With all the buzz about the Leonardo exhibition at the National Gallery in London, you might be forgiven for not knowing that there’s another Leonardo exhibition in progress in Torino (Turin). It started on 17 November and the highlight is a rare self-portrait of the aged artist which has only been shown publicly on two previous occasions in the past century: in 1929 and in 2006. On this occasion, the decision was taken to display the precious drawing to mark the closing months of the celebrations for the 150th anniversary of Italian Unification.
The exhibition titled “Leonardo: Il Genio, il Mito” (Leonardo: The Genius, The Myth) is at the Reggio di Venaria, a royal palace that is the epitome of European baroque splendour built for the Savoy family in the 17th and 18th centuries, to the designs of the architects Amedeo di Castellamonte and Filippo Juvarra.
The self-portrait of the Renaissance master has been kept in the Royal Library in Turin since it was sold to Carlo Alberto di Savoia (1748-1849) by Giovanni Volpato in 1839 as part of a collection of Leonardo’s drawings. Volpato bought these drawings from all over Europe and finally sold the corpus of 1585 items to Carlo Alberto, Prince of Carignano and King of Sardinia – the kingdom of Italy did not yet exist – for 50 thousand lire.
Dating from the later years of Leonardo’s life, possibly 1515 when he would have been 63 years old, the Autoritratto is a small drawing, in red charcoal (sanguigna) on paper, measuring 33.5 x 21.6 cm. After Leonardo’s death in 1519 his works were moved to Francesco Melzi’s villa in Vaprio d’Adda, but later his pupil’s heirs started to sell off the collection.
Curated by Carlo Pedretti, Paola Salvi and Clara Vitulo, the exhibition will continue until 29 January 2012 and it represents “a sort of introduction to the major exhibition that will be held in Amboise (France) from 2 May 2019 to mark the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death.”