Leda and the Swan (Leonardo)

Leda and the Swan (Leonardo)

Leonardo, Study for the Kneeling Leda, drawing on paper

Leda and the Swan is a painting by Leonardo da Vinci, by now lost and considered destroyed.

First Version

Leonardo began making studies in 1504 for a painting, apparently never executed, of Leda seated on the ground with her children. Three sketches of Leda Kneeling by Leonardo himself exists:

  • Leda and the Swan, pen and ink and wash over black chalk on paper, 160 x 139 mm. 1503 - 1507, Devonshire Collection, Chatsworth (pictured)
  • Study for kneeling Leda, black chalk, pen and ink on paper, 126 x 109 cm. 1503 - 1507, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam
  • Studies of Leda and a Horse, black chalk, brush and ink on paper, 1503 - 1507, Royal Library, Windsor

A completed copy of kneeling Leda and her Children by Giampietrino is kept at Staatliche Museen, Kassel (c. 1520, oil on wood, 128 x 106 cm).

Completed version

In 1508 Leonardo painted a different composition of the subject. The picture known as Leda and the Swan depicted a nude standing Leda cuddling the Swan, with the two sets of infant twins, and their huge broken egg-shells. The original of this is lost, probably deliberately destroyed, and was last recorded in the French royal Château de Fontainebleau in 1625 by Cassiano dal Pozzo:

A standing figure of Leda almost entirely naked, with the swan at her and two eggs, from whose broken shells come forth four babies, This work, although somewhat dry in style, is exquisitely finished, especially in the woman's breast; and for the rest of the landscape and the plant life are rendered with the greatest diligence. Unfortunately the picture is in a bad state because it is done on three long panels which have split apart and broken off a certain amount of paint.

However the picture is known from many copies, of which the earliest are probably the Spiridon Leda, perhaps by a studio assistant and now in the Uffizi,[1] and the one at Wilton House in England. Other copies by Leonardeschi include:

  • Anonymous, possibly Fernando Yanez de la Almedina, Leda and the Swan. Oil on panel, 51 5/8 x 30 inches (131.1 x 76.2 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art, USA (previously at John G. Johnson Collection, 1917)
  • Giampietrino, Leda and the Swan, from the collection of the Marquis of Hastings
  • Giampietrino, Venus and Cupid, private collection, Milan
  • Venus and Cupid, 16th century, Oil on panel, New Orleans Museum of Art, USA
  • Leda and the Swan, 16th century. Previously at antiquity shop, Lyon. Original photo by Georges Vermard exists at University of Bologna


  • http://www.lairweb.org.nz/leonardo/leda.html


  1. ^ image; Fossi, Gloria, pp. 402-3, Uffizi: art, history, collections, Giunti Editore Firenze Italy, 2004, ISBN 88-09-03676-X, 9788809036765 google books

External links

  • Leonardo da Vinci: anatomical drawings from the Royal Library, Windsor Castle, exhibition catalog fully online as PDF from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which contains material on Leda and the Swan (see index)