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Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci 1452-1519 Amboise)
Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci 1452-1519 Amboise)
Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci 1452-1519 Amboise)
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Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci 1452-1519 Amboise)
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These lots have been imported from outside of the … Read more Property of a Family Trust
Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci 1452-1519 Amboise)

Head of a bear

Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci 1452-1519 Amboise)
Head of a bear
with inscription in pen and brown ink ‘Leonard de Vinci.’ (lower left)
silverpoint on pink-beige prepared paper, top corners cut
2 ¾ x 2 ¾ in. (7 x 7 cm)
Sir Thomas Lawrence, P.R.A. (1769-1830), London (L. 2445).
Samuel Woodburn (1785-1843), London; Christie’s, London, 4-8 June 1860, part of lot 1039 (£2.5s. to Chambers, together with the drawing in Edinburgh discussed and reproduced below).
with P. and D. Colnaghi and Co., London, where acquired by 1936 by
Captain Norman Robert Colville (1893-1974), London; by succession to the N.R. Colville Will Trust.
with Johnny van Haeften, London, where acquired by the present owner in 2008.
A.E. Popham, ‘The Drawings at the Fine Arts Club’, The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, LXX, no. 407, February 1937, p. 87.
K. Clark, ‘Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1510) – Study of a Bear Walking’, Old Master Drawings, XI, March 1937, p. 66.
B. Berenson, The Drawings of the Florentine Painters, Chicago, 1938, II, p. 115, no. 1044B.
K. Clark, Leonardo da Vinci. An Account of his Development as an Artist, New York and Cambridge, 1939, p. 78 [numerous later editions].
A.E. Popham, The Drawings of Leonardo da Vinci, New York, 1945, p. 32, no. 78A.
A.E. Popham, The Drawings of Leonardo da Vinci, London, 1946, p. 69, no. 78A.
A.E. Popham, The Drawings of Leonardo da Vinci, New York, 1947, p. 40, no. 78A.
A.E. Popham, The Drawings of Leonardo da Vinci, London, 1949, p. 55, no. 78A.
B. Berenson, The Drawings of the Florentine Painters, Chicago, 1961, II, no. 1044C [later edition: 1970].
A.E. Popham, The Drawings of Leonardo da Vinci, London, 1964, pp. 32-33, no. 78A.
J. Bean and F. Stampfle, Drawings from New York Collections. The Italian Renaissance, I, New York, 1965, p. 28, under no. 18.
A. Forlani Tempesti, The Robert Lehman Collection. Italian Fifteenth through Seventeenth Century Drawings, New York, 1991, pp. 238, 239, under no. 80, fig. 80.3.
J.A. Levenson, ed., Circa 1492. Art in the Age of Exploration, exhib. cat., Washington, National Gallery of Art, 1991, p. 272, under no. 170 (entry by M. Kemp).
C. Pedretti, ‘Views and Reviews’, Achademia Leonardi Vinci, V, 1992, p. 188.
The Draughtsman’s Art. Master Drawings from the National Gallery of Scotland, exhib. cat., Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland, New York, Frick Collection, and Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, 1999, p. 14, under no. 1, p. 172, n. 1 (entry by A. Weston-Lewis).
C.C. Bambach, ed., Leonardo da Vinci. Master Draftsman, exhib. cat., New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2003, pp. 359-360, under no. 43, fig. 148 (entry by C.C. Bambach).
J. Nathan and F. Zöllner, Leonardo da Vinci, 1452-1519. The Complete Paintings and Drawings, Cologne, 2003, p. 346, fig. 158 [Italian edition: Leonardo da Vinci 1452-1519. Tutti i dipinti e i disegni, Cologne, 2007, p. 347, fig. 158].
A. Bayer, ed., Painters of Reality. The Legacy of Leonardo and Caravaggio in Lombardy, exhib. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2004, p. 89, under no. 15 (entry by L. Wolk-Simon) [Italian edition: A. Bayer and M. Gregori, eds., Pittori della realta'. Le ragioni di una rivoluzione. Da Foppa e Leonardo a Caravaggio e Ceruti, exhib. cat., Cremona, Museo Civico Ala Ponzone, 2004, p. 80].
M. Kemp and J. Barone, I disegni di Leonardo da Vinci e della sua cerchia nelle collezione della Gran Bretagna, Florence, 2010, no. 72, ill.
F. Rinaldi and P.C. Marani, Leonardo e la sua bottega. Disegni di figura e di animali. Disegni di Leonardo dal Codice Atlantico, exhib. cat., Milan, Pinacoteca-Biblioteca-Accademia Ambrosiana and Santa Maria delle Grazie, 2011, pp. 32-33, under no. 997v (entry by F. Rinaldi).
P.C. Marani and M.T. Fiorio, eds., Leonardo da Vinci 1452-1519. The Design of the World, exhib. cat., Milan, Palazzo Reale, 2015, p. 524, under no. II.6 (entry by C.C. Bambach) [Italian edition: Leonardo da Vinci 1452-1519. Il disegno del mondo].
C.C. Bambach, Leonardo da Vinci Rediscovered, New Haven and London, 2019, I, pp. 263, 274, 275-276, fig. 3.91.
London, Burlington Fine Arts Club, Pictures, Drawings, Furniture and other Objects of Art, 1936-1937, no. 18.
Milan, Palazzo dell’Arte, Mostra di Leonardo da Vinci, 1939, p. 158, pl. 100.
London, Royal Academy, Leonardo da Vinci. Quincentenary Exhibition, 1952, no. 37.
Nottingham, University City Art Gallery, Drawing in the Italian Renaissance Workshop. An Exhibition of Early Renaissance Drawings from Collections in Great Britain, 1983, no. 8, pl. 3 (catalogue by A. Weston-Lewis and J. Wright).
London, Hayward Gallery, Leonardo da Vinci, 1989, p. 94, no. 37, p. 98, under no. 39, ill. (entry by M. Kemp).
L. Syson, ed., London, The National Gallery, Leonardo da Vinci Painter at the Court of Milan, 2011-2012, no. 14, ill. (entry by A. Galansino).
Shanghai, Long Museum, Moscow, Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, and Saint Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum, Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hals in the Dutch Golden Age. Masterpieces from the Leiden Collection, 2017-2019 (not in catalogue).
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Lot Essay

