Skip to content

Leda and the Swan


The fashionable subject of Leda and the Swan was the subject of two compositions by Leonardo da Vinci from perhaps 1503-10. Neither survive as paintings by Leonardo, but there are a number of drawings for both by him, and copies in oils, especially of the second composition, where Leda stands.

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 by Leonardo exist:

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 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, 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


No comments avaliable.



Published in 10/08/2018

Updated in 19/02/2021

All events in the topic Lost Works:

10/01/1478San Bernardo Altarpiece
15031510Leda and the SwanLeda and the Swan
15101513Angel of the AnnunciationAngel of the Annunciation