Exhibitions/ Art Object
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Allegory on the Fidelity of the Lizard (recto); Design for a Stage Setting (verso)

Artist:
Leonardo da Vinci (Italian, Vinci 1452–1519 Amboise)
Date:
1496
Medium:
Pen and brown ink (recto and verso)
Dimensions:
7 15/16 x 5 1/4in. (20.2 x 13.3cm)
Classification:
Drawings
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1917
Accession Number:
17.142.2
Not on view
The exquisite small sketch of a tondo on the recto of the Metropolitan sheet was undoubtedly intended for a medal on a theatrical costume, therefore perhaps related in theme to the verso sketches for the staging of Baldassare Taccone’s La Danae or another festa. In its type of design and drawing style, the recto drawing on the Metropolitan sheet is closely comparable to two other sheets with small allegorical scenes inscribed within a tondo shape, one in Cambridge (Fitzwilliam Museum inv. PD.120-1961) and the other in Bayonne (Musée Bonnat inv. 656); all three sheets are rendered with the same style of quick, reinforced outlines and delicate parallel-hatching typical of Leonardo’s drawings of the early to mid-1490s, and can be placed close enough to ca. 1496, as a terminus ante quem, based on the verso of the Metropolitan sheet with the Danae sketches.

As Leonardo explained at the top in the accompanying inscription on the recto of the Metropolitan sheet, the sketch portrays a man sleeping by a tree, while to his right, a green lizard, or “ramarro,” loyally attempts to overcome a grass snake (“biscia”) that threatens him: ““il ramarro . fedele allomo vede[n]do quello adorme[n]/tato . co[n] batte . cholla bisscia esse vede no[n]lla potere / vincere core sopra il uolto dello mo . ello dessta accioche / essa . bisscia no no ffenda loadorme[n]tato . homo.” The specific fable of the lizard and the sleeping man (though no other allusions to it exist in Leonardo’s notes) may be interpreted as an allegory on the virtue of fidelity, which is often defined by the attendant qualities of alertness and protectiveness. Cranes are described by Leonardo (Paris MS H, fol. 9r = H1, fol. 9r), as analogous examples of “fedeltà over lialtà,” an idea he closely reprised from an edition of the popular, printed Fior di virtù. Such visual imagery of animal fables and allegorical compositions inspired Leonardo’s work during the very late 1480s and 1490s, in reading Aesop’s fables, Medieval bestiaries, and Pliny the Elder’s Naturalis historia, together with two very popular books of his day, Cecco d’Ascoli’s L’Acerba and the anonymous Fior di virtù, editions of which were printed in Venice in 1471, 1474, 1477, 1488, 1491, and later. Leonardo himself had owned exemplars of these books by the mid-1490s (see inventories in Codex Atlanticus, fol. 559r, of ca. 1493-95; and Codex Madrid II (inv. 8936, fol. 3r-2v), of ca. 1503-5: “plinjo,” “fiore de uirtu,” and “ciecho dasscholj”). He also copied passages from Pliny, Cecco d’Ascoli, and the anonymous Fior di virtù, sometimes almost verbatim, into the Paris MS H1 (fols. 5r-27v), of ca. 1493-94 (cfr. Marinoni 1986-90, MS H; Pietro C. Marani in Marinoni 1986, p. 141).

The verso of the Metropolitan Museum sheet depicts sketches and notes intended for the staging of the musical comedy in rhyme, La Danae, on 31 January 1496. This comedy in five acts was written by Baldassare Taccone, chancellor to “Il Moro” and an amateur playwright himself; La Danae was performed at the house of Giovan Francesco Sanseverino, the count of Caiazzo and elder brother of Galeazzo. Based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Book 4:611), the story line of the play follows the travails of Danae, daughter of Acrisius, king of Argos, seduced by Jupiter disguised in the form of a shower of gold, and eventually transformed into a star, hoisted into heaven. Taccone’s text establishes the precise date of Leonardo’s sheet, although the drawing on the recto may possibly be somewhat earlier, to judge from its affinity of subject matter with the bestiary notes of the Paris MS H, which firmly dates to ca. 1493-94. The verso of the Metropolitan sheet depicts a quick, working sketch of the actual design for the staging of the piece, drawn “con brevi segni,” as counseled in Leonardo’s note (Paris MS A, inv. 2185, fol. 27v), of ca. 1490-92.

At upper left, a list of names, including that of Danae, identifies the actors for the roles in the performance. As is usual for Leonardo, the sense of his notes is from right to left, so that the numbers and fractions indicating measurements for the positioning of each actor on stage precedes his name; it is possible that the Danae was staged on a moving platform, operated by machinery, which would have required a precise placement of the actors. The sketches render the stage design in an elevation, a plan, and a “bird’s eye view.” According to Leonardo's note on the verso of the Metropolitan sheet, Acrisius, king of Argos and the father of Danae, was to be played by Gian Cristofano, the gardener Sirus by Baldassare Taccone, while Danae, the headstrong princess and main character, was to be acted by a young man (not unusual for the time), Francesco Romano. The god Mercury, who was to descend from Olympus hoisted from a rope and pulley, was to be played by Gian Battista da Osimo. The lecherous god Jupiter, who transformed himself into a shower of gold to impregnate Danae, was to be portrayed by Gian Francesco Tanzio. The piece also included roles for a servant and for at least one “heavenly messenger” (“annuntiatore”). In the elevation sketch at left, the enthroned figure surrounded by an aureole of flames is Jupiter, the seducer of Danae.
(Carmen C. Bambach, 2015)
Inscription: Recto inscribed toward the center of the upper border in pen and medium brown ink by Leonardo, script reading from right to left:
ilramarro . fedele allomo vede[n]do quello adorme[n] / tato . co[n] batte . cholla bisscia esse vede no[n]lla potere / vincere core sopra ilvolto dello mo . ello dessta accioche / essa . bisscia nonoffenda loadorme[n]tato . homo [paraph]
(The lizard faithful to man, seeing him asleep, fights with the snake, and as he [the lizard] sees that [he] cannot conquer her [the snake], he [the lizard] runs over the face of the man to wake him so that the snake may not harm the sleeping man).

