Sketch for the Virgin and Child, St Anne and St John the Baptist: technological designs 1506-08

The main study on this sheet is a preparatory compositional design for the cartoon of the Virgin and Child with St. Anne and St. John the Baptist, National Gallery, London.

It is an extreme example of Leonardo’s “brainstorm” technique, wherein alternative solutions are overlaid in a single drawing until it becomes overworked to the point of illegibility. Black chalk has been overworked with pen and ink, followed by a grey wash and white heightening applied with a brush. A series of sharp incisions indicate that the design was transferred to the reverse side of the paper with a sharp stylus or metal point.

Leonardo has added alternative ideas for the frame around the figure-group. The bordering lines, drawn with straightedge and compasses, are marked by series of equally spaced dots as an indication of the scale.

The other studies, ranging from vague outlines of figures to a relatively well defined baby in pen and wash, deal with variations on the main composition and alternative ideas for various elements in a characteristically freehand manner.

Other drawings on the sheet are related to Leonardo’s study of hydraulics, and include an overshot water-wheel and constructional techniques for dams.

  • Medium Pen and ink, wash, heightened with white, over black chalk
  • Size 26.6 x 20 cm
  • Location British Museum

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