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Scientific analysis of Leonardo's drawings

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)

The head of Leda c.1505-8

Black chalk, pen and ink | 20.0 x 16.2 cm (sheet of paper) | RCIN 912516

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Various sketches of the head of a woman: on the right is a sketch of the head turned to the left, looking down three quarters left, with the hair elaborately coiled and braided. Beneath this is a drawing of a head seen from the back. On the left are three quarter and rear views of the same subject. These are studies for the head of Leda in the lost painting of Leda and the Swan. Melzi's number 11.

In classical mythology, Leda, queen of Sparta, was seduced by the god Jupiter in the form of a swan and bore two eggs, from each of which hatched twins. Leonardo worked on a painting of the subject over the last two decades of his life, which entered the French royal collection and was destroyed around 1700. Leonardo expended little effort on Leda’s demure downward glance, devoting his attention instead to the most complicated of hairstyles – which he even shows from the back of the head, quite unnecessarily. See also RCIN 912518.

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