Royal Mail is marking the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci on February 13, with a set of 12 stamps featuring a selection of his drawings held by the Royal Collection.

The 550 drawings in the collection were acquired by King Charles II around 1670 and are one of the world’s most important hoards of Leonardo’s original work. Almost 150 examples are being displayed separately at 12 museums and galleries across the UK this year, and then subsequently together in the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace.

An artist, engineer, inventor, anatomist, botanist, mathematician, astronomer and cartographer, widely regarded as the quintessential genius of the Renaissance, Leonardo was born at Vinci in the Republic of Florence in 1452, and died at Amboise in France in May 1519.

He was a tireless illustrator, making sketches to develop his artistic compositions and record his scientific observations. He often annotated his drawings in mirror-writing, written left-handed from right to left and easily readable in the mirror.

Designed by Kate Stephens and printed in litho by International Security Printers, the stamps come in two se-tenant strips of six.

1st class The Skull Sectioned

Pen and ink drawing of 1489, showing a human skull cut in a variety of sections to study its structure.

1st class A Sprig of Guelder-Rose

Red chalk on orange-red paper drawing of c1506-12, rendered in far more detail than would usually be necessary as preparation for a painting.

1st class Studies of Cats

Pen and ink drawing of c1517, observed directly from life, in preparation for a treatise on the movement and flexibility of quadrupeds.

1st class The Anatomy of the Shoulder and Foot

Pen and ink drawing of c1510, studying the arrangement of bones and muscles in two parts of human anatomy, in progressive states of dissection.

1st class A Star-of-Bethlehem and other plants

Pen and ink over red chalk drawing of c1506-12, a study made in preparation for the foreground flora in the lost painting Leda & The Swan.

1st class The Head of Leda

Pen and ink over black chalk drawing of c1505, in preparation for a painting of the mythical Queen of Sparta which was once part of the French royal collection but no longer survives.

1st class The Head of a Bearded Man

Black chalk drawing of c1517, one of many classical male profiles inspired by the ancient coins of Roman Emperors.

1st class The Skeleton

Pen and ink drawing of c1510, concentrating on the structure of bones and muscles, in preparation for a treatise on human anatomy.

1st class The Head of St Philip

Black chalk drawing of c1495, one of many studies made in preparation for The Last Supper, the famous mural in the monastic church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan.

1st class A Woman in a Landscape

Black chalk drawing of c1517, whose purpose is unknown, but which employs two of Leonardo’s favourite graphic devices, a mysterious smile and a pointing hand.

1st class A Design for an Equestrian Monument

Silverpoint on blue paper drawing of c1485, in preparation for a bronze statue of Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, which was never completed.

1st class The Fall of Light on a Face

Pen and ink drawing of c1488, setting out the geometrical principles of light and shade, in preparation for a treatise on the theory of painting.

 

OTHER PRODUCTS

The presentation pack, written by Martin Clayton, Head of Prints & Drawings at the Royal Collection Trust, provides an insight into the life and works of Leonardo, with a further selection of his illustrations. Stamp cards and a first day cover are available as usual.

 

PRICES

Set of 12 stamps   £8.04

Presentation pack   £8.75

Stamp cards   £5.40

First day cover   £10.20

 

VERDICT

COMMEMORATIVE WORTH   1/5

Impressive as the Royal Collection is, the artist himself has no British connection

QUALITY OF DESIGN   2/5

Add stamp design to the list of Leonardo’s talents, although some images work better than others

WOW FACTOR   2/5

Only half the illustrations will be stunning at stamp size, no matter how skilled the man wielding the pen