Leonardo da Vinci, polymath, sculptor, engineer, scientist, inventor, painter and artist.  The epitome of renaissance man and on display at Nottingham Castle, 10 of the finest drawings by Leonardo Da Vinci from the Royal Collection.

The Leonardo da Vinci drawings at Nottingham Castle were never meant to be artwork, or shown, a bit like my fag packet plans, most were used to record and help understand the world around him. These are selected works to show the scope and talent of his interests which include sculpture, engineering and anatomy and we have booked ourselves in on the first day of Leonardo Da Vinci: Ten Drawings from the Royal Collection for a gallery tour with the exhibition curator, Martin Clayton, who explains a little about the selected drawings.

Leonardo was born in 1452 and primarily known as a painter with his famous works of The Last Supper and of course, Mona Lisa, probably the most famous painting in the world and subject of much merriment in the queue up to the exhibition with parodied portraits. But he was both an artist and a scientist expressed through art, his surviving drawings of the human body and its organs are testament to this, dissecting copses to better understand anatomy. His eclectic inquisitiveness helped him to plan his sculptures and castings. employ him as an engineer, design many inventions and machines that were ahead of his time.

A poor and parodied portrait but still my best yet
A poor and parodied portrait but still my best yet

Leonardo died in 1519 and bequeathed all his drawings to his favourite pupil, Francesco Melzi, who took them to Milan and upon his death were sold them to Pompeo Leoni who bound them into a single album which was then acquired the Earl of Arundel and then by Charles II. They have been in private royal ownership since then with limited exposure which explains their condition. These extraordinary works have been in the Royal Collection for over 300 years and normally housed at The Print Room at Windsor Castle since 1835. They are as fresh as you could hope for which helps to interpret the drawings, can see what Leonardo intended to draw, some extensively annotated, contributing to our understanding of Leonardo da Vinci and his many activities.

Cats, lions, and a dragon c.1513-18. Pen and ink with wash over black chalk.

Quite possibly, Leonard da Vinci would have melted Twitter and broken the internet, who doesn’t love cat pics? Leonardo clearly did with a sheet full of medieval mousers playing, prowling, sleeping, sitting, fighting and fooling around.

Cats, lions, and a dragon c.1513-18
Cats, lions, and a dragon c.1513-18

A male nude  c.1504-5. Red chalk.

A study of a nude man standing with his legs apart, seen from behind. Not many of my blog posts will have a naked male, not even one with a magnificent model such as this fine fellow where he spreads his weight equally. It was important to know how to draw muscles in tension and equally important to know how to draw them when relaxed as in this case. Looks like me from the back.

A male nude c.15.04-5
A male nude c.15.04-5

Studies for casting an equestrian monument c.1492-3. Pen and ink with some notes in red chalk.

Designs for the casting of a huge 7 metre tall bronze equestrian monument to Francesco Sforza and the rears and pulleys to lift the bronze casting from the ground. The work was never completed as the bronze was re-purposed to the army for cannon and defence against the French. When the French sis invade Milan, Leonardo’s clay model was used as target practice by the French and destroyed.

Studies for casting an equestrian monument (recto); Further casting studies, and lines of poetry (verso) c.1492-3
Studies for casting an equestrian monument (recto); Further casting studies, and lines of poetry (verso) c.1492-3

The head of St Anne  c.1510-15. Black chalk, wetted in places.

A study of the head of St Anne for the painting of the Madonna and Child with St Anne and a lamb, now in the Louvre, Paris. The head in the painting is different in character with several features more rounded.


Expressions of fury in horses, a lion and a man c.1503-4. Pen and ink.

A comparative study of the expressions of fury in horses, a lion and a man in background preparation for his mural of the Battle of Anghiari. Leonardo is not suggesting that the faces of different species are similar in appearance, he is comparing. Fantastic.

Expressions of fury in horses, a lion and a man c.1503-4
Expressions of fury in horses, a lion and a man c.1503-4

Recto: The heart compared to a seed. Verso: The vessels of liver, spleen and kidneys  c.1508. Pen and ink over black chalk. Leonardo witnessed the death of an elderly man where he later conducted an autopsy ‘to see the cause of so sweet a death’. Many of the notes mention the constriction of vessels to the heart and a thickening that prevents movement of the blood. Sound familiar?

Blackberry and bird’s-foot trefoil  c.1505-10. Red chalk on pale red prepared paper. A delicate drawing of a branch of blackberry that curves under the weight of the berries.

A deluge c.1517-18. Black chalk. Completed late in life showing a turbulent landscape enveloped by a tempest. Dark and brooding.

A map of the Arno east of Florence 1504. Pen and ink with brown and blue wash. A coloured plan of a weir to show damage to the embankment cased by the flow of water through the weir. This piece is the only one displayed that was intended for someone else to see, in this case, probably a government official.

Studies of an infant  c.1490. Metalpoint with pen and ink. Studies of a plump naked baby showing mainly limbs and torso.

Clearly. these photos are never going to do justice, it’s a fantastic opportunity to view The Leonardo da Vinci drawings at Nottingham Castle and a series of talks. On display from the 30 July to 9 October 2016, see them while you can. You will not regret #tenleonardos



Nick Cook. Amateur astronomer, space, history, nerd, extreme dog walker, cat slave, severe tinnitus sufferer. 13.7 billion years in the making - not that much better for it.

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