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A design for an equestrian monument


RCIN 912357

A study of a full-length figure on a rearing horse, in profile to the right. The rider's right arm, with a baton in the hand, is extended backwards. There is a stump of a tree beneath the raised fore-feet. The group is set upon a low oblong pedestal.

During the 1480s Ludovico Sforza, ruler of Milan, commissioned Leonardo to execute a bronze equestrian monument, well over life size, to his father Francesco (1401–66).  Ludovico’s first choice for the commission seems to have been the Florentine Antonio del Pollaiuolo. Two drawings by Pollaiuolo for the project show Francesco in modern armour, with the horse rearing over a fallen figure (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Robert Lehman Collection). Those designs probably date no later than 1484, when Pollaiuolo began work on the tomb of Pope Sixtus IV in Rome, leaving Ludovico to seek another artist.

Leonardo’s early drawings for the monument differ little in iconography from those of Pollaiuolo. RCIN 912357 is a likeness of Francesco in armour, wielding a baton on a rearing horse, lacking only the fallen foe. Though it is carefully finished, its small scale would be inadequate for presentation to a patron; it corresponds closely (other than the garb of the rider) with one of four designs in a contemporary engraving (Designs for the Sforza monument, c.1490, London, British Museum), all of which must record similar drawings by Leonardo, and it is possible that RCIN 912357 was drawn specifically as a model for the engraver.

Text adapted from Leonardo da Vinci: A life in drawing, London, 2018

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