Verso inscribed on the upper left quadrant in pen and medium brown ink by Leonardo, scribt reading from right to left, but with numbered fractions reading left to right:
6 ¾ _____ . 2 . 4 ¾ acrissio gia[n]cristofano / 13 ¼ ______acriso_____ 1 . 1¼ . 3 . 2 . ¾ [reworked and fraction separated with a long line from numbers below] . 1 . 2 siro tacho[n] / 15 _____ 2 1/3 . 1 . 8 . 3 ¼ danae francº romano / 14 _____ 1 . 1 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 2 merchurio . gianbatista da osimo [or, daossmo] / 8 _____ 2 . 1 . 2 . 2 giove gia[n]francº tantio / 1/3 servo [cancelled, piac] . / anu[n]tiatore [annuntiatore] dellafesta / + [or possibly, a faded 4] i quali si miaravigliano / della nova stella essinginochiano / e quella adorano essingino / chiano e co[n] musicha finisscha / no la fessta _____ / annv[tia]tore 3.
Transcription by Carmen C. Bambach, 2003 revised 2015.

Compare Jean Paul Richter, The Literary Works of Leonardo da Vinci (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1939), 1:392-93, no. 705A (verso), and 2:276, no. 1264A (recto); and Carlo Pedretti, The Literary Works of Leonardo da Vinci: Commentary (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1977), 1:402, no. 705A (verso) and 2:265, no. 1264A (recto).

Marking: Metropolitan Museum of Art stamp removed from the left lower border of the recto and verso in February 1969. When the original negative was made in 1917 (37139 tf B and 37133 ff A) the stamp had not yet been applied. The stamp was applied sometime before 1963, and removed before April, 1979, when the verso negative 215349 was made.
Jacques Guillaume Legrand (French, Paris 1743–1807)(French, 1743-1807/8), may have produced the page in the "Album Amicorum" style dedicated to Joseph Allen Smith and the description of the mount is as follows: Pen and medium-brown ink on blue-gray laid paper, 10-1/16 x 8-15/16 in. (25.6 x 22.8 cm), maximum sheet, irregular borders; the watermark along left border of recto too cropped for identification, and originally containing the double-sided drawing by Leonardo da Vinci and a small drawn copy by a follower of Leonardo. Inscribed: [Recto] Souvenir d'amitié / a j. allen Smith / par j. G. Legrand [paraph] en floréal an 9 [i.e., 21 April to 20 May of the year 1801 in the republican calendar]. / Leonardo né au chateau de Vinci près de florence vers 1443 / ou / 1445 / mort a fontainebleau agé de 75 ans. [cancelled, dans les bras de . . . ]en 1518 / ou / 1520 / il fut eleve d'andré verrochio [sic, Andrea Verrochio] et devint chef de / l'ecole florentine [.] Michel ange et raphael etudierent / sur ses cartons. il cultiva la poesie, la Musique, l'architecture, / la sculpture, l'anatomie etc.a. / fut savant dans les Mathematiques qu'il appliqua comme /ingenieur à la Mechanique à lhydraulique. fit un excellent / traité sur la peinture. / il porta au plus haut degré le dessin, la grace et l'expression. / ses eleves les plus connus sont / andré salaino au salai / antonio bottrafio [sic, Boltraffio] / marco uggioni [sic, Marco d'Oggiono] / caesar sisto [sic, Cesare da Sesto] / paul lomazzo [Gian Paolo Lomazzo]. (Transcribed with the assistance of Emilie de Thonel d'Orgeix). [Verso:] de la main de Leonardo da vinci / notice. / l'ecriture est a / guche, et doit se / lire dans une glace / Parmegianio.; Joseph Allen Smith (London and Charleston, South Carolina)(acquired from Legrand - annotation on old mount); Possibly Thomas Sully (American, Horncastle, Lincolnshire 1783–1872 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)- A letter by Bryson Burroughs to Bernard Berenson on 26 April 1918 (that is, a year and a half after the acquisition of the drawings) states that the drawings (as well as another by Leonardo discussed later in the text) were bought from Thomas Nash, Esquire, and that they belonged to Thomas Sully, the portrait painter (Archive of the Department of Drawings and Prints, the Metropolitan Museum of Art). For earlier versions of the provenance, corrected here, see Bryson Burroughs, "Drawings by Leonardo da Vinci on Exhibition," Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 13 (1918): 214-17 and Jacob Bean (with the assistance of Lawrence Tucic), 15th and 16th Century Italian Drawings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1982), pp. 116-18, no. 108.; Possibly Francis T. S. Darley (1833–1914), by inheritance; Thomas Nash (New York, 1861–1926), by inheritance
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