Musei Reali Torino, Biblioteca Reale
From 28 March 2024 to 30 June 2024

9 AM – 7 PM

Last admission 6 PM
Closed on Mondays
Booking recommended:
+39 011 19560449

The exhibition is additionally open during the following public holidays: April 25, April 29, May 1, June 2 and June 24, 2024.

This year’s opportunity to encounter the works of the Maestro preserved in the collections of the Royal Library of Turin offers a totally new approach, dedicated to the famous Self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci, the history of art’s greatest icon of all time: a unique opportunity to look the great artist in the eyes. The rare and precious folio is exceptionally exhibited together with six other drawings from the French period, belonging to the Codex Atlanticus, plus the account of the visit that Cardinal Luigi of Aragon paid to the Maestro, in Amboise, on October 10, 1517.

Benefitting from the High Patronage of the President of the Republic and with the patronage of the Piedmont Region, the exhibition Leonardo’s Self-Portrait. History and contemporaneity of a masterpiece, curated by Paola Salvi, is a time machine which, thanks to a number of prestigious loans, will allow you to discover drawings and projects created by Leonardo during the last phase of his life – from his plans for changing the course of the Loire to his geometric studies, to his reflections on painting in relation to the spectator regardless of time, and includes a selection of works from the Royal Library of Turin, including the Codex on the Flight of Birds, anatomical studies of the human body and those of the horse. It will be difficult to see such a vast collection of works in one place again.

The exhibition is augmented by a large selection of paintings, drawings, engravings, intaglio matrices and photolithographs which document the fortune of the famous drawing of Turin and the face of the Genius from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. Among the works on display are those by: Sodoma, Giovan Ambrogio Figino, Giuseppe Bossi, Raffaele Albertolli and Pompeo Marchesi.

To further embellish this story with images, for the first time, the Galleria Sabauda has dedicated a room to twenty works executed by Leonardesque painters – pupils, followers and imitators of the Maestro, curated by Annamaria Bava, in which the topicality of Leonardo’s heredity is highlighted.

The Contemporary Faces section, curated by Sandro Parmiggiani, presents a selected review of 15 sculptures by Giuliano Vangi (Barberino di Mugello, Florence, 1931 – Pesaro 2024), marked by a particular expressive and profound intensity, with a contemporary look of the depiction of the face.

The exhibition Leonardo’s Self-Portrait. History and contemporaneity of a masterpiece is an exceptional experience for the quality of the works on display, some of which are prestigious loans granted by other museums, and also offers the experience of a multimedia installation – Leonardo da Vinci: visions of the Genius between real and virtual, conceived and designed by Mnemosyne, the technical sponsor of the exhibition, in the Palagian Hall of the Royal Library; here, you will be able to come closer to Leonardo’s universe by means of an immersive experience offering a new way of “telling the tale”.

The main Salon also features a video that recounts the voyage of Leonardo’s Self-Portrait and of the Codex on the Flight of Birds on a microchip carried by the Rover Curiosity, launched from Cape Canaveral on November 26, 2011. Thanks to an idea by Silvia Rosa-Brusin of the Italian RAI TV programme Leonardo, and accepted by NASA, through these, Leonardo landed on Mars on August 5, 2012 and has been exploring the red planet for 12 years now.

For the entire duration of the exhibition, the façade of Palazzo Reale will host a videomapping sponsored by the Consulta per la Valorizzazione dei Beni Artistici e Culturali di Torino and by the Unione Industriali Torino. The display has been accomplished technically by Salvatore Ronga srl and SMARTART Torino.

