Go back to article: The Science Museum and the Leonardo da Vinci Quincentenary Exhibition of 1952

The Royal Academy

The Director of the British Museum, Sir Thomas Kendrick, advised approaching Sir Gerald Kelly, the energetic President of the Royal Academy, an institution that had not figured on Gilbert’s list.[14] Armed with a memo prepared by Gilbert, Sherwood Taylor met Kelly on 16 February 1951 and from then on the project steamed ahead. Kelly proposed using the Diploma Galleries at Burlington House[15] during March and April 1952 and began immediately to draw up lists of lecturers and potential members of the committee.[16] The latter list includes Sir Kenneth Clark (who joined the committee) and Sir Owen Morshead, the Royal Librarian (who did not), as well as Sherwood Taylor, who reported to Stowers that ‘The part of the Science Museum would be to arrange for the lectures and provide an adequate display of models of Leonardo’s inventions’. At a stroke the shuffling reluctance of the keepers at the Science Museum was left behind and Sherwood Taylor, as the project’s new champion, emerged into a different world of enterprise and influence. He was immediately concerned to maintain the Museum’s reputation in this new setting. Could the workshops produce what was required in time? Might models have to be commissioned from outside? He was prepared to spend ‘some hundreds of pounds’ on getting this right.

Sherwood Taylor had every reason to be concerned about the new dynamism of the exhibition project. Scarcely more than a month after their initial meeting, he heard from Kelly that Sir Kenneth Clark had joined the committee, that Windsor Castle, the Ashmolean Museum and the Earl of Leicester ‘have promised their treasures’, and that he was now working on Christ Church, Oxford: ‘I fancy that we shall get everything in England!’[17] Kelly reminded Sherwood Taylor of the part he was to play:

I am proposing to have a series of lectures by the greatest scholars on Leonardo’s paintings and drawings, so don’t forget that you have promised a formidable series on his scientific achievements.

When Gilbert returned from a period away from the Museum on 17 March, a surprise awaited him. He heard from Sherwood Taylor that ‘During your absence I have carried the matter of the Leonardo Exhibition very much further’.[18] With the great number of paintings and drawings to be shown, it was essential that the contribution from the Museum would be ‘reasonably proportional’. The questions were now urgent. Which models should be displayed? How many could be made in the Museum workshop? Would others have to be commissioned from professional model-makers? ‘I would be prepared to set aside a fair sum for this.’ Suddenly Gilbert too was operating in quite a different environment.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/150403/003