An exquisite demonstration of Leonardo da Vinci’s unsurpassed mastery as a draughtsman and of his ground-breaking attitude towards the study of nature, this penetrating study of a bear’s head is one of a very small number of drawings by him still in private hands. The drawing was executed in silverpoint on a pale prepared paper, an incisive and demanding technique which Leonardo was taught in his youth by his master Andrea del Verrocchio, the leading artist in Florence at the time. The medium links this sheet to three other small-scale studies of animals, among the first of their kind within Leonardo’s extensive body of drawings made from nature: a study of two cats and a dog in the British Museum (fig. 1),1 a double-sided sheet with studies of a dog’s paws in the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh (fig. 2),2 and a study of a walking bear at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (fig. 3).3 The drawings in Edinburgh and New York share the most evident similarities with the Head of a bear, as well as the same early provenance. As still evident from traces of another study in the same technique visible on the left edge of the sheet, the present drawing was cut from a larger sheet of paper, as must also be the case with the three drawings mentioned above. While A.E. Popham believed that for these animal studies on light prepared ground ‘the probabilities seem to be in favour of their belonging to Leonardo’s earlier Florentine period’, Kenneth Clark placed them later, i.e. around 1490, together with a group of studies at Windsor of the dissected paw of a bear on dark blue ground.4 This later date has mostly been followed in subsequent literature, but Carmen Bambach has recently defended a dating of the drawings in the first half of the 1480s, and indeed possibly before Leonardo’s move from Florence to Milan around 1482.5

