Leonardo da Vinci, the ultimate Renaissance man, died 500 years ago. To mark the occaision the Queen is putting her collection of Leonardo da Vinci drawings on display at the Queen’s Gallery next to Buckingham Palace.  A selection of them have already been on show in twelve different cities, over a million people have visited.  They will move to the Palace of Holyroodhouse in the autumn.  Leonardo da Vinci on Tour!

Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing


Everybody has heard of Leonardo.  He painted the world’s most famous painting, the Mona Lisa.  He painted the world’s most expensive painting Salvator Mundi.  Most of all Leonardo drew.   There are more drawings still in existence by Leonardo than any other Renaissance painter.  More than that more of Leonardo’s writing exists than any other Renaissance person.  He painted, drew and wrote about a vast variety of things.  One thing I never knew …. he was a skilled cartographer. Drawing this map of  Imola and several other of the River Arno when he trying to come with a plan to divert the river for Cesare Borgia.

Leonardo da Vinci map of Imola
Map of Imola

Leonardo spent years working in Milan for the Sforza family.  He was to make a juge equestrian statue showing the Duke in fearsome splendour.  Many drawings were made.  A clay model was made.  Then afer 10 years of hard work, just as the statue was about to be cast the French invaded. All that bronze that was destined for Leonardo’s horses went to make cannon.  Only the drawings remain.

Equestrian design Leonardo da Vinci
A design for an equestrian monument, c.1485-8 © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II


The Queen, well to be precise the Royal Collection, has what is reckoned to be the finest collection of Leonardo de Vinci drawings in the world. She has more than 550 sheets covered in his drawings. King Charles II bought them in around 1670 and they have been in the collection ever since. Because paper is easily damaged light, the drawings are not often displayed and certainly not in the quantity that is on offer in 2019.

Head of Leda Leonardo da Vinci
Head of Leda, c.1505-8, © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

I’ve known about the Queen’s collection of Leonardos for long time.  I like to think of her leafing through them on wet Wednesday afternoons (that is what I would do) and confess that I have always wondered how Charles II came to have so many of them.  Now I know ….. toward the end of his life Leonardo was a disappointed man.  Many of his grand schemes had come to nothing.  Sculptures not made, books not published, paintings unfinished.  To ensure that his papers were not destroyed or scattered when he died, he left them to his trusted assistant Francesco Melzi.  When Melzi died, the sculptor Pompeo Leoni bound them into two books.  Charles II acquired one of these at some point and it has been in the Royal Collection ever since.  These papers have been together for over 500 years!

Leoni binding for Leonardo da Vinci drawings
Leoni binding


No self-respecting exhibition comes without a full set of ‘events’.  Talks, special tours, workshops, all manner of interesting things can be done.  The Royal Collection Trust have pulled out all the stops. In addition to all the usual kind of things they are to have an escape room in the Queen’s Gallery with the Leonardo drawings called Escape Room: Leonardo Artmergency! To say that Cultural Wednesday is excited about the prospect of an Escape Room in the Queen’s Gallery with Leonardo is an understatement!

Leonardo da Vinci fingerprint
Leonardo fingerprint © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II


  • Buckingham Palace Queen’s Gallery, London 24 May – 13 October
  • Open: Daily 9.30am – 5.30pm
  • Admission: Adult £13.50 concessions available. Booking advisable
  • Escape Room: Leonardo Artmergency! Every Friday and Saturday 6.15pm – 7.45pm. £150 per team, teams between four to eight people. Booking essential
  • Palace of Holyroodhouse Queen’s Gallery, Edinburgh 22 November 2019 – 15 March 2020
  • Tickets at both Palaces can be stamped and become a year long pass enabling you to visit as often as you want.

Whilst you are at Buckingham Palace how about discovering the Royal Mews or visiting the State Rooms or even just meandering around and discovering Queen Victoria’s London.

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