Interview with Martin Clayton

Interview with Martin Clayton, Head of prints and drawings, Royal Collection Trust

10:15-10:45 AM, 26th April 2019

Interviewer: Joshua Gong


144 of Leonardo da Vinci’s greatest drawings in the Royal Collection are displayed in 12 simultaneous exhibitions across the UK to mark the 500th anniversary of his death.

Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing features 12 drawings at each venue, all selected to reflect the full range of Leonardo’s interests – painting, sculpture, architecture, music, anatomy, engineering, cartography, geology and botany.

In May over 200 drawings will go on display at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, and then the exhibition will move to The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse in November.


Ulster Museum, Belfast

Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery

Bristol Museum & 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 & Winter Gardens


The Head of Leda, c.1504-6

The Head of Leda, c.1504-6


1 How many drawings in total are there in the Royal Collection?

The Royal Collection has 600 sheets, which was in a single album, amount which 555 sheets we can now identify as by Leonardo, and the rest 45 sheets by his pupils. Because Leonardo was left handed, while most painters in the renaissance were right hand, we can tell which ones are by him. In addition, we can identify the drawings in a chronologic order, as accurate as to narrow down to every five years, according to the stylistic development.


2 How did the drawings enter the Royal Collection?

It was recorded for certain, the album entered the royal collection in the 1690s (a record from William III time), while some recent discovery might suggest it had already been there in the 1680s, but it is still in the process of confirming. There is no direct evidence of the provenance before that date. But it is generally accepted, it was a gift from Henry Howard, the 14th Earl of Arundel to King Charles II around 1670. And it was purchased by the grandfather of the Earl in the 1620s. Before that it might be purchased by Pompeo Leoni from the heirs of Francesco Melzi. Melzi was a pupil of Leonardo, and it was he who preserved Leonardo’s drawings and manuscripts.




3 What is the curatorial intension behind the Nationwide simultaneous exhibitions?

It was for reaching as many audiences as possible, to make Leonardo more accessible for the People in the UK. It could be said the curatorial intension was not art historical. We have calculated the most populated areas in the UK and listed the potential local museums.


4 How long did it take to prepare the exhibition and how to cooperate with the 12 provincial museums?

It took us three years, so we started in 2016. We listed the museums and made confidential phone calls to them asking if they are happy to do an exhibition on Leonardo. It was not difficult, as all the museums have been hoping to be involved. They all said yes to the proposal.

For make it not biased, we selected 144 drawings and made them into 12 groups, so 12 drawings each. We tried to balance thematically, to make sure all the venues can cover wider range of Leonardo’s drawings. The drawings are about painting, sculpture, architecture, music, anatomy, botany, military tactics, cartography and geology.



5 What is the conservation status of the drawings and to what extend did the condition of the objects affect the exhibition?

The drawings are in perfect conditions. If there is no accident, or natural disaster, they could almost last forever. They were in mint condition, as fresh as if Leonardo just finished them.

Leonardo used the best handmade paper at that time. They were mounted as 234 pages in a single album by Melzi presumably, and stayed in that way in the royal collection, until the 19th century during the Victorian Period, they were removed and mounted as 600 sheets. Since the 1970s, they were mounted on polymethyl glass. The sheets were on different paper with the unique watermarks, so we are able to know where they were produced, many in Italy, and a few in France.

As for placing at the museums, we followed the standard protocols, 50 lux lightness for showing the drawings.


6 Are there any research update alongside the exhibitions?

There are new updates in terms of scientific research, but not much in terms of art historical discovery.

We have known more information about the material, for example the watermarks. We used x-ray, ultra-violet light, digital photo enlargement and etc.


7 How many viewership did the Royal Collection Trust expect?

The exhibition is unprecedented, so it is hard to predict. I am hoping to have 750,000 visitors. There are about 66 million people in the UK, so I wish more than 10 % people in the country are coming to see.




8 Which drawings in your opinion are the highlights of the exhibitions?

My favourite ones are the anatomical drawings of the human body. Leonardo spent five to six years focused on the subject, and he was hoping to write a treatise of the human dissection, unfortunately he was not able to finish. But the drawing were fascinating, we are able to see his incredible understanding about the human beings.


9 What kind of accessories are available to different kinds of audience?

We have catalogue for the whole series of exhibitions, which will be available in May at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace. There are some sketch books, post cards, etc.


10 Is there any international collaboration in curating the collection, for example with China?

We have been working with different researchers in the field, also we collaborate with various institutions and museums all over the world. For example, we are lending our drawings to France, Italy, Hungary, Germany and the Netherlands.

Potentially we would like to work with China, and I was surprised that the Chinese institutions have not contact us.

The Royal Collection is not for profit, so we do not charge for the loan. Of course, the institutions who borrow objects from us will pay the fee for transportation and insurance to the relevant companies. In the future, I wish there are collaborations with China, but we have already been fully booked in 2019, so it would have to wait for a period.






與馬丁·克雷頓( Martin Clayton)的訪談

采訪人: 龔之允




1 英國皇室達芬奇手稿的由來

冊頁據推測於17世紀70年代進入英國皇室收藏,當時的國王是斯圖亞特王朝復辟後的查爾斯二世,是由英國貴族第14代阿倫德爾伯爵亨利·霍華德進獻。據說這是亨利的祖父在17世紀20年代從意大利收藏夾彭培歐·利奧尼(Pompeo Leoni)處購得。而利奧尼可能是從達芬奇的得意弟子佛朗切斯科·梅爾茨(Francesco Melzi)的後代那裏購得。梅爾茨在達芬奇去世後繼承和整理了老師的手稿。17世紀70年代之前的流傳順序是學者的推測,並沒有直接的證明,但自那以後這些手稿都完整地保存在了英國皇室。

2 展覽的策略


3 畫稿的保存情況



The brain c. 1508-9

The brain c. 1508-9

4 最有意思的畫稿


5 國際合作



撰文 x 龚之允




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