Leonardo’s Drawings

Until 6 May 2019 there are no less than 12 exhibitions of Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings simultaneously all over the UK. The Royal Collection has a fantastic collection of drawings by Leonardo and to celebrate the 500th year since his death, they are putting on this nationwide exhibition of his finest drawings.  It is always fantastic to be able to see world class art in a regional museum and bring art to even more people than just Londoners. 

I went to see the 12 drawings on display at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery and came back delighted by such genius. 

Not only is it mind boggling to realise that these scientifically amazing drawings are 500 years old, completely ahead of their time, but I also was taken by their tiny size, minute detail, exquisite exactness and lyrical beauty. To top it all off many of these drawings were created with pastel, one of my favourite mediums. What greater pastel hero to have than Leonardo?

After the 12 exhibitions all over the UK close, around 200 drawings will be brought together in one huge exhibition at Queen’s House in London. A selection of these will then travel to Edinburgh for an exhibition at Holyroodhouse in the autumn of 2019 and spring of 2020. 

Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo was born on 15 April 1452 in a small Italian town called Vinci, and died  2 May 1519 at the age of 67 in France. He is often considered one of the greatest artists ever alive. There are too many masterpieces to name, but of course The Last Supper in the convent of Sta. Maria della Grazie and the Mona Lisa in the Louvre stand out. He was a genius scientist ahead of his time and his drawings display his keen and exact eye and inquisitive mind. His life and works are too great to even attempt to discuss here. 

The Drawings

After Leonardo’s death, his pupil Francesco Melzi inherited all his books and drawings. He subsequently spent many decades organising the drawings by subject and numbering them. After Melzi’s death the drawings were purchased from his son by a sculptor called Leoni, who would mount the drawings into large albums. By the 1630s, some of these albums were in England, in the collection of famous art collector the Earl of Arundel. By the end of the 17th century they were in the Royal Collection, probably gifted by Arundel to Charles II.  In Victorian times the drawings were removed from the albums and mounted individually although Leoni’s leather album bindings were kept (empty). 

Some more info on Leonardo’s life and work in this video made by the Royal Collection:


Below are a couple of the drawings that stood out for me. A beautifully delicate cartoon (study for a painting) in pastel:

The head of the Madonna(?) c.1510-15 Red and black chalks, brush and ink, white heightening on orange-red prepared paper | 24.4 x 18.7 cm (sheet of paper) | RCIN 912534. ©Royal Collection  See also the Royal Collection for more information.

And a delightful sheet of drawings of cats (found anywhere in Florence), lions (kept in various places within Italy at the time and also in Florence) and a dragon (not sure where he got his model from!). I noticed various exhibition visitors playing the ‘spot the dragon’ game while looking at this wonderful sheet of drawings. 

Cats, lions, and a dragon c.1517-18Black chalk, pen and ink, wash | 27.0 x 21.0 cm (sheet of paper) | RCIN 912363. ©Royal Collection See also the Royal Collection for more info

Exhibition Info


For more information on the 12 exhibitions all over the UK please visit this page on the Royal Collection website.

Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing

1 February – 6 May 2019 - exhibitions of 12 drawings at the following locations:

  • Ulster Museum, Belfast
  • Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
  • Bristol Museum and Art Gallery
  • National Museum Cardiff
  • Derby Museum and Art Gallery
  • Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow
  • Leeds Art Gallery
  • Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
  • Manchester Art Gallery
  • Millennium Gallery, Sheffield
  • Southampton City Art Gallery
  • Sunderland Museums and Winter Gardens

For admission and ticket information please refer to each venue.

24 May – 13 October 2019 - exhibition of over 200 drawings
The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London  

22 November 2019 – 15 March 2020 - exhibition of 80 drawings
The Queen's Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh


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