From 28 March to 30 June 2024, as part of the Face to Face with Leonardo initiative, the Biblioteca Reale of Turin offers an exceptional opportunity to learn about and explore Leonardo da Vinci’s work up close and admire some of his masterpieces preserved in the patrimony of the Musei Reali.
The exhibition Leonardo’s Self-Portrait. History and contemporaneity of a masterpiece is arranged in the two vaults of the Biblioteca Reale, created in 1998 and 2014 with the support of the Consulta per la Valorizzazione dei Beni Artistici e Culturali of Turin. The exhibition, in a totally new version curated by Paola Salvi, professor at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera, aims to historically frame the famous Self-Portrait of Leonardo da Vinci starting from the years of its creation, following the traces that document its knowledge in the second half of the sixteenth Century and the first of the nineteenth Century, before its arrival at the Biblioteca Reale of Turin, and its subsequent consecration and dissemination.
On the basis of the curator’s most recent studies, which support the execution of the drawing between 1517 and 1518, in the last years of Leonard’s life in Amboise at the court of King Francis I of France, the exhibition ideally reconstructs the context and the work of the artist, as if one were in his studio.
In the first exhibition room, and displayed for the first time next to Leonardo’s Self-Portrait, is a precious manuscript from the Biblioteca Nazionale of Naples containing the Diary of the Itinerary of Cardinal Luigi of Aragon written by Antonio de Beatis, who accompanied the Cardinal in his journey through northern Italy, Germany, France and the Netherlands and who with him visited Leonardo in the Castle of Clos Lucé on 10 October 1517; from this chronicle we obtain a precious first-hand testimony of Leonardo’s appearance at that date, of the studies he was conducting, of the paintings most dear to him still in his atelier, of the enormous amount of papers on artistic and scientific subjects that had occupied him all his life, on which the artist, showing signs of age but still extremely active, continued to work. The contextualization with the French period is made possible by the exceptional loan of six sheets of the Codex Atlanticus from the Veneranda Pinacoteca e Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan, drawn between 1517 and 1518: This is a group of drawings, exhibited together for the first time together with the Self-Portrait, from which we obtain invaluable proof of his continued ability to draw and write in a firm and precise way, of the projects and research that the artist continued to incessantly pursue during the final stages of his life and of the constant relationship of exchange and intimate sharing with Francesco Melzi, the pupil who would inherit his immense legacy of drawings that the artist-scientist would have liked to have become books on the subjects that had occupied him during his lifetime. Among the folios on display are 770v of the Codex Atlanticus, in which, together with a number of sketches in Leonardo’s hand, there is a study by a pupil which depicts a left hand ‒ believed to be Leonardo’s ‒ sketching the waviness of the hair with a technique similar to that of the Self-Portrait; folio 920r which contains studies for the creation of canal works of the Loire and the memory of the visit to Romorentin, in the company of the King of France; 309v in which Leonardo annotates a fundamental reflection on the principles of representing a face: “That face which in painting sees the face of the maestro who makes it, always sees everyone who looks at it”. In the case of a self-portrait, the face looking at the maestro who makes it is of the artist himself: Leonardo reminds us that the maestro wanted to leave an image of himself not only to be looked at, but which continues to look at us. Folio 307v is also on display, one of the most spectacular in the Codex Atlanticus, with studies on the squaring of curvilinear elements and on geometric equivalence, topics that were almost an obsession with Leonardo from the Roman years until the end of his life. And again 673r, a double folio with the last date noted by Leonardo: “24 June, the day of St. John, 1518 in Amboise in the palace of Clu”.
To best illustrate the working method of Leonardo, having brought his manuscripts to France, and the drawings that he used and revived for new projects, other important sheets from the collection of the Biblioteca Reale are on display. We find the Codex on the Flight of Birds, not only with the studies that give the volume its title, but also with an engineering sketch for the creation of canals on the Arno and, on sheet 10v, a small face sketched in red stone, in which Carlo Pedretti in 1975 noticed the similarity with the Self-Portrait. Furthermore, while the Studies of Insects testifies to his inexhaustible and continuous interest in the natural world, the study of proportions of the face and eye is part of a series of folios dedicated to the proportional theories that would be taken up again in the twentieth century to find the appropriate measures for a three-dimensional translation of the Self-Portrait. Studies on horses continued to have importance and relevance, both in relation to the anatomy of what Leonardo himself considered the most noble of animals, and in relation to the projects for (unrealized) equestrian statues for Francesco Sforza and Gian Giacomo Trivulzio: these are the Studies of a horse’s front legs on olive green prepared paper, the Studies of a horse’s front legs on indigo prepared paper and the Studies of a horse’s hind legs in red stone. In France Leonardo returned to the investigation of equine anatomy with the intention of creating an equestrian monument for Francis I: it is conceivable that he took the Turin sheets back into consideration, together with others preserved in Windsor, as demonstrated by the copy of the red chalk drawing with hind legs, made by Francesco Melzi in 1517-1518, preserved in the Royal Collection Trust at Windsor.
