Drawing That Was Too Hot for Hitler Goes on Show

Leonardo da Vinci's 500-year-old self-portrait in red chalk is reputed to give extra strength to anyone observing the painter's stern gaze.

AFP

A self-portrait by Leonardo da Vinci that was once hidden from Hitler lest it give him superhuman powers is going on rare public display in Italy.

The 500-year-old self-portrait in red chalk will be displayed at the Royal Library in the northern city of Turin from Friday for six weeks, according to the BBC News website.

The myth in Turin is that Leonardo's gaze in the drawing is so powerful that those who observe it are imbued with great strength.

It was that mysterious power, the myth goes, that led to the drawing being secretly transferred from Turin to Rome during World War II – to prevent it from falling into Hitler's hands and giving him even more power that he already had.

"To prevent the Nazis from taking it, an intelligence operation saw it transported in absolute anonymity to Rome," says library director Giovanni Saccani.

Whether or not the drawing saved the world from even worse depredations at the hands of Hitler, it did not emerge from its adventure unscathed.

Preservation conditions were far from ideal during its stay in Rome, beside which, "they did not have the same knowledge and techniques back then," says Saccani. "Naturally, this did not do its condition any good."

Today, it is kept in a secure underground vault with exclusively fiber optic lighting - no natural light can enter the room – and controlled temperature and humidity. The display cases are made of a type of glass which Saccani describes as "anti-everything."