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


Drawn by Leonardo da Vinci, the recto of this sheet portrays a small circular sketch, possibly intended for a medal. It is rendered with quick, reinforced outlines that are full of movement. The delicate horizontal parallel hatching is typical of Leonardo's drawings from the first half of the 1490s. As Leonardo writes in the long note above the circular scene, the sketch portrays a man sleeping by a tree, while to his right, a green lizard ("ramarro") loyally attempts to overcome a grass snake ("biscia") that threatens him. This fable, or moralizing story, on the lizard and the sleeping man is probably to be interpreted as an allegory on the virtues of fidelity, alertness, and protectiveness. It derives from the tradition of medieval bestiaries and Leonardo's close reading of Pliny the Elder's 'Naturalis historia' (first century A.D.).
Leonardo produced the verso of this sheet for the staging of a musical comedy in rhyme, entitled 'La Danae', on January 31, 1496. The comedy in five acts was written by Baldassare Taccone, chancellor to Ludovico Sforza ("Il Moro"), ruler of Milan, and was performed in Milan at the house of Gian Francesco Sanseverino (count of Carazzo), captain of the Sforza army. The list of names on the upper left quadrant of the sheet neatly identifies the actors for the roles in the performance, in columns right to left. (Leonardo wrote from right to left, in "mirror-writing," as a practical adaptation to his left-handedness.) Acrisius, king of Argos and the father of Danae, was to be played by Gian Cristofano (presumably, the sculptor Gian Cristoforo Romano), the gardener Sirus by Taccone (the playwright himself), while Danae, the headstrong princess and main character, was to be acted by a man (not unusual for the time), a certain Francesco Romano. The god Mercury, who was to descend from Olympus cleverly hoisted from a rope and pulley, was to be played by Gian Battista da Osimo. The lecherous god Jupiter, who shrewdly transformed himself into a rain of gold to impregnate Danae, was to be portrayed by Gian Francesco Tantio, a well-known literary figure of the day. The piece also included roles for a servant and for at least one "heavenly messenger" ("l'annunziatore"). Leonardo produced a floor plan of the stage setting with two perspectival elevation sketches (at center). In the perspectival elevation sketch on the left, the figure seen seated on a throne surrounded by an aureole of flames can be identified with Jupiter, the seducer of Danae, and the flanking figures represent other gods, for according to the play, "beautiful sky became visible, with Jupiter and the other gods, lit by an infinite number of lamps like stars." The barrel vault of the theatrical space was transformed to accommodate ingenious lighting machinery.