Leonardo’s endless curiosity regarding the form and function of all natural phenomena is attested to in his drawings, manuscripts and paintings. As nature could only be understood by direct “experience” or engagement with real life models, man, plants, animals, and the world that they inhabited became the subject of intense scrutiny in the quest for understanding of all natural things.
On this sheet an old man appears in relation to a series of studies of water.
On the right Leonardo studies the effects of obstacles on the flow of water, which in each case produce forms not unlike the spirals of hair. The similarity has been duly noted in the inscription above. On the left of the sheet, an elderly man is seated in profile in a landscape. He stares ahead in melancholic contemplation.
Originally the sheet was folded down the centre and it seems likely that the two sides were originally divided by intervening sheets that have since been dispersed. Nonetheless, the two sides of this sheet share a curious relationship.
In Leonardo’s mind, hair and water are governed by the same “prime mover”, the ultimate source of motion in nature. This accounts for the similarity of their forms as “effects” of the same nature forces. The old man’s curly hair and flowing beard echo the forms of the water studies opposite. As one of nature’s creations, he is subject to the same inexorable forces as those illustrated opposite, which he now seems to wistfully contemplate.
In Leoanrdo's words
Observe the motion of the surface of the water, how it resembles that of hair, which has two motions – one depends on the weight of the hair, the other on the direction of the curls; thus the water forms whirling eddies, one part following the impetus of the chief current, and the other following the incidental motion and return flow.
On this sheet as unfolded, an aged man now appears in relation to a series of studies concerning the flow of water.
On the right of the sheet, Leonardo studies the effects of various obstacles on the flow of water, which in each case produces a series of curvilinear inter-facings not unlike the spirals of hair.
On the left of the sheet, an elderly man is shown seated in profile in a landscape setting, staring ahead in melancholic contemplation. Given that the sheet was originally folded down the centre, it is difficult to establish the nature of the relationship between the two disparate sides of the drawing, although the inscription may imply a connection.