The four sheets may have come from a sketchbook or sketchbooks in which the young artist captured a variety of poses of live animals for his own practice and to be used when working on paintings. Indeed, a broad assortment of domestic and wild species populate Leonardo’s early devotional paintings, altarpieces and portraits executed between his years in Florence and in Milan – from the ambitious Adoration of the Magi at the Uffizi, Florence, which he left unfinished in 1481 and which features an extravagant array of dogs, horses and an elephant, to the so-called Madonna of the Cat, designed in Florence in the years around 1480 but executed later by his pupils in Milan.6 Most notably, the famous portrait of Ludovico Sforza’s mistress Cecilia Gallerani of 1489-1490 in Cracow, better known as A lady with an ermine (fig. 4), prominently features a larger-than-life stoat in winter fur. As Martin Kemp was the first to remark, the ‘nearest parallel for the animal is the beautiful silverpoint drawing of a bear’s head in a private collection’, that is the study under discussion here (figs. 5, 6).7

In these early and innovative drawings, Leonardo infused a new level of realism into a longstanding tradition of animal imagery illustrating bestiaries and model books produced in Europe from the Middle Ages through the Early Renaissance. These anthologies usually depicted different specimens in an orderly and formalized manner, often in profile or three-quarter view, as for example in a work by the Florentine master Benozzo Gozzoli from the mid-1450s (fig. 7), executed shortly after Leonardo was born.8 In contrast, in the drawing presented here, Leonardo employed a silver stylus to subtly outline and model the animal’s head with gripping realism. As in the sheet in the Lehman collection, the artist explored the overall structure of the head by masterfully modulating the mark left by the metal stylus, which permits no mistakes, using more pressure in order to define the lower part of the jaw with a powerful sense of relief. With silverpoint as his only instrument, Leonardo achieved great luminosity, evoking the play of light and shade on the animal’s dense fur. But the drawing also provides visual proof of Leonardo’s deep love of animals, recalled in the biography of Leonardo by Giorgio Vasari, who noted that the artist ‘kept […] horses, in which […] he took much delight, and particularly in all other animals, which he managed with the greatest love and patience; and this he showed when often passing by the places where birds were sold, for, taking them with his own hand out of their cages, and having paid to those who sold them the price that was asked, he let them fly away into the air, restoring to them their lost liberty.’9

The bear depicted in the sheet seems so instinct with life that it gives the appearance of having been drawn from a living animal. Indeed, in early modern times bears abounded in the wild, both in Tuscany and Lombardy. Since at least the fourteenth century a small species, the ‘orsetto pistoiese’, had been the heraldic symbol of Pistoia, near Leonardo’s birthplace, and bears in various poses were often depicted in Medieval and Renaissance art from the area.10 After moving to Milan, Leonardo continued to draw and study such species, as shown by a lesser-known sketch in Leonardo’s Codex Atlanticus of circa 1490-1492 in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana (fig. 8), which represents a live example of a brown cub (Ursus arctos) licking his paws.11 Also often associated with the present drawing are four sheets at Windsor mentioned above, detailed depictions of the dissected paws of a bear, which can be rather precisely dated to Leonardo’s early Milanese years, i.e. to around 1485-1490, because of the drawing technique of metalpoint on blue or grey-blue prepared paper, characteristic of the drawings for the Sforza equestrian monument from those years.12 As recorded on a later sheet at Windsor, Leonardo was planning to include a description of the bear’s paws in an unfinished anatomical treatise.13 His interest in bears is also documented in a manuscript of 1493-1494 now in Paris, in which he copied out a short moralizing fable from the popular bestiary Fiore di Virtu' about the animal as a symbol of anger (‘of the bear it is said that when [a bear] goes to people’s houses [...] his ire becomes rage’).14

