Studies of nature
by LEONARDO da Vinci

Pure depictions of landscape, in other words of depicting directly observed nature, were a complete novelty during Leonardo's time. While imitating nature was the central task of artists at the time, none of them had until then been so rigorous as to go out into the open and draw an actual landscape. Instead, it was customary to create a landscape in the workshop with the aid of sketches or elements copied from models. The landscape was seen as an accessory designed to support the central subject in compositions of the time, the human figure. Thus Leonardo's drawings depicting real Italian landscapes are of great importance.

During classical times, plants were studied mainly because of their healing powers, but during the Christian Middle Ages a symbolic dimension was added to it. (For example, the lily appears as a symbol of the purity of Mary in paintings of the Annunciation.) In his early paintings Leonardo also used symbolic plants to extend the visual syntax. In the 1490s his awakened interest in anatomy and proportion, visible in his studies of horses, altered fundamentally his study of botany. In order to understand the process of genesis and growth, Leonardo moved his attention from the appearance of the shape and began to investigate the influences on plants of light, earth and water. He grew to realize the importance of water for the nutrition of plants and was able to explain the various shapes of roots in terms of the varying capacity of soils to store water.

Preview Picture Data Info
Landscape drawing for Santa Maria della Neve on 5th August 1473
Pen and ink, 190 x 285 mm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Cavern with ducks
Pen and ink on paper, 220 x 158 mm
Royal Library, Windsor

Storm over a landscape
c. 1500
Red chalk on paper, 200 x 150 mm
Royal Library, Windsor

Landscape near Pisa
Red chalk on paper, 211 x 150 mm
Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid

Deluge over a city
Black chalk on paper, 163 x 210 mm
Royal Library, Windsor

Natural disaster
Black chalk, pen and ink on paper, 162 x 203 mm
Royal Library, Windsor

Lily (detail)
Pe and ink, black chalk on paper, 314 x 177 mm
Royal Library, Windsor

Fruit, vegetables and other studies
Pen and ink on paper, 235 x 176 mm
Institut de France, Paris

Star of Bethlehem and other plants
Pen and ink over red chalk on paper, 198 x 160 mm
Royal Library, Windsor

Birch copse
c. 1500
Red chalk on paper, 193 x 153 mm
Royal Library, Windsor

Study of horses
c. 1490
Silverpoint on prepared paper, 250 x 187 mm
Royal Library, Windsor

Study of horses
Red chalk on paper
Royal Library, Windsor

Study sheet with horses
Pen, ink, black chalk on paper, 298 x 212 mm
Royal Library, Windsor

Codex on the flight of birds
Pen and ink on paper, 210 x 150 mm
Biblioteca Reale, Turin

Study sheet with cats, dragon and other animals
Pen, ink, black chalk on paper, 271 x 204 mm
Royal Library, Windsor

Studies of a Bear Walking
Metalpoint on pink-light brown prepared paper, 103 x 134 mm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Studies of crabs
Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne

Flower study
Metalpoint, pen and ink on slightly brownish paper, 183 x 201 mm
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice

Summary of works by Leonardo
early work | in the 1480s | in the 1490s | late work | copies
Studies to paintings
Battle of Anghiari | studies (1) | studies (2) | heads | various
Other studies
anatomy | nature | engineering | maps | architecture | sculpture

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.