Leda and the Swan paintings.
Wilton house version is possibly the closest to Leonardo’s lost painting the
head of Leda is very close to a sketch of Leonardo’s especially in the complex
hairstyle including the wayward strands of hair. Also, the star of Bethlehem
plant at the bottom right is again a close match to a Leonardo sketch of the same
plant. The rocky background is also reminiscent of many similar style
backgrounds that feature in Leonardo’s paintings.
painting by a follower of Leonardo contains only two of the four children that
feature in other versions. The children, who hold flowers meet the gaze of
their mother as they are accompanied by curious birds in a landscape that
recedes over a bridge to a building overlooked by a rocky backdrop.
Leonardo’s sketches were made as early as 1504 and
show Leda in a kneeling position with one arm around the swan. He also made two
cartoons one showing Leda crouching and the other standing. Sadly the cartoons
like the painting are unfortunately lost. From the early sketches it can be
seen how advanced the composition for a kneeling Leda had become, Leonardo only
settled on a standing figure in around 1508. All of Leonardo’s works were much
admired by his contemporaries, Raphael made a copy of the standing Leda from
Leonardo’s cartoon and the painting has been copied several times.
Leda and her Children by the Italian artist Giampietrino are different from other copies. The swan is
excluded completely from the composition and Leda is kneeling in a position
similar to Leonardo’s sketches. Leda holds one of her children in her arms while
the three infants at her feet have recently emerged from their shells. In Giovanni Francesco Melzi’s version of Leda and
the Swan Leda is framed by a rocky formation with the suggestion of a dark
cave-like structure that contrasts with her head and upper body. Her
four children have broken free from their eggshells as they look towards their
mother. Leda holds a sprig of flowers as she embraces the swan.
Leda and the Swan is an erotic tale
of the all-powerful Zeus using his status to feed his desires and passions,
something that he exercised on many occasions generally disguised as an animal.
The mythological story would serve as an inspiration to the equally powerful Dukes
and Renaissance men of wealth who frequently indulged in affairs with the ladies
in waiting within their households. However, Leonardo’s vision does not display
the act of lust which is a feature of some versions of the story instead he has
chosen to emphasise the loving nature between Leda, her children, and her
lover. Even so, Leonardo has retained a clear sense of eroticism within his wonderful
composition, a balance between love and lust.