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Botany and landscape

Leonardo’s finest botanical drawings were made in connection with his painting of Leda and the Swan, whose foreground was to be rich in plants and flowers. But, as so often, his studies for a painting excited his interest and the botany soon became an investigation in its own right, and it seems that Leonardo considered writing a treatise on the structure of plants and trees.

Leonardo had an instinctive response to natural forces, and his writings describing the interaction of water and rock were paralleled by the landscapes of timeless universality in many of his drawings and paintings. In his early career the landscapes were ancient but stable, whereas in drawings from the last decade of his life their rocks are subject to massive forces that wrench them from the earth, emphasising Leonardo’s conception of the earth as a place of infinite flux.

Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci 1452-Amboise 1519)

Oak (Quercus robur) and dyer's greenweed (Genista tinctoria)

Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci 1452-Amboise 1519)

A sprig of guelder rose (Viburnum opulus) with berries

Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci 1452-Amboise 1519)

A branch of blackberry (Rubus fruticosus)

Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci 1452-Amboise 1519)

Blackberry and bird's-foot trefoil

Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci 1452-Amboise 1519)

Job's tears (Coix lachryma-jobi)

Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci 1452-Amboise 1519)

Recto: A copse of trees. Verso: A tree

Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci 1452-Amboise 1519)

A storm in an alpine valley

Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci 1452-Amboise 1519)

The chain ferry at Vaprio d'Adda

Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci 1452-Amboise 1519)

An outcrop of stratified rock

Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci 1452-Amboise 1519)

A rocky outcrop

Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci 1452-Amboise 1519)

A collapsing mountain