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Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing opens at The Queen's Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse

Release date: Friday, 22 November 2019

Attributed to Francesco Melzi, A portrait of Leonardo, c.1515–18 ©

The largest group of drawings by Leonardo da Vinci ever shown in Scotland forms a new exhibition at The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse. Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing marks the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death and includes 80 of the Renaissance master’s greatest drawings, selected entirely from the unrivalled holdings of the Royal Collection.

In the breadth of his interests, Leonardo da Vinci was the archetypal ‘Renaissance man’, and his work is characterised by a multitude of artistic and scientific pursuits that cross-fertilised each other over many years. The exhibition explores the full range of the artist’s interests - painting, sculpture, architecture, anatomy, engineering, cartography, geology and botany – providing a comprehensive survey of Leonardo’s life and a unique insight into the workings of his mind.

Each thematic grouping in the exhibition contains examples of the artist’s finest drawings. A number of Leonardo’s preparatory studies for paintings are on display, including a study for The Madonna and Child with St Anne and a lamb (c.1508–19), and four of the six surviving preparatory studies for the Last Supper (c.1495–8). One of these is the sole compositional study that exists for the painting, fluidly sketched by Leonardo on a sheet of paper covered with other drawings, and on display in Scotland for the first time.

Key anatomical studies include The skull sectioned (1489), The fetus in the womb (c.1511) andThe cardiovascular system and principal organs of a woman (c.1509–10), on which Leonardo’s inky thumbprint can be seen. The natural world is explored by Leonardo through detailed landscapes, studies of water and in numerous botanical studies, the finest of which were developed in preparation for the now lost painting Leda and the Swan. Drawings of horses abound throughout Leonardo’s work, including studies for three equestrian monuments that were never realised.

The exhibition in Edinburgh is the culmination of a year-long nationwide event, which has given the widest-ever UK audience the opportunity to see the work of this unparalleled artist. 

Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing is at The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, 22 November 2019 – 15 March 2020.