Leonardo’s assiduous interests in human anatomy, attested by the chronicle of Antonio De Beatis and by the drawings now in Windsor, is also demonstrated in the exhibition by two sheets from the Biblioteca Reale: the pen and ink drawing with the Nudes for the Battle of Anghiari and the sheet with Hercules and the Nemean lion, drawn in charcoal, the technique that Leonardo resumed in the last period of his life and with which many of the French drawings were created.
In the second room, the exhibition continues with works that attest to Leonardo’s success starting from the second half of the sixteenth Century: testifying to the knowledge of the Self-Portrait before its purchase by King Carlo Alberto di Savoia Carignano in 1839, two folios preserved in Gabinetto dei Disegni e Stampe delle Gallerie dell’Accademia of Venice, part of the collection of Giuseppe Bossi, multifaceted neoclassical artist and secretary of the Accademia di Brera Study for Heraclitus, attributed to Giovan Ambrogio Figino (circa 1570), and the copy of the Self-Portrait created by Raffaele Albertolli (circa 1808-1809), as attested by Bossi himself. The section dedicated to the success of the Self-Portrait continues with drawings, paintings, prints, books and a marble herm of Leonardo by Pompeo Marchesi (1808), on loan from the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera. This last institution played a fundamental role in making this section of the exhibition possible, not only for the loan of materials and documents, but also for the studies conducted on the occasion of the publication of the volume Leonardo da Vinci and the Accademia di Brera, 2020, edited by Paola Salvi, with Anna Mariani and Valter Rosa.
Surrounding these works is the rather mysterious affaire of Leonardo’s Self-Portrait in the early nineteenth Century, evidently known to Milanese and Braidense conoscienti, as demonstrated by the Venetian drawing from which Giuseppe Benaglia derived the print on the frontispiece to the volume Del Cenacolo di Leonardo da Vinci, Libri quattro by Giuseppe Bossi, which is also on display in the exhibition in the very rare edition on blue paper (only two copies were ever printed), on loan from the Biblioteca Trivulziana.
Of notable interest is the drawing of Leonardo’s face by Giuseppe Bossi himself for his Life of Leonardo da Vinci (1812), the model for the print by Pietro Anderloni, with which the iconography of the Renaissance maestro was consolidated. Never previously exhibited, this is preserved in the Bettoni album of the Gabinetto dei Disegni del Castello Sforzesco in Milan.
The exhibition is completed with the analysis of the dissemination of Leonardo’s Self-Portrait in the era of technical reproducibility, through the figures of Carlo Felice Biscarra, secretary of the Accademia Albertina of Turin who, in 1870, etched the Self-Portrait which was subsequently published in the magazine L’Arte in Italia, and of the photographer Angelo della Croce, who travelled to Turin to photograph the Self-Portrait and reproduce it in photolithography for the famous Saggio delle opere di Leonardo da Vinci, published on the occasion of the Leonardesque Celebrations of 1872 in Milan, the year in which the monument dedicated to the artist was also erected in Piazza della Scala. The exhibition also comprises the historical reproductions by Pietro Carlevaris (Turin 1888) and the facsimile edition by the Fratelli Alinari (Florence 1898).
The itinerary in the second exhibition room also includes a painting by Giovanni Antonio Bazzi, known as Sodoma, a very intense Ecce homo from a private collection which can be admired again, some eight years after the last public exhibition. In it, the turbaned face behind Christ, which perhaps depicts an ancient wise man, recalls the features of Leonardo.
The exhibition occasion is enriched, for the first time, with a pictorial section curated by Annamaria Bava within the Galleria Sabauda: Beholding Leonardo. A journey through the Collections of Galleria Sabauda intends to evoke the different ways of relating to Leonardo’s innovations through 20 works, created by companions of formative years, direct pupils and intelligent assimilators of Leonardo’s lessons and style, from Lorenzo di Credi to Andrea Solario, from Bergognone to Gaudenzio Ferrari.
Furthermore, in the context of the depiction of the face, from the first floor of the Galleria Sabauda to the Giardino Ducale, a selected exhibition of sculptures by Giuliano Vangi (Barberino di Mugello, Florence, 1931 – Pesaro 2024) is proposed, fifteen works marked by a peculiar expressive intensity, always within the solemnity of their bearing. Effected between 1964 and 2022 in a range of widely different materials ‒ marble, wood, bronze, stone, glass ‒ with which the sculptor loves to experiment, they let us retrace the path of an internationally known and celebrated artist, who has taken up the testimony of the great Italian sculpture over the centuries. The exhibition, Giuliano Vangi. Volti contemporanei confirms how expressive freedom can be based on the love of tradition and the ability to capture the pulse of a mystery, which stops movement and suspends the flow of time, ideally embracing the peremptoriness of the face of Leonardo.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue edited by Paola Salvi, published by Silvana Editoriale.

