A Life In Drawing is a stunning exhibition, giving an extraordinary vision into one of the greatest minds of history.

Revered in his day as a painter, Leonardo da Vinci’s interests were not confined to painting, and he only completed around 20 paintings in his lifetime. 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 who dissected 30 human corpses, but his ground-breaking anatomical work was never published. He planned treatises on many subjects including water, mechanics and the growth of plants, but none was ever finished. As so much of his life’s work was unrealised or destroyed, Leonardo’s greatest achievements survive only in his drawings and manuscripts. 

It was in these drawings, in which Leonardo worked out his thinking and planned his greatest schemes. And in 2019 to mark the 500th anniversary of his death, 144 drawings from the Royal Collection – which holds one of the finest groups of Leonardo drawings in the world – were displayed simultaneously in 12 locations around the UK. And as a grand finale to the project, 80 of the Renaissance master’s greatest drawings are on display in Edinburgh at The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse. Martin Clayton, Head of Prints and Drawings, Royal Collection Trust, said; “The drawings of Leonardo da Vinci are both incredibly beautiful and the main source of our knowledge of the artist. As our year-long celebration of Leonardo’s life draws to a close with the largest exhibition of his work ever shown in Scotland, we hope that as many people as possible will take this unique opportunity to see these extraordinary works, and engage with one of the greatest minds in history.

A Life in Drawing explores Leonardo’s many interests, from anatomical dissections to engineering plans, from preparatory drawings for his now lost painting ‘Leda and the Swan’ and the Duke of Milan’s never-built statue, to the visions of cataclysmic storms which obsessed his final years. Leonardo firmly believed that visual evidence was more persuasive than academic argument, and that an image conveyed knowledge more accurately and concisely than any words. Few of his drawings were intended for others to see. Yet, just to see his anatomical drawings alone is to witness Leonardo’s incredible mind in action. The accuracy and beauty of his studies of dissected human bodies have never been equalled, and student doctors could still be taught from them. The exhibition also allows us to remember his paintings. Alongside a reproduction of The Last Supper are drawings of the apostles, young and old, of drapes and hands. There is even an ink sketch in which Leonardo is working out the seating arrangements, to fit all 13 people along a single side of the table.

This is a stunning exhibition and a rare chance to witness a beautiful mind and a supremely gifted hand. Not to be missed. 

(images: Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019)


until 15 March 2020 | The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh