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Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci 1452-Amboise 1519)

The head of Leda c.1505-8

RCIN 912518

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A drawing of the head of a woman turned three quarters to the left, looking down. The hair is fastened in elaborate braids, and arranged in coils over the ears. This is a study for the head of Leda in the lost painting of Leda and the Swan. Melzi's 12.

In classical mythology, Leda, queen of Sparta, was seduced by Jupiter in the form of a swan and bore two eggs, from each of which hatched twins. Leonardo worked on two versions of a composition of Leda and the swan, one in which Leda kneels, the other in which she stands, eventually executing a painting of the standing version (destroyed around 1700). Here Leonardo expended little effort on her demure downward glance, devoting his attention instead to the most complicated of hairstyles. Parallel plaits run over the top of her head, with a pattern of interlacing at the temples. See also RCIN 912516.

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