Studies for Hercules Holding a Club Seen in Frontal View, Male Nude Unsheathing a Sword, and the Movements of Water (Recto); Study for Hercules Holding a Club Seen in Rear View (Verso)

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci (Italian, Vinci 1452–1519 Amboise)

Date: ca. 1506–8

Medium: Pen and brown ink; soft black chalk or charcoal (recto); soft black chalk or charcoal (verso)

Dimensions: 5-3/8 x 5-1/2 in. (13.7 x 14 cm)

Classification: Drawings

Credit Line: Purchase, Florence B. Selden Bequest and Rogers Fund, and Promised Gift of Leon D. and Debra R. Black, 2000

Accession Number: 2000.328a, b


Discovered at auction in 2000, this double-sided sheet vividly illustrates the parallel paths of Leonardo's artistic and scientific genius. The three sketches of currents of water swirling around obstacles recall motifs in Leonardo's notebooks of about 1508. Below is a three-quarter view of the currents by a bridge, and to the right is a sketch of a slender nude man unsheathing a sword. At bottom right is a magnificent sketch of a muscular, nude Hercules holding a club; on the verso, the same figure is seen from the rear, indicating that Leonardo intended these figures for a sculpture. While the figure was inspired by classical sculpture, of the Hercules Resting type by Lysippus, in representing Hercules holding the club horizontally Leonardo reinvented the classical hero as an image of preparedness, not unlike the symbolic allusion to civic vigilance that is evoked in Michelangelo's David (Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence) of about 1501–4. In view of the close professional interaction between the two artists at that time, it is likely that Leonardo conceived his Hercules sculpture in competition with the younger artist.