Leonardo da Vinci's self-portrait, the most precious possession of the Turin Royal Library, has made an unprecedented trip to Rome. The sanguigna drawing, which shows the renaissance genius as a venerable sage with flowing white hair and beard, is so fragile that it has only been put on public view four times over the last century and is normally kept under lock and key in the library  strong room.

The transfer to Rome required special precautions, a carabiniere escort and astronomic insurance cover, but was deemed necessary because the unique portrait has suffered serious deterioration over the centuries and the Central Institute for Restoration and Preservation of the Patrimony of Archives and Books, Rome (ICRCPAL), is the world's top authority on the delicate art of saving ancient documents and drawings.

The arrival of the Leonardo sketch, protected by a fireproof case capable of resisting temperatures of up to 200 degrees, was described as “an exciting event” by Maria Cristina Misiti, the Istitute director, who explained that it would be subjected to a complete check-up with the Institute's ultra-sophisticated equipment with view to evaluating possible restoration processes.

Restoration work will be undertaken by Institution experts in the autumn.

Other documents restored by the Institute in 2011: Cavour’s Parchment, Aldo Moro’s 11 letters (the Italian politician assassinated by the Red Brigades in the 1970s) and the ancient Manoscritto Colletario of the Medieval Civic Museum of Bologna.

For information about the Institute’s work: www.icpal.beniculturale.it   

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08 Apr 2012