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Leonardo da Vinci, 'Portrait of Cecilia Gallerani (The Lady with an Ermine)', about 1489-90. Property of the Czartoryski Foundation in Cracow on deposit at the National Museum in Cracow © Princes Czartoryski Foundation

‘Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan’ is the most complete display of Leonardo’s rare surviving paintings ever held. This unprecedented exhibition – the first of its kind anywhere in the world – brings together sensational international loans never before seen in the UK.

Leonardo the artisWhile numerous exhibitions have looked at Leonardo da Vinci as an inventor, scientist or draughtsman, this is the first to be dedicated to his aims and techniques as a painter. Inspired by the recently restored National Gallery painting, The Virgin of the Rocks, this exhibition focuses on Leonardo as an artist. In particular it concentrates on the work he produced as court painter to Duke Lodovico Sforza in Milan in the late 1480s and 1490s.

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Leonardo da Vinci, 'The Virgin of the Rocks', about 1491-1508 © The National Gallery, London

 As a painter, Leonardo aimed to convince viewers of the reality of what they were seeing while still aspiring to create ideals of beauty – particularly in his exquisite portraits – and, in his religious works, to convey a sense of awe-inspiring mystery.

Works on displayFeaturing the finest paintings and drawings by Leonardo and his followers, the exhibition examines Leonardo’s pursuit for perfection in his representation of the human form.  Works on display include ‘La Belle Ferronière’ (Musée du Louvre, Paris), the ‘Madonna Litta’ (Hermitage, Saint Petersburg) and ‘Saint Jerome’ (Pinacoteca Vaticana, Rome).

The two versions of Leonardo’s ‘Virgin of the Rocks’ – belonging to the National Gallery and the Louvre – will also be shown together for the first time.

The final part of the exhibition features a near-contemporary, full-scale copy of Leonardo’s famous ‘Last Supper’, on loan from the Royal Academy. Seen alongside all the surviving preparatory drawings made by Leonardo for the 'Last Supper', visitors will discover how such a large-scale painting was designed and executed.

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Leonardo da Vinci, 'Five character studies ('A man tricked by gypsies')', about 1493. Lent by Her Majesty The Queen (RL 12495r). The Royal Collection © 2011, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

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Leonardo da Vinci, 'Virgin and Child ('The Madonna Litta')', about 1491-5. The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (GE-249) © The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg. 2011. Photo by Vladimir Terebenin, Leonard Kheifets, Yuri Molodkovets

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Leonardo da Vinci, 'Portrait of a Young Man ('The Musician')', about 1486-8. Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Pinacoteca – Milan (99) © Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana - Milan/De Agostini Picture Library