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During the last years of his life Leonardo repeatedly drew a cataclysmic storm overwhelming a landscape. He also wrote several long passages that recount the futile struggles of man against the overwhelming forces of nature – tempests, floods, a mountain collapsing on a city, and finally the storm sweeping away all matter. This obsession with death and destruction can be seen as the deeply personal expression of an artist nearing his end – an artist who had seen some of his greatest creations unfinished or destroyed before his eyes, and who had a profound sense of the impermanence of all things, even of the earth itself.

Far from being chaotic, these deluges were drawn with the eye of a scientist, showing a fascination with the optical qualities of cloud, rain, water, debris, dust and smoke. They are thus of a piece with Leonardo’s notes throughout his life towards his treatise on painting, with every effect now amplified and thrown together.

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