallery and tell them about the various activities that were going on during the day, as well as directing them to the Leonardo exhibition. There were activities mainly aimed at children such as drawing robots, badge making and other arts and crafts, but I thnk the biggest draw for people of all ages was the life sized model of da Vinci’s helicopter.
This incredible model was brought in by a group called Leonardo’s engineers. They were in period dress and really added to the whole day. In addition they had brought along wooden pieces so people could have a go at building a bridge to his design. The sound of falling bricks punctuated the whole day and we were all attempted to shout ‘Jenga’ each time.
With me at the top of the stairs were volunteers ‘clicking’ people in and out of the gallery so we could get an idea of the footfall, and by 11-11.30 we had already had 200 people ‘clicked’ in. It was going to be busy.
Around 11am, a queue to go into the exhibition suddenly formed. There was no charge to go in, but they did need to limit numbers in the room and the stream of visitors was continuous. That was my cue to try and direct people to the mini talks that were being held on Leonardo’s artwork in the Baring room. I encouraged adults particularly to do that in the hope that the queue may have eased a little when they came out. However, that queue was constant until lunchtime when it shortened a little for about half an hour.
The atmosphere was good humoured and pleasant even in the queue and I had that marvellous helicopter model facing me the whole time.
At 3.00pm the activities all closed down and they cordoned off the helicopter. It had taken two hours to put it up and it was going to take two hours to take it down….
…..and the visitors kept coming. The activities had stopped but the gallery would be open until 5pm, so the staff would be there for some time yet.
I left at 3.30 with a happy heart although I am keen to know how many visitors we had in total. I am hoping the volunteer co-ordinator will let me know.
In case you are wondering, I went to see the drawings myself early in March, and I am so glad I did. For me, they feel intimate in a way that is difficult to describe, perhaps because they give you an insight into that amazing brain; his thoughts and ideas.
They are generally quite small (he had to make his own canvas by grinding old cloth) and incredibly detailed with descriptions/instructions written in tiny mirror writing.
From May 2019 there will be a display of 80 of the drawings at the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace. In November 2019, they will move to the Queen’s Gallery at the Palace of holyroodhouse, the largest display of Leonardo’s work ever shown in Scotland, and they will be there until March 2020.
Edit: just heard that we had over 2,000 visitors so I must have said ‘hello’ around 1500 times!