Arguably the greatest collection of Leonardo da Vinci drawings in the world, owned by the Queen and normally kept away from public view at Windsor Castle, is to have its biggest public display.

The Royal Collection has announced details of a Leonardo event in 2019 to mark the 500th anniversary of his death.

There will be 12 simultaneous exhibitions of 12 drawings in cities across the UK next February. The following May, more than 200 drawings will go on display at Buckingham Palace, the biggest show for more than 60 years. In November 2019, 80 drawings will go on display at Holyroodhouse, the largest number shown in Scotland.

Martin Clayton, the head of prints and drawings at the Royal Collections Trust, said it expected between 800,000 and 1 million visitors.

“I don’t think there has ever been a suite of major exhibitions with such nationwide reach,” he said. “We estimate that 34 million people – more than half the population – will be within an hour’s journey of one of these exhibitions.”

The Queen owns more than 550 sheets of Leonardo drawings, which some argue are, collectively, the greatest works of art in the UK. The Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan owns more Leonardo drawings but the Royal Collection would argue that, in terms of range, it has the greater collection.

Only about 20 Leonardo paintings survive; he was a brilliant sculptor and architect, but no sculptures or buildings survive, and he began countless treatises that were never finished.

“Because he hoarded thousands of drawings and pages of manuscripts right to the end of his life, we have an unrivalled knowledge of the workings of Leonardo’s extraordinary mind,” said Clayton. “You could say 80% of what we know about Leonardo comes from the drawings of Windsor.”

The drawings reflect Leonardo’s startlingly diverse passions and interests. The subjects include painting, sculpture, architecture, music, anatomy, engineering, botany, military tactics, cartography and geology. Read more