Leonardo Da Vinci: A Life in Drawing

In February 2019, to mark the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci, 12 of the Renaissance master's drawings from the Royal Collection will go on display at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, as part of 12 simultaneous exhibitions across the UK.

Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing, a nationwide event, will give the widest-ever UK audience the opportunity to see the work of this extraordinary artist, with 144 of his greatest drawings from the Royal Collection forming the 12 exhibitions.

Twelve drawings, selected to reflect the full range of Leonardo's interests – painting, sculpture, architecture, music, anatomy, engineering, cartography, geology and botany – will be shown at each venue in Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Southampton and Sunderland, with a further venue to be announced.

As the only venue in the Midlands, visitors to Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (BMAG) will see the intricacy of Leonardo’s work through 12 works never seen in the city before. Drawings on display will include the Head of an Old Bearded Man (c.1517-18), and A Map of the Valdichiana (c.1503-4).

Revered in his day as a painter, Leonardo completed only around 20 paintings; he was respected as a sculptor and architect, but no sculpture or buildings by him survive; he was a military and civil engineer who plotted with Machiavelli to divert the river Arno, but the scheme was never executed; he was an anatomist and dissected 30 human corpses, but his ground-breaking anatomical work was never published; he planned treatises on painting, water, mechanics, the growth of plants and many other subjects, but none was ever finished. As so much of his life's work was unrealised or destroyed, Leonardo's greatest achievements are to be found on sheets of paper.

The drawings in the Royal Collection have been together as a group since the artist's death, and provide an unparalleled insight into Leonardo's investigations and the workings of his mind.

Leonardo firmly believed that visual evidence was more persuasive than academic argument, for an image conveyed knowledge more accurately and concisely than any words. Few of his surviving drawings were intended for others to see: drawing served as his laboratory, allowing him to work out his ideas on paper and search for the universal laws that he believed underpinned all of creation.

The exhibition in Birmingham will be accompanied by an engaging education programme which will help to bring Leonardo’s techniques alive for visitors, along with a series of talks and tours.

The exhibitions Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing will include examples of all the drawing materials employed by the artist, including pen and ink, red and black chalks, watercolour and metalpoint. They will also present new information about Leonardo's working practices and creative process, gathered through technical research using a range of techniques including ultraviolet imaging, infrared reflectography and X-ray fluorescence. The findings will be brought together in a groundbreaking new book, Leonardo: A Closer Look, published by Royal Collection Trust in February 2019.

Following the exhibitions at Royal Collection Trust's partner venues, in May 2019 the drawings will be brought together to form part of an exhibition of over 200 sheets at The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace, the largest exhibition of Leonardo's work in over 65 years. A selection of 80 drawings will then travel to The Queen's Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse in November 2019, the largest group of Leonardo's works ever shown in Scotland.

Gurminder Kenth, Museum Manager at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, said:

"We are thrilled to be part of the Leonardo 500th anniversary celebrations showcasing the extraordinary talent and skill of one of the world’s greatest artists.

“When a selection of Leonardo drawings were on display here at the museum in 2012, it was an extremely popular exhibition, with queues forming for the chance to see the works up close. With a different selection of drawings to display in 2019, we are sure visitors will be just as excited about this unique opportunity to see his works on show in the Midlands.”

Martin Clayton, Head of Prints and Drawings, Royal Collection Trust, said:

‘The drawings of Leonardo da Vinci are a national treasure, both incredibly beautiful and the main source of our knowledge of the artist. We hope that as many people as possible across the UK will take this unique opportunity to see these extraordinary works, which allow us to enter one of the greatest minds in history, and to understand the man and his achievements.”

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