Height: 130.000 mm
Width: 94.000 mm
PD 1856-6-21-1 recto
Prints and Drawings
Leonardo da Vinci, Virgin and Child with Cat, a drawing
Florence, Italy, around AD 1478-81
The drawing shows the seated Virgin holding the Christ Child on her right knee. The Child in turn grasps a cat which struggles to escape. The forms twist and turn within the space defined by the thin line of an arch. The moving figures form a triangle or pyramid, in a geometrical composition that is typical of Leonardo. At the top left of the sheet, the outline of a clock suggests that the sketch was a study for the Virgin and Child in a domestic setting.
This sheet shows how Leonardo rapidly developed his compositional ideas. First he drew the Virgin's head in the centre, tracing through the thin paper from a similar composition on the reverse of the sheet. Leonardo then placed the Virgin's head looking out to the left. Finally, he settled on the Virgin looking down to the right, to balance the heads of the Christ Child and the cat who face left. He then painted a thin brown wash over the final composition and strengthened his figures with thicker lines.
Leonardo made a number of drawings of this theme, but no painting of the Virgin and Child with Cat survives. Instead, the geometry and balance of the composition and sense of movement became characteristic of his High Renaissance style.
A.E. Popham and P. Pouncey, Italian drawings in the Depa-5 (London, The British Museum Press, 1950)
M. Kemp and J. Roberts, Leonardo da Vinci (Hayward Gallery, London, 1989)
J. Rowlands, Master drawings and watercolou (London, The British Museum Press, 1984)