Drawings discovered on back of Leonardo’s Saint Anne

18/12/08 — Discovery — Paris, Musée du Louvre — During a recent removal of The Virgin with the Child Jesus and Saint Anne for examination by the C2RMF, Sylvain Laveissière, général curator at the Département des peintures at the Louvre noticed the presence of drawings on the back of the panel (ill. 1). It turns out that in fact there are three discernible figures : a head of a horse (ill. 2), a skull (or rather half of one) and, more faintly, a Child Jesus with a lamb.

1. Back of panel of The Virgin with the Child Jesus and
Saint Anne
by Leonardo da Vinci
Seen with infra-red reflectography

2. Detail of the infra-red reflectography of the head of a horse
Back of panel of The Virgin with the Child Jesus and
Saint Anne

Size of this drawing : about 18 x 10 cm
Photo : C2RMF E. Lambert

3. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1510)
Head of a Horse (detail of a drawing)
Pen and brown ink, wash -
19.4 x 12.3 cm (size of the sheet)
Paris, Musée du Louvre, collection Rothschild
Photo : RMN

These drawings, executed in a dry matter (black chalk or charcoal pencil) had been totally overlooked as they are difficult to see for the naked eye. However, infra-red reflectography reveals them rather clearly.
The museum remains cautious as to their attribution : whether they are by Leonardo himself or not. This hypothesis seems likely since the style is comparable to that of acknowledged works by the artist. The head of the horse in particular shows many points of comparison (. 3).

A study and information day open to the public which will be devoted to the current status of research under way on Leonardo da Vinci will be organized by the Musée du Louvre and the C2RMF-CNRS in June of 2009.

Version française

Didier Rykner, jeudi 18 décembre 2008

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