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Leonardo's studies of physiognomy

RCIN 912318

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A study of a horse, full length, standing in profile to the left; the off legs are indicated in two positions and the body is divided into sections as if for measurement. To the left is a drawing of the near hind-leg and quarters of a horse in profile to the left. The sheet has irregularly cut upper corners.

The physical type of the horse is that of Leonardo’s first Florentine period as is the style of the drawing, with rough outlines and patches of scribbled hatching. Leonardo seems to be investigating the principles of equine anatomy independently of any composition, but the absence of annotations suggests that he simply sketched a horse and drew lines between salient points, without measuring a live animal or attempting to determine any module of proportion.

In this drawing Leonardo may have been emulating his former associate Andrea del Verrocchio, whose last great work was the bronze equestrian monument of Bartolomeo Colleoni (Venice, Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo), commissioned in the early 1480s on the basis of a model. A drawing by Verrocchio (New York, Metropolitan Museum) depicts a horse standing in left profile with lines drawn over the body, as here, but with measurements written by each line. Verrocchio had reportedly been in competition with two other artists for the commission, and Leonardo has occasionally been suggested as one of his rivals; it is thus conceivable, if unlikely, that this drawing was preparatory for a competition model by Leonardo for the Colleoni project.

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