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Newly identified portrait of Leonardo da Vinci to go on display for the first time

Release date: Thursday, 2 May 2019

A sketch of Leonardo da Vinci, c.1517–18, by an assistant of Leonardo ©

A newly identified sketch of the Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci will go on public display for the first time later this month in Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace (24 May – 13 October 2019). The announcement of the discovery marks the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death on 2 May 1519. 

The drawing is one of only two surviving portraits of Leonardo made during the artist’s lifetime. While undertaking research for The Queen’s Gallery exhibition, Martin Clayton, Head of Prints and Drawings, Royal Collection Trust, identified the sketch as a study of Leonardo made by an assistant shortly before the master’s death in 1519. The only other contemporary image of Leonardo is by his pupil, Francesco Melzi, and was produced at around the same time.

The newly identified image of Leonardo is found on a double-sided sheet of studies. On both sides of the paper are detailed studies by Leonardo of a horse’s leg, made in preparation for an equestrian monument – one of three such monuments planned by the artist during his lifetime, none of which was ever completed. The sheet was then used by another artist (probably an unidentified assistant of Leonardo) to sketch two heads: a handsome smiling youth and a pensive old man with a full beard.

Exhibition curator Martin Clayton said, ‘If you compare this sketch with Francesco Melzi’s portrait of Leonardo, you can see strong indications that this too is a depiction of the artist. The elegant straight nose, the line of the beard rising diagonally up the cheek to the ear, a ringlet falling from the moustache at the corner of the mouth, and the long wavy hair are all exactly as Melzi showed them in his portrait. Leonardo was renowned for his well-kept and luxuriant beard, at a time when relatively few men were bearded – though the beard was rapidly coming into fashion at this time.’

‘Alongside Melzi’s portrait, this is the only other contemporary likeness of Leonardo. In the sketch, he is aged about 65 and appears a little melancholy and world-weary. However, the presence of the portrait alongside studies for another grand equestrian monument shows that Leonardo’s ambitions remained undimmed in later life.’

Both portraits of Leonardo will go on display alongside 200 drawings by the artist at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, the largest exhibition of Leonardo’s work in more than 65 years. Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing is a nationwide series of exhibitions of the artist’s drawings from the Royal Collection throughout 2019. The exhibition at The Queen’s Gallery, London follows 12 simultaneous exhibitions at museums and galleries across the UK (until 6 May 2019).  Later in the year, a selection of 80 drawings will travel to The Queen’s Gallery, Edinburgh, to form the largest exhibition of Leonardo’s works ever shown in Scotland (22 November 2019 – 15 March 2020). Collectively, these 14 exhibitions offer the widest-ever UK audience the opportunity to see the work of this extraordinary artist.

Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing (24 May – 13 October 2019)
The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London  

Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing (22 November 2019 – 15 March 2020)
The Queen's Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh


Leonardo da Vinci

A Life in Drawing

  • The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace
  • This event is in the past
Leonardo da Vinci

A Life in Drawing

  • The Queen's Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse
  • Next event: 29 Jan 2020
    Daily (Friday, 22 Nov 2019 - Sunday, 15 Mar 2020)