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Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci 1452-Amboise 1519)

Sprigs of oak and dyer's greenweed c.1506-12

Red chalk, touches of white chalk on orange-red prepared paper | 18.8 x 15.4 cm (sheet of paper) | RCIN 912422

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A study of a sprig of oak-leaves with a cluster of acorns. To the left is a drawing of a sprig of dyer's greenweed showing a flower and pods. Melzi's 128 (verso).

This drawing of a sprig of oak laden with acorns, and a species of broom known as dyer's greenweed, was probably created around the time that Leonardo was working on his painting of Leda and the swan. Many plant studies survive from the period (several executed in red chalk on red paper with an orange-red preparation, as here), since the painting's foreground was to feature a mass of plants and flowers to emphasise Leda's fertility. One might imagine that Charles II would have been especially attracted by this study: he adopted the Royal Oak as his emblem, even considering creating a new order of chivalry, and he never tired of telling of his tale of escape following the battle of Worcester, when he hid from Parliamentarian forces in an oak tree.

Text adapted from Charles II: Art and Power, London, 2017