William & Mary

More than 200,000 see Muscarelle’s ‘Leonardo’ show in Mexico

  • Waiting for beauty:
    Waiting for beauty:  Patrons waited in six-hour lines outside the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City to see "Leonardo da Vinci and the Idea of Beauty," curated by the Muscarelle.  Courtesy Palacio de las Bellas Artes
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Leonardo da Vinci and the Idea of Beauty not only broke attendance records at William & Mary, but the Muscarelle-curated show attracted almost a quarter-million visitors in Mexico City before the exhibition closed earlier this month.

More than 200,000 visitors – far more than expected – attended the show at the Museum of the Palace of Fine Arts in the first six weeks, the Mexican state authority for culture announced. Mexico’s national media reported almost daily on the six-hour lines outside the museum and the enthusiasm of the visitors, despite the blazing summer heat, to see the first Leonardo show like this offered in the country.

As Leonardo Da Vinci y la Idea de la Belleza, as it’s translated, neared its closing, the increased tempo of visitors caused the National Council for Culture and the Arts to take special security measures of security and adjust the museum’s hours, extending the viewing times to 12 hours on most days. Patrons were restricted to a one-hour visit to allow more people to view the exhibition.

More than a quarter of the visitors traveled from outside the capital city, while 5 percent came from outside Mexico. 

The exhibition catalog used in Mexico is a translation of the original catalog written by Muscarelle’s chief curator, John Spike. It was published for the Muscarelle by Centro Di, with technical arrangements executed in cooperation with Associazione Metamorfosi.

The show of original drawings by Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo drew a record crowd of 60,000 viewers in six weeks earlier this year at its inauguration at William & Mary’s Muscarelle Museum of Art.

Leonardo da Vinci and the Idea of Beauty comprised more than 25 drawings by the Renaissance genius, including the precious sketches in the Codex on the Flight of Birds and the delicate “Study for the Head of an Angel.” The drawings were lent from the Uffizi museum in Florence and the Biblioteca Reale in Turin, Italy, and contrasted with eight original drawings from the Casa Buonarroti in Florence by Leonardo’s greatest rival, Michelangelo Buonarroti. The show also included a newly discovered self-portrait of Leonardo at age 53, exhibited for the first time in the United States at the Muscarelle.

In April, before it went to Mexico, the show transferred to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where it was seen by more than 100,000 people in nine weeks, making it the most-visited temporary exhibition in its history.

“We are enormously gratified that visitors turned out in record numbers to view this unforgettable exhibition of original works by Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, the two great Renaissance rivals,” said Aaron De Groft, Muscarelle director and CEO. “The exhibition at the Palace garnered rave reviews in the Mexican media and drew very large crowds. Its opening day brought an unprecedented crowd of over 5,000 people.”

The show offered a new partnership with the Mexican museum, but the Muscarelle and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, have a longstanding relationship. After showing at the Muscarelle, Boston exhibited Michelangelo: Sacred and Profane, Masterpiece Drawings from the Casa Buonarroti in 2013 and Caravaggio Connoisseurship: Saint Francis in Meditation and the Capitoline Fortune Teller in 2014.