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Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci 1452-Amboise 1519)

The head of Leda c.1504-6

Pen and ink over black chalk | 17.7 x 14.7 cm (sheet of paper) | 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.

The mythical Leda was seduced by Jupiter in the form of a swan. Leonardo worked on two compositions of the subject, finally executing a painting that was destroyed in the eighteenth century. In the four surviving studies of Leda's head, Leonardo expended little effort on her expression, simply adopting the usual downward glance; in the central two drawings he may even have left the face blank, for the faces there are of poor quality and may have been 'filled in' by a pupil. Instead Leonardo devoted all his attention to the most complicated of hairstyles, with dense whorls and woven plaits, even studying the head from the back - quite unnecessarily for a painted image.