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Watercolour - Sour orange

Sour orange

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Rome (painted)

  • Date:

    ca. 1640 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Leonardi, Vincenzo (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Watercolour and bodycolour, with gum heightening, over black chalk

  • Credit Line:

    Purchased with support from the Gaster Fund and the American Friends of the V&A through the generosity of Mr and Mrs Moross

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This watercolour is part of the 'Paper Museum' assembled by the 17th-century Roman antiquarian and collector Cassiano dal Pozzo (1588-1657). This was a vast visual encyclopaedia of the ancient and natural worlds, consisting of thousands of drawings and prints. Of roughly 7000 surviving drawings from the Paper Museum, around 2500 are of natural history subjects, including fruit and plants.

Cassiano was a member of Europe's first modern scientific academy, the prestigious Accademia dei Lincei, established in Rome in 1603 - half a century before either the Royal Society in London or the Académie des Sciences in Paris. The Accademia, which numbered Galileo amongst its members, placed great emphasis on observation as the key to unravelling the mysteries of nature.

For his Paper Museum Cassiano commissioned artists to make drawings directly from specimens; the resulting works were intended to be clear and objective scientific records. Little is known about these artists, due to the documentary bias of the visual encyclopaedia. However, many of the drawings are attributed on stylistic grounds to Vincenzo Leonardi, who was often employed by Cassiano.

The way in which the orange is depicted here, with the fruit shown both whole and halved, is typical of the representation of natural specimens in the Paper Museum. An engraving was made after this drawing and published in 1646 in the Hesperides by Giovanni Battista Ferrari, a treatise on the cultivation of citrus fruit. The scroll which is indicated in black chalk on the drawing was probably added in the printmaker's workshop; in the engraving it is inscribed with the name of the species.

Physical description

Watercolour of a whole orange with leaves and flowers attached, and half orange in bottom right-hand corner.

Place of Origin

Rome (painted)


ca. 1640 (painted)


Leonardi, Vincenzo (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Watercolour and bodycolour, with gum heightening, over black chalk

Marks and inscriptions

Pen and ink inscription at bottom right


Height: 29 cm, Width: 18.8 cm

Object history note

Commissioned by Cassiano dal Pozzo; from whose heirs purchased by Pope Clement XI, 1703; his nephew, Alessandro Albani, 1714; from whom purchased by George III, 1762; by descent to George V. Sold, with many other drawings from the Paper Museum, from the Royal Library at Windsor Castle in the 1920s.

The London dealer Jacob Mendelson acquired many of these works and sold a large group to Sir Rex Nan Kivell who was then a partner in the Redfern Galleries. The art dealer Peter Cochrane had worked at the Redfern Galleries in the 1930s and knew Nan Kivell, from whom he presumably acquired this watercolour in the early 1950s.

Purchased from the estate of Peter Cochrane with E.426-2009 and E.428-2009, 2009.

Descriptive line

Watercolour of a sour orange attributed to Vincenzo Leonardi (fl.1621-46) from the 'Paper Museum' of Cassiano dal Pozzo; ca. 1640

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

David Freedberg and Enrico Baldini, The Paper Museum of Cassiano dal Pozzo: Citrus Fruit (London: The Royal Collection in association with Harvey Miller Publishers, 1997), no. 31

Labels and date

Probably by Vincenzo Leonardi active 1621-46
Seville Orange (Citrus aurantium L.)
About 1640

This drawing is from Cassiano dal Pozzo’s ‘paper museum’, a vast visual encyclopedia consisting of drawings and prints. Around 2500 images are of natural history subjects including fruit and plants. Dal Pozzo arranged for engravings to be made of his citrus drawings for Giovanni Battista Ferrari’s treatise on citrus cultivation, which attempted to classify the species.

Watercolour and bodycolour
Purchased with support from the Gaster Fund and the American Friends of the V&A through the generosity of Mr and Mrs Moross
V&A: E.427-2009 [2011]


Watercolour; Bodycolour; Black chalk


Drawn; Painted

Subjects depicted

Orange tree; Encyclopaedia; Orange blossom; Orange (fruit)




Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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