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Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci 1452-Amboise 1519)

Recto: A branched bur-reed. Verso: A bullrush c.1506-12

RCIN 912430

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Recto: a study of flowering rushes, showing a group of leaves and a spray of star-like seed vessels. Verso: a study of a bulrush, with one seed-vessel. Melzi's number 126.

Leonardo drew plants and flowers throughout his life, following the tradition of naturalistic detail in fifteenth-century Italian art. His finest botanical drawings were made in connection with a painting of Leda and the Swan. This was to have a foreground teeming with plants and flowers, for which Leonardo made a number of detailed studies including this one depicting a branched bur-reed (Sparganium erectum L.), the seedheads drawn with a precision far beyond the requirements of a painting.

Leonardo was developing a deep interest in plant morphology, and what started as studies towards a painting soon became scientific studies in their own right, apparently towards a treatise on the structure of plants and trees.

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