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Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci 1452-Amboise 1519)

A nude youth as St John the Baptist c.1485

Metalpoint, white heightening, on blue-grey prepared paper | 17.8 x 12.2 cm (sheet of paper) | RCIN 912572

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A study of a nude young man, standing turned half to the right, pointing to the right with his right arm. His left hand is resting on a staff. His head with long waving hair, is bent slightly forward and he looks at the spectator. On the right is a sketch of the top of a reed cross. Melzi's 68.

Any ambitious artist in the Renaissance would have made figure studies from a posed model, to hone their draughtsmanship, observational skills and knowledge of human form. This model is posed as St John the Baptist, holding a long reed cross and pointing, as if towards the Saviour. Leonardo prepared the paper with a coloured ground so that he could draw with metalpoint for the outlines and shading, and add highlights with a brush in liquid lead white. The distinctive arrangement of the legs is reproduced in a painting of St Sebastian by a follower of Leonardo, a subject that Leonardo himself sketched repeatedly in the 1480s. The style of the metalpoint dates the work to the mid-1480s, with highlights in white lead applied with a fine brush. The elegance and elongated proportions of Florentine art clearly persisted in Leonardo’s work after he moved to Milan.


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