Leonardo’s Self-Portrait. History and contemporaneity of a masterpiece is an exceptional experience for the quality of the works on display and the loans granted, also enhanced by the presence of multimedial installations and the video that tells the journey of Leonardo’s Self-Portrait and the Codex on the Flight of Birds in a microchip on board the Rover Curiosity, launched from Cape Canaveral on 26 November 2011: thanks to an idea by Silvia Rosa-Brusin of the RAI TG production Leonardo, and taken up by NASA, Leonardo landed on Mars on 5 August 2012 and has been exploring the “red planet” for 12 years.

The collection of graphics of the Biblioteca Reale

The rich collection of graphics in the Biblioteca Reale contains over 2,500 drawings, including an important nucleus of 1,585 sheets by old Italian and European masters, sold in 1839 to King Carlo Alberto by Giovanni Volpato from Chieri, a particularly interesting character who, after emigrating from Italy, built a brilliant career abroad as an art dealer, working between France and England, before returning to Piedmont in 1837, bringing with him a very rich collection. Precisely in those years, King Carlo Alberto was engaged in the creation of his own collection, conceived and desired as a collection of wonders, in the wake of a family tradition: an instrument of personal prestige and celebration of the Savoy dynasty, for the creation of which he had commissioned the Bolognese architect Pelagio Palagi and a large group of intellectuals led by Domenico Promis. Thanks to the intermediation of Promis, negotiations began with Volpato for the conclusion of the agreement to sell the collection of drawings to the King: the contract was signed in September 1839 and, in January 1840, 1585 drawings arrived in the library.
At the heart of this fortunate purchase, in which there are also sheets by Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Carracci, Guercino, Canova and many others, is the nucleus of thirteen autograph drawings by Leonardo da Vinci which document his activity and interests of the Renaissance Genius from his youth to full maturity. Some refer to famous masterpieces of the maestro, such as the nudes for the Battle of Anghiari, the horses for the Sforza and Trivulzio monuments, the study for the angel of the Virgin of the Rocks, known as the Face of a Maiden; others, such as the Proportions of the face and the eye, testify to his research on anatomy and the “motions of the soul”, of which Leonardo was the undisputed master. Up to the unicum, the Self-Portrait, one of the most famous icons in the history of art. Finally, the Codex on the Flight of Birds, donated by Teodoro Sabachnikoff to King Umberto I in 1893: a notebook written between 1505 and 1506 which organically collects Leonardo’s reflections for the creation of a flying machine, as well as thoughts on the subject of mechanics, hydraulics, architecture, figure drawing, intersecting crucial issues of his studies.