Face to face with Leonardo da Vinci: drawings of the genius on display in Turin

From Sept. 25 to Oct. 3, 2021, the Royal Museums of Turin will exhibit a selection of 13 drawings by Leonardo da Vinci, including the celebrated sheet known as the "Self-Portrait."

Entitled Face to Face with Leonardo, the exhibition at the Royal Museums of Turin unveils, from September 25 to October 3, 2021, a selection of 13 drawings by Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci, 1452 - Amboise, 1519), to which is also added the extraordinary exhibition of the Codex on the Flight of Birds. As part of the European Heritage Days and on the occasion of the inauguration of the new lighting system of the frescoed vault of the Royal Library, made possible thanks to the support of the Council for the Enhancement of the Artistic and Cultural Heritage of Turin, the exhibition A tu per tu con Leonardo aims to recount a set of works of exceptional value, documenting the activity of the great master of the Italian Renaissance from the beginnings of his career in Florence to his Milanese studies dedicated to machines, anatomy, proportions and expressions of the human face, and the dream of flight.

Every day, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., visitors will be led by expert guides to discover Leonardo’s corpus up close: the artist’s work and his relentless pursuit of perfection emerge from the strokes penned with red or black stone, pen or ink, blurred with quick brush strokes or made voluminous by touches of white lead. Drawing, thanks to its inherent versatility, which makes it adaptable to both in-depth analysis of details and rapid formal synthesis, is one of Leonardo da Vinci’s favorite means of expression, and he used it throughout his life. The exhibition therefore stands as an opportunity to observe, centuries later, the traces of the creative process that, from a fleeting flicker, concretizes and fixes the idea on paper. The experience will be preceded by an introduction to the history of the collection and the events that led to the arrival of the precious drawings in Turin, and a visit to the Library’s courtly salon, designed by royal architect Pelagio Palagi and frescoed by painters Angelo Moja and Antonio Trefogli. The elegant 19th-century sleeve, which now houses thousands of ancient volumes, was in fact the subject of an intervention by the Consulta Members, who promoted the renovation of the lighting fixtures, which are now more efficient and energy-efficient, to better enhance the entire room and highlight the vault decorations.

The event initiates a renewed way of displaying the important nucleus of Leonardo’s works, whose possibilities for public enjoyment are conditioned by the particular characteristics of works on paper, which are particularly fragile and sensitive to variations in temperature and humidity and to light, making short exposure times necessary, followed by adequate periods of conservation rest. Given the great public interest, in fact, the Royal Museums have chosen to allow visitors more frequent opportunities to admire these masterpieces. Starting next year, the exhibition Face to Face with Leonardo will be open every year during Easter week on the dates April 16-24, 2022, April 8-16, 2023, March 30-April 7, 2024, and April 19-27, 2025.

“More than 500 years after his death,” says Enrica Pagella, director of the Royal Museums of Turin, “Leonardo da Vinci’s talent continues to be a source of limitless inspiration. His many insights, works and inventions are still capable of surprising and influencing us today, evidence of the inexhaustible curiosity that always fueled the great master’s research. This exhibition aims to be a guide to overlook the world of a supreme artist who made knowledge and experimentation a law of life.”

The Savoy history of Leonardo’s collection originated in 1840 when King Charles Albert purchased 1585 drawings by great Italian and foreign masters from Giovanni Volpato, an art dealer of Piedmontese origin who had just returned to Piedmont after several years abroad. The fulcrum of the fortunate acquisition is the section of thirteen autograph drawings by Leonardo da Vinci, sheets heterogeneous in subject matter and chronology, at the apex of which stands the most famous work in the collection, and one of the best-known pieces of his entire production: the Portrait of an Old Man, believed to be the great master’s Self-Portrait.

The thirteen drawings trace the entire artistic career of the genius da Vinci, from his beginnings around 1480 to his last years of activity, c. 1515-17, documenting the entire panorama of his interests and experiments. Some drawings relate to well-known and celebrated works by the master, from the Battle of Anghiari to the Virgin of the Rocks; others testify to projects that were never realized, from the Sforza and Trivulzio monuments to the statue of Hercules for Piazza della Signoria. In 1893, Leonardo’s collection was enriched by another fundamental document, the Codex on the Flight of Birds, donated to Umberto I by Russian collector and scholar Teodoro Sabachnikoff. The small notebook of notes on flight, written between 1505 and 1506, had been stolen and dismembered several times following the dispersal of Leonardo’s manuscripts that followed the death of their first heir and custodian, Francesco Melzi, arriving in Turin at the end of the 19th century still mutilated of four papers. The missing folios were found on the antiquarian market in 1920 by Enrico Fatio of Geneva, who, after purchasing them, donated them to King Victor Emmanuel III, thus allowing the precious codex to be reassembled. The manuscript, in addition to investigating the theme of bird flight, bears Leonardo’s reflections on the flying machine, problems of mechanics, hydraulics, architecture, anatomy, and figure drawing, intertwining and intersecting crucial issues of his studies.

From Sept. 25, a short guide to Leonardo da Vinci’s collection of drawings, produced with the support of the Council for the Enhancement of the Artistic and Cultural Heritage of Turin, will also be available at the Royal Museums’ bookshop as a tool for in-depth study of the great master’s works and to support visits to the Royal Library’s corpus of works.

The exhibition opens from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. The box office is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tickets: Full 20 euros, Reduced for groups with private guide 18 euros + reservation (cannot be purchased online), Reduced for all holders of Abbonamento Musei, Torino and Piemonte Card, Royal Card: 13 euros. Tickets can be purchased at the ticket office or online at www.museireali.beniculturali.it and www.coopculture.it. For information: info.torino@coopculture.it. Entrance to the exhibition is in Piazza Castello 191, subject to ticket collection and Green Pass check at the ticket office in Piazzetta Reale 1.

Face to face with Leonardo da Vinci: drawings of the genius on display in Turin
Face to face with Leonardo da Vinci: drawings of the genius on display in Turin

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