Treasures from Chatsworth

Treasure of the Week: Leonardo da Vinci's 'Leda and the Swan'

New York
The Devonshire Collection encompasses thousands of objects that have been carefully collected over 500 years. Because of this extraordinary breadth, choosing the 43 pieces that would travel to Sotheby's New York as part of the Treasures from Chatsworth exhibition was a challenging feat. Spotlighted here is a prize of the collection: Leonardo da Vinci's renowned drawing, Leda and the Swan.
"Whenever an artist comes to visit Chatsworth as our guest, the first thing they want to do is look at the Old Master Drawings and it is often difficult to drag them away to get on with whatever they were here to do."
- Duke of Devonshire

This is certainly the case when it comes to this week's treasure from Chatsworth, Leonardo da Vinci's drawing Leda and the Swan. Composed on paper with pen and brown ink, with a brown wash over black chalk, the drawing is both magnificent and delicate. At more than 500 years old, the drawing stands as a testament to one of the greatest artists of all time.

Leonardo da Vinci, Leda and the Swan, circa 1503-07, on display at Sotheby's New York.

Art historians believe the artist completed the drawing as a study for a painting, which was never executed. Chatsworth has a remarkable collection of Old Master Drawings in a range of subjects and styles, from working figure and composition studies by Renaissance masters including da Vinci to designs for prints and natural history illustrations.

In 17th century England, collecting such Old Master works was generally confined to members of the royal court, aristocracy and artists. In the 1680s, the Chatsworth collection was bolstered by the 1st Duke of Devonshire, who bought drawings at the auction of English court portraitist Sir Peter Lely; his drawings collection was considered the finest in Europe. However, Chatsworth's most significant collector of Old Master Drawings was the 1st Duke's son, the 2nd Duke of Devonshire.

The Old Master Drawings Cabinet at Chatsworth House.

The younger duke had an eye for spotting valuable works of art, and succeeded in greatly enlarging the collection. Many of the works he purchased remain in the collection The Devonshire Collection to this day.

A close-up shot of da Vinci's Leda and the Swan.

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