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National Museum Cardiff

A drawing of a dramatic flood in which the atmosphere above a wooded hill has materialised in a gigantic explosion, with jets of water shooting out from the centre. Square blocks of stone topple and fall from the sky. Above is a dark cloud from which jets

A deluge ©

A cataclysmic storm overwhelming the earth was one of Leonardo’s favourite subjects during the last years of his life. It was a deeply personal expression of an artist nearing his end – an artist who had seen some of his greatest creations unfinished or destroyed, and who had a profound sense of the impermanence of all things, even of the earth itself.

A series of drawings shows a mighty storm breaking over a city, a mountain collapsing, the tempest overwhelming the landscape and sweeping away all matter. This is the most finished in the series, worked up with pen and wash. Infrared light shows that the black chalk under-drawing is much rougher and focussed on the mountain's impact, with a dense knot of energy right at the heart of the composition.

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