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Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)

Portrait of Leonardo da Vinci attributed to Leonardo Melzi ©

Leonardo da Vinci was the archetypal 'Renaissance man', accomplished in painting, sculpture, architecture, music, anatomy, engineering, cartography, geology and botany. Only a small proportion of the drawings that survive are connected directly with his paintings, or his sculptural, architectural and engineering projects many of which were never realised. The remainder were Leonardo's attempt to record and understand the infinite variety of experience.

Leonardo always maintained that an image transmitted knowledge more accurately and more concisely than words. The sheets by Leonardo at Windsor, covering all aspects of his activity, are the greatest treasure of the Royal Library.

All the drawings and manuscripts in Leonardo's studio at his death were bequeathed to his pupil Francesco Melzi, who took them back to his family villa near Milan. After Melzi's death, around 1570, the collection was sold to the sculptor Pompeo Leoni (c.1533-1608), who pasted the drawings into the pages of at least two albums. These were dispersed after Leoni's death in Madrid, and one was brought to England, probably through the agency of Thomas Howard, 2nd Earl of Arundel, who owned the album by 1630. During the Civil War, Arundel left England, and there is no further trace of the Leonardo volume until 1680, when it was recorded at Whitehall Palace; it had presumably been acquired some years earlier by Charles II, perhaps as a gift from Arundel's grandson Henry Howard, later the 6th Duke of Norfolk. Although the binding of the album survives, the drawings have been removed in the course of the last two centuries. They are now housed in individual mounts, and kept in solander boxes in the Print Room in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle.


Objects associated with Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)