So far as is known, Leonardo never painted a bear, but he does appear to have kept his study of the bear’s head and those of a dog’s paws in Edinburgh to hand when, a few years after he made them, he was working on the fascinating creature held by Cecilia Galleriani in the picture at Cracow. As recently argued by Arturo Galansino, rather than being true preparatory studies for the animal in the Lady with an ermine, the drawings look ‘ahead to the pictorial invention of the ermine in that portrait’, and aided the artist in creating an animal which ‘with its exaggerated dimensions and partially fantastical morphology […] should be seen not as a representation of a real animal but as a symbolic presence or allegorical figure’.15 Indeed, Gallerani’s ermine may be understood as a symbol of her purity, a reference to her name (which resembles the Ancient Greek word for ermine), and as a symbol of her protector Ludovico Sforza.16 Both in his own notes and in Vasari’s biography of him, we can read how Leonardo was in the habit of creating fantastical animals based on a multitude of studies made from life, and similar use must have been made of the present drawing and the one in Edinburgh, aiding the artist better to define the structure of the ermine’s head.17

The drawing’s distinguished history can be traced back to Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830), the renowned British painter whose collection of old master drawings is considered one of the greatest ever assembled. Together with its companion now in Edinburgh, after Lawrence’s death in 1830 the sheet under discussion passed to his dealer – and major creditor – Samuel Woodburn, who sold it with Christie’s in 1860. Both sheets were later acquired by Captain Norman Robert Colville (1893-1974), who also owned Raphael’s cartoon Head of a Muse, sold in these Rooms on 8 December 2009 (lot 43). However, the inscription ‘Leonard de Vinci’, written in a small, possibly eighteenth-century cursive script at bottom left of the present drawing, implies an earlier French provenance, which can also be assumed for the Edinburgh sheet.18 First shown publicly in the winter of 1936 at the Burlington Fine Arts Club in London, and first discussed the following year by A.E. Popham, the drawing was featured in major retrospectives dedicated to Leonardo in Milan in 1939, and in London in 1952 and 2011-2012. Included by Bernard Berenson in his landmark The Drawings of the Florentine Painters, from its 1938 edition on, it has been discussed by all major Leonardo scholars, from Kenneth Clark (1937) to Martin Kemp (1989, 1991), Carlo Pedretti (1992) and, most recently, Carmen Bambach (2003, 2015, 2019).

Fig. 1. Leonardo da Vinci, Two studies of a cat and one of a dog. Silverpoint on pink-beige prepared paper, 5 3/8 x 4 in. (13.7 x 10.3 cm). British Museum, London, inv. 1895,0915.477.

Fig. 2. Leonardo da Vinci, Studies of a dog’s paw. Silverpoint on pink-beige prepared paper, 5 1/2 x 4 1/4 in. (14.1 x 10.7 cm). National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, inv. D5189.

Fig. 3. Leonardo da Vinci, A bear walking and a study of its paw. Silverpoint on pink-beige prepared paper, 4 x 5 1/4 in. (10.3 x 13.4 cm). Robert Lehman Collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, inv. 1975.1.369.

Fig. 4. Leonardo da Vinci, Portrait of Cecilia Gallerani. Oil on panel, 21 x 15 1/2 in. (53,4 x 39,3 cm). Muzeum Ksiazat Czartoryskich, Muzeum Narodowe w Krakowie, Cracow, inv. MNK XII-209.

Fig. 5. Detail of fig. 4.

Fig. 6. The drawing offered for sale.

Fig. 7. Benozzo Gozzoli, A hound chasing a hare. Pen and brown ink, traces of red chalk, heightened with white, on pink prepared paper, 2 5/8 x 4 3/8 in. (6.7 x 11.1 cm). Woodner Collection, Gift of Andrea Woodner, National Gallery of Art, inv. 2006.11.61.

Fig. 8. Leonardo da Vinci, Studies of weaponry, a tower and a bear cub. Pen and different shades of brown ink, 9 1/2 x 5 3/4 in. (24 x 14.7 cm). Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan, Codex Atlanticus, fol. 977 verso.

