Leonardo’s warrior


Bust of a warrior in profile (c. 1475–80) by Leonardo da Vinci.

A recent interview question reminded me of this splendid Leonardo piece when I was discussing early artistic influences. One crucial influence for me was the example of my mother who’d been an art student during the 1950s specialising in ceramics and textile design. From an early age I was fascinated by her student sketchbooks, and by one drawing in particular, a very careful copy of this work by the young Leonardo. The British Museum has the original, about which they tell us:

The drawing shows Leonardo studying the art of his teacher, Andrea Verrocchio. Giorgio Vasari’s biography of Verrocchio in his Lives of the Artists (1550 and 1568) mentions two metal reliefs with profile portraits of Alexander the Great, leader of the Greeks, and Darius, the Persian king. They were sent by Lorenzo ‘il Magnifico’ (‘the Magnificent’) de’ Medici, ruler of Florence (1469–92), as gifts to the king of Hungary. This drawing is probably based on one of these lost works by Verrocchio.


Casque d’apparat (1981) by Erik Desmazières.

Memories of the Leonardo drawing always follow the exaggerated logic of childhood and inflate its splendour and detail; I’d never seen anything like it and for years used to hope that Leonardo had produced many similar works. He hadn’t, of course, so it’s to other artists we have to turn for more of the same. French artist Erik Desmazières has produced a number of etchings depicting elaborately helmeted figures which are perhaps inspired by Leonardo’s warrior. Of the three in Imaginary Places, a 2007 collection of his work, the one above is my favourite. I have a feeling I’ve seen derivations by other artists but nothing is coming to mind. As usual, if anyone knows of further examples, please leave a comment. Elsewhere there’s Leonardo’s Diary (1972), a short film by Jan Svankmajer in which the haughty figure is subject to some typical Svankmajerian distortions.

• See also: Erik Desmazières at the Fitch-Febvrel Gallery.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Les lieux imaginaires d’Erik Desmazières
Jan Svankmajer: The Complete Short Films
The art of Erik Desmazières

7 thoughts on “Leonardo’s warrior”

  1. I have that paperback in a box somewhere. I used to think the cover was by Brian Froud but now I reckon it’s more likely to be Alan Lee, the artist who helped design the Lord of the Rings films. Froud and Lee have very similar watercolour styles and once collaborated on a book of fairy art.

  2. Alan Lee, that makes a lot of sense. I’ve probably knocked this entry off course a bit but thanks for potentially solving a 16-year old conundrum in my life.

  3. As it happens I nearly mentioned that the Desmazières picture would suit a Moorcock cover so it’s not really a straying from the topic. I’ve been wondering whether the circles on the wings of the Leonardo helmet are a reference to Uccello’s painting of St George or whether this was a general convention of the period.


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