This cartoon, which is almost life-size, is the largest of a series
of drawings of grotesque heads produced by Leonardo between 1490 and
1505, and represents the culmination of his interest in exaggerated
Giorgio Vasari, the 16th century biographer of Leonardo, called such heads teste bizzare or “bizzare heads”. It is unlikely that these studies were drawn from life. In the Codex Urbinas, Leonardo notes that “those who have facial features of great relief and depth are bestial and wrathful men, men of little reason”.
The twisted pose of the man, who is seen from the back with his head turned sharply to the right, allows Leonardo to achieve a sense of sculptural form in the body whilst emphasising his grotesque features by showing them in profile. The bold, broad handling of the charcoal (or chalk) and the vigorous reinforcement of lines may give some idea of the technique of the lost cartoon for the iBattle of Anghiari fresco, executed around the same time.
The outlines of this drawing have been pricked and pounced with charcoal dust in order to transfer the design to another surface.
The inscription LIONARDO DA VINCI on the left of the sheet is written in an 18th century hand.