This study by Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) is drawn in metalpoint, specifically silverpoint, a popular medium with early Renaissance artists. It is most suitable for detailed and careful drawings. Metalpoint was a good method of training young apprentice artists as it required control and discipline. Here, the silverpoint line, which has turned grey in the atmosphere, is thin and delicate. The detail is extraordinary: the armour, the curls in his hair and the splendid elaborate helmet are even exceeded by the modelling of the man’s face and the lion on his breastplate. Endless patience must have been required of the young Leonardo to produce the very fine shadows of the man’s face, each a separate line.
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– 1492), as gifts to the king of Hungary. This drawing is probably based on one of these lost works by Verrocchio.
See this magnificent work in the exhibition Drawing in silver and gold:
Leonardo to Jasper Johns (10 September – 6 December 2015).