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2 exhibitions pair famous masters as ‘rivals’

Leonardo da Vinci’s “Head of a young woman / study for the Angel in the ‘Virgin of the Rocks’” (ca 1483-85), left, and Michelangelo Buonarroti’s “Studies for the head of ‘Leda’” (ca 1530)

By Taku Iwaki / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterTwo exhibitions are taking an innovative approach in their presentations: pairing great painters from a certain period to compare them like rivals, thereby casting a fresh spotlight on the creativity of the featured artists.

The Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum, Tokyo, is the venue for one of the shows, titled “Leonardo da Vinci e Michelangelo.” Running through Sept. 24, the exhibition focuses on sketches drawn by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) and Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564), giving visitors a rare chance to compare works by these two Renaissance masters.

The Renaissance celebrated humanism and naturalism, and explored ways to depict human forms in paintings. The creation of exquisite scientific sketches became a prerequisite for such artwork.

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  • Da Vinci’s “Two studies for scythed chariots” (ca 1485), left, and Michelangelo’s “Male nude, seen from the rear” (1504-05)

  • Pablo Picasso’s “Flower Seller” (1937), left, and Marc Chagall’s “Couple above Saint-Paul” (1970-71)

A comparison of sketches by the two Italians clearly showcases their different approaches: da Vinci was versatile as he applied his studies of the universe to his drawings, while Michelangelo focused on depicting naked bodies in twisted and otherwise strained forms.

For the sketch “Head of a young woman / study for the Angel in the ‘Virgin of the Rocks,’” da Vinci used an abundance of ultrafine lines to bring out her facial lines and hair. It is a very painterly work: Light from the left captures a tranquil moment, and her expression seems to draw viewers closer.

Michelangelo’s sketch “Studies for the head of ‘Leda,’” in contrast, shows the side of a male model’s face pointing downward. The bridge of his nose and pointed chin are depicted three-dimensionally, which, together with the shading on his complexion, makes the drawing look like one made of marble. Michelangelo seems to be proudly reminding the viewer he was also a sculptor.

The exhibition also shows how accurately the two portrayed naked human forms, horses and other subjects. Da Vinci took an anatomy-based approach, while Michelangelo apparently was enthusiastic about depicting bold poses as a mass of muscle, as indicated by his sketch “Male nude, seen from the rear.”

“Da Vinci produced works as part of his search for truth in nature, thereby making it difficult for him to be categorized as an artist,” said curator Ken Iwase. “Michelangelo, on the other hand, was not much interested in things other than human bodies, and he worked more on expressing human bodies that were twisted or in a more elegant pose.”

The other exhibition features an unexpected pairing of two of the greatest painters in the 20th century: Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and Marc Chagall (1887-1985).

Running through Sept. 24, “Picasso and Chagall: Imaginary Dialogues” at the Pola Museum of Art in Kanagawa Prefecture takes an ambitious approach that even European facilities have never employed, as the two have clear differences in their artistic styles and how they are appreciated.

The Pola exhibition follows the dramatic lives of Picasso and Chagall and how they interacted with each other, displaying their paintings as if they are speaking to each other.

A common thread between the two artists is highlighted: Chagall took on Cubism, a style led by Picasso, for his own works when he was living in Paris. Picasso, a Spaniard, and Chagall, a Jew from Russia, also drew their respective homelands throughout their life. During World War II, Picasso continued his artistic activities in Nazi-controlled Paris, while Chagall fled to the United States, where he became successful with stage designs.

The exhibition also presents the two painters’ contrasting approaches to drawing women, among other subjects. For “Flower Seller,” for example, Picasso broke his subject down into parts before reassembling them on a flat surface, while many Chagall works feature couples — the alter ego of himself and his loved one — holding each other as they float in a fantastical space, as best illustrated by “Couple above Saint-Paul.”

Picasso and Chagall enjoyed close contact after the end of World War II, praising each other’s talents and engaging in pottery and other artistic activities in southern France. However, their friendship ended when Picasso made a bad joke about Chagall that satirized the younger artist’s homeland and exile to the United States.

The exhibition dedicates the last section to this episode and the masters’ work in their final years, with Picasso seeking a new artistic style while Chagall added luster to his elaborate color expressions.

“Our exhibition casts a vivid spotlight on the outstanding personalities [of Picasso and Chagall], who saw each other as rivals,” said curator Keiko Imai. “At the same time, we show how the two artists described something fundamental in their time.”

“Leonardo da Vinci e Michelangelo” runs through Sept. 24 at the Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum, Tokyo, in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo. The facility is closed on Mondays (except for Sept. 18). Visit mimt.jp/lemi for details. The exhibition will also be held at the Gifu City Museum of History in Gifu from Oct. 5 to Nov. 23.

“Picasso and Chagall: Imaginary Dialogues” also runs through Sept. 24 at the Pola Museum of Art in Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture. Visit www.polamuseum.or.jp/ for details.Speech

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