Press Releases

Leonardo da Vinci exhibition in Cardiff

Drawings from the Royal Collection on display in 2019

In February 2019, to mark the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci, a collection of twelve of the Renaissance master's greatest drawings in the Royal Collection will go on display at National Museum Cardiff (1 February – 6 May 2019) as part of a UK wide exhibition of drawings across a number of venues.

Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing, will give the widest-ever UK audience the opportunity to see the work of this extraordinary artist.  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 in Cardiff as well as in Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Southampton and Sunderland, with a further venue to be announced.   

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 500 years ago, 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 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 scientific research using a range of non-invasive techniques, including ultraviolet imaging, infrared reflectography and X-ray fluorescence.  The findings will be brought together in a groundbreaking new book, Leonardo da Vinci: A Closer Look, published by Royal Collection Trust in February 2019.


Leonardo used ink made from oak galls and iron salts, which is transparent in infrared light, allowing his black chalk underdrawing to be seen for the first time.  Examination of A Deluge, c.1517-18 (to be shown at the National Museum Cardiff) revealed that beneath the pattern-like arrangement of rain and waves in brown ink, Leonardo drew a swirling knot of energy in black chalk at the heart of the composition.

The last exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci works at National Museum Cardiff was on display in 2007.

David Anderson, Director General of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, said:

'We are delighted to be working in partnership with Royal Collection Trust in bringing this exhibition of exceptional drawings by one of the great artists of the Renaissance to National Museum Cardiff.It is very exciting to be part of this ambitious programme which makes Leonardo's work widely accessible to audiences across the UK.  I hope our visitors here in Wales take the opportunity to see this extraordinary collection of drawings in person and learn more about Leonardo da Vinci’s fascinating life.'

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.’ 

Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales operates Wales’ seven national museums, which together attract around 1.7 million people a year and are all free entry thanks to the support of the Welsh Government. They include:

  • National Museum Cardiff
  • St Fagans National Museum of History
  • National Waterfront Museum, Swansea
  • National Wool Museum, Dre-fach Felindre
  • National Slate Museum, Llanberis
  • Big Pit National Coal Museum, Blaenavon
  • National Roman Legion Museum, Caerleon


Together, we are the nation’s most visited heritage organisation by the people of Wales.

Our purpose is to inspire people through our museums and collections to discover, enjoy and learn bilingually, and to understand Wales's place in the wider world.



For further information please contact Lleucu Cooke, Communications Manager, National Museum Cardiff on 07961223567

Notes to Editors


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

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

     A further location to be announced


Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing (24 May – 13 October 2019)

Exhibition of over 200 drawings

The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London  


Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing (22 November 2019 – 15 March 2020)

Exhibition of 80 drawings

The Queen's Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh

Royal Collection Trust, a department of the Royal Household, is responsible for the care of the Royal Collection and manages the public opening of the official residences of The Queen.  Income generated from admissions and from associated commercial activities contributes directly to The Royal Collection Trust, a registered charity. The aims of

The Trust are the care and conservation of the Royal Collection, and the promotion of access and enjoyment through exhibitions, publications, loans and educational programmes.  Royal Collection Trust’s work is undertaken without public funding of any kind.

The Royal Collection is among the largest and most important art collections in the world, and one of the last great European royal collections to remain intact.  It comprises almost all aspects of the fine and decorative arts, and is spread among some 15 royal residences and former residences across the UK, most of which are regularly open to the public.  The Royal Collection is held in trust by the Sovereign for her successors and the nation, and is not owned by The Queen as a private individual.


The Royal Collection contains by far the greatest collection of drawings by Leonardo da Vinci. The group of more than 550 sheets have remained together since Leonardo’s death in 1519.  Because of the potential for damage from exposure to light, these very delicate works on paper can never be on permanent display and are kept in carefully controlled conditions in the Print Room at Windsor Castle. All the drawings can be viewed online on the Royal Collection Trust website.