London’s da Vinci exhibit coming to a theater near you

The Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan exhibition at London’s National Gallery which stars seven of the 15 paintings by Leonardo da Vinci known to have survived, including the recently rediscovered Salvator Mundi, has been a blockbuster of epic proportions. Tickets sold out for the entire run almost immediately and are currently being scalped on eBay for hundreds of dollars apiece.

The vast majority of the world won’t have the chance to see the exhibit in person during its all-too-short run (it opened November 9, 2011, and closes February 5, 2012) and the paintings are so fragile and, in some cases, politically fraught — it took an enormous diplomatic effort to get them all together in the first place — that there will no travelling exhibit. Once the show closes the first week of February, that will be the end of it. We’ll probably never see those pieces together again during our lifetimes.

Be not forlorn, though, because we will at least get to see some killer HD footage of the exhibit, accompanied by commentary from curators, da Vinci experts, and, randomly, actress Fiona Shaw fresh off her stint as a dissociative witch with an atrociously fake Southern accent on True Blood. (Loved her in Persuasion, though.)

Billed as the first-ever tour of a fine art exhibition created for movie theatre audiences, “Leonardo Live” will afford art lovers a two-dimensional look via satellite at the sold-out exhibition, which cannot tour due to the works’ fragility.

Beginning February 16 2012, the da Vinci film will be screened in U.S. venues as well as in Argentina, Australia, Canada, Colombia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, and Sweden, roughly through the end of the month.

The exhibition, which has drawn crowds and seen tickets scalped for hundreds of dollars each, was filmed on the eve of its opening in London this fall. The 100-minute production provides a high-definition walk-through of the landmark show, in-depth commentary about featured pieces and extra content.

There is no list of scheduled showings yet, so if you want to receive email updates on when you can catch the movie in your area, sign up on the Leonardo Live HD website.

In unrelated Leonardo news, Italian police raided the Palazzo Vecchio yesterday after 400 art scholars from around the world signed a petition asking them to intervene to stop Maurizio Seracini — the only living non-fictional person to make an appearance in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code — from drilling holes in a Vasari fresco to find a Leonardo fresco he thinks might lie behind it.

It wasn’t much of a raid; the carabinieri questioned the team in the Salone dei Cinquecento and that was pretty much it. The aim of the investigation is to determine how this drilling plan was hatched (like, for instance, if National Geographic’s funding of the project in exchange for exclusive rights to broadcast any results might have placed undue pressure on the team to find something, anything, even at the cost of the Vasari) and whether the Vasari fresco was damaged or if there’s a risk that it will be damaged.