Leonardo da Vinci (Italian, 1452–1519)
Pen and brown ink, over black chalk
4 5/8 x 2 1/16 in. (11.7 x 5.2 cm); edges of sheet torn irregularly; lined
Rogers Fund, 1909 (10.45.1)
In this profile of an old man with sharply aquiline nose, downslanted mouth, and knotted brow, Leonardo has brought the "ideal" head almost to the limits of the grotesque. It is not likely that this is a portrait or caricature; it is more probably a conscious recollection of the ideal portrait of Darius by Leonardo's master, Verrocchio. Verrocchio's relief, sent by Lorenzo the Magnificent to the king of Hungary, is now lost, but the profile is recorded in a Della Robbia workshop terracotta relief in Berlin. A highly finished early drawing by Leonardo in the British Museum must have been directly inspired by the original Verrocchio relief. Popham dated the British Museum drawing about 1480, and placed the Metropolitan's sketch, where the powerful features of the imaginary Darius are recorded in a more schematized fashion, about 1490. Leonardo's truly grotesque heads, exaggerated works of pure fantasy, were, on the whole, done a good deal later in his career.