1. Bambach, op. cit., 2003, no. 41, ill.; Bambach, op. cit., 2019, I, p. 275, fig. 3.87.
2. Weston-Lewis, op. cit., no. 1, ill.; Bambach, op. cit., 2003, no. 42, ill.
3. Bambach, op. cit., no. 43, ill.; C.C. Bambach in Marani and Fiorio, op. cit., no. II.6, ill.; Bambach, op. cit., 2019, I, p. 276, fig. 3.90.
4. Popham, op. cit., 1949, p. 55; Clark, op. cit., 1939, p. 78. Martin Kemp (in exhib. cat., London, op. cit., 1989, p. 96) even suggests ‘it may have been executed as late as c. 1495’. For the drawings of the dissected bear’s paw, see K. Clark, with C. Pedretti, The Drawings of Leonardo da Vinci in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen at Windsor Castle, second edition, London, 1969, I, nos. 12372-12375, II, ill.; and M. Clayton, Leonardo da Vinci. A Life in Drawing, London, 2019, no. 36, ill.
5. Bambach, op. cit., 2003, p. 360, under no. 43; Bambach, op. cit., 2019, I, pp. 263, 266, 269, 274-275, 277.
6. Bambach, op. cit., 2003, pp. 290-292, under no. 18; Bambach, op. cit., 2019, I, pp. 215-223, 242-274.
7. For the painting, see L. Syson in exhib. cat., London, op. cit., 2011-2012, no. 10, ill.; and Bambach, op. cit., 2019, I, pp. 349, 357-358, figs. 4.28, 4.30. For the connection between the drawing and the painting, see M. Kemp in Levenson, op. cit., 1991, p. 272, under no. 170; and A. Galansino in exhib. cat., London, 2011-2012, pp. 32-33.
8. L.B. Kanter in The Touch of the Artist. Master Drawings from the Woodner Collections, exhib. cat., Washington, National Gallery of Art, 1995-1996, no. 6, ill. For other examples from the same period by Maso Finiguerra, see L. Melli, Maso Finiguerra. I disegni, Florence, 1995, nos. 1-14, figs. 1-18.
9. G. Vasari, Le Vite de’ piu eccelenti pittori, scultori e architettori, Florence, 1568, III, part 1, p. 3: ‘si diletto' molto, e particularmente di tutti gl’altri animali, i quali con grandissimo amore, e pacienza governava. Et mostrollo, che spesso passando da i luoghi, dove si vendevano uccelli, di sua mano cavandoli di gabbia, e pagatogli a chi li vendeva, il prezzo, che n’era chiesto, li lasciava in aria a volo, restituendoli la perduta liberta'’. The translation by Gaston du C. de Vere is quoted after G. Vasari, Lives of the Painters, Sculptors and Architects, New York, 1996, I, p. 627.
10. Bambach, op. cit., 2019, I, p. 276, IV, p. 127.
11. F. Rinaldi in Rinaldi and Marani, op. cit., pp. 32-33, no. 977v, ill.
12. See note 4.
13. Royal Library, Windsor Castle, inv. RL 19061 recto (Bambach, op. cit., 2019, I, p. 277).
14. Institut de France, Paris, ms. H, fol. 6 recto: ‘ira/dellorso sidece che qua[n]do va alle case [...] sua ira si co[n]uerte in rabbia’ (quoted from Bambach, op. cit., 2019, I, p. 276).
15. A. Galansino in exhib. cat., London, 2011-2012, p. 120, under nos. 14-15.
16. L. Syson ibid., p. 111.
17. A. Galansino ibid., p. 120, n. 5; Vasari, op. cit., 1568, III, part 1, p. 4.
18. Weston-Lewis, op. cit., p. 14. It does not seem certain (pace ibid., p. 172, n. 1) that the handwriting of the inscriptions on the two drawings (which were, incidentally, sold together in the 1860 sale) is the same, but both inscriptions do use the French form of the artist’s name.

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