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The Art of Monarchy

A collaboration with BBC Radio 4 to mark Her Majesty The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

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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In the years around 1505 Leonardo worked on two distinct versions of a composition of Leda and the Swan, depicting the myth of Leda, who was seduced by Jupiter in the form of a swan and bore two eggs, from which hatched Helen of Troy, Clytemnestra, and Castor and Pollux. Leonardo made a number of studies for his painting, including four surviving drawings of the head of Leda. In this example particular attention is focused on the intricate and highly decorative hairstyle which serves to enhance Leda’s beauty. In contrast, relatively little attention is afforded to Leda’s facial expression. She does not engage the viewer’s gaze; instead she looks down, making her appear modest and demure. Leonardo’s finished painting, which shows a standing figure of Leda embraced by the swan, entered the French royal collection shortly after it was completed c.1515. However, the painting was destroyed in around 1700, and today is known through copies.