Leda and the Swan
- Place of origin:
ca. 1535 (carved)
Ammanati, Bartolomeo, born 1511 - died 1592 (sculptor)
- Materials and Techniques:
- Credit Line:
Purchased by the John Webb Trust
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Medieval & Renaissance, Room 62, The Foyle Foundation Gallery, case FS
This group was bought in Florence in 1865 by the British painter Sir John Everett Millais. It was originally said to be by Michelangelo, however since it's arrival in Britain, and it's acquisition by the V&A in 1937, the attribution has been discussed at length without definite conclusion. In mythology, Leda was taken by the swan, who was Zeus in disguise, and is said to have given birth to Helen as a result. The left leg of Leda and the wings of the swan have been left unfinished.
Leda wears a long robe with a belt and fringe over her thighs. Her left arm is raised, and she is gazing downwards over her right shoulder at the swan, which touches her arm with its beak. Her right foot is rainsed and rests on a shell, and her right hand rests on the neck of the swan. Her left arm is raised above her head, and in her left hand she holds a piece of drapery. The figures stand on a shallow octagonal base. The left leg of Leda and the wings of the swan are unfinished.
Place of Origin
ca. 1535 (carved)
Ammanati, Bartolomeo, born 1511 - died 1592 (sculptor)
Materials and Techniques
Height: 139 cm, Width: 58.8 cm, Depth: 51 cm, Weight: 207 kg, Width: 53 cm, Depth: 60 cm, Weight: 207 kg
Object history note
The painter Sir John Everett Millais bought this while in Florence as a sculpture by Michelangelo, from the collection of Count Angelo Galli-Tassi (1792-1863). He was told at that time that it had been in the Galli family for over three hundred years.
When it came to the V&A the piece was associated with Vincenzo Danti (1530-76) through comparison with the figures on his sportello of 1559. This attribution was firmly expounded by Keutner in the Burlington Magazine in 1958, who dated the piece to 1572-3. Keutner proposed a stylistic relationship with the bronze Venus (Florence, Palazzo Vecchio) also attributed to Danti, and the Salome of 1570 from the monumental bronze The Beheading of St John the Baptist (Florence, Baptistery). Pope-Hennessy (1964a, vol. 2, pp. 457-58, no. 484) followed this attribution, and suggested that Danti had left the marble unfinished when he departed from Florence in 1573.
Kinney (1976, pp.25-33), however, identified the marble as "una Leda alta due braccia" by the Florentine sculptor Bartolomeo Ammanati, recorded by Raffaelo Borghini (Il Riposo) as being in the possession of the Duke of Urbino and datable to about 1535. A drawing in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, was said by Kinney to be a preliminary sketch. Kinney rejected the inscribed attribution to Giuliano Dandi, sculptor of San Gimignano, said to have originated from Vasari, the one-time owner. This suggestion has since been rejected, and the nature of the sketch indicates it is a study after the marble, or possibly after a small-scale model – a potential explanation for the differences between the drawing and the sculpture.
Although theoretically this does not rule out association with Ammanati's documented Leda, generally identified with a Michelangelesque example in the Bargello, the style of the V&A group is quite distinct from the sculptor's secure works. Similarly, despite certain affinities, Danti's marbles are not sufficiently close to the overall treatment of the Leda to warrant firm attribution to him. Comparisons have been made with other sculptors, including Benvenuto Cellini, who in 1559 carved a (lost) marble Leda "one braccia tall". The marble can therefore be placed in the general orbit of Michelangelo's followers in the third quarter of the sixteenth century.
Louis Waldman, in the Burlington Magazine in 2002, attributes the group to the Florentine sculptor Battista Lorenzi. He compares the following aspects of the group to the female figure in Lorenzi’s Alpheus and Arethusa (c. 1568-70, Metropolitan Museum, NY): Leda’s heavy trunk, her serpentine pose, round idealised face with almond eyes and carefully incised pupils, her deeply drilled hair. Waldman also compares it to the more Michelangelesque figure of Painting by Lorenzi on Michelangelo’s tomb in S. Croce (c.1565-8).
Historical significance: The Leda and the Swan is a powerful yet subtle work, with its lyrical movement and sensitive interrelationship of the protagonists. Like Cellini's Ganymede, Leda fondles the delicately carved feathers of the bird's neck but, in contrast to Cellini's work, some areas of the marble are confused and poorly carved, possibly indicating a later reworking. Unusually, the Leda is shown draped, her diaphanous, scalloped robe belted at the waist and supported at the shoulders by straps and clips from rodent (possibly weasel) heads, which perhaps held some significance. This differs markedly from the typical classical drapery on similar contemporary sculpted females.
There are many conflicting myths surrounding Leda: the basis of the myth is that she was the daughter of Thestius the king of Aetolia and Zeus went to her in the shape of a swan and she subsequently gave birth to Helen. Other representations of this group more often show her naked, and the poses can be more explicit than this more companionable group.
Historical context note
Pope-Hennessy suggested that the marble may have been intended as a fountain figure, however this is not supported by evidence, and so the original setting remains unknown.
Statue, Leda and the Swan, marble by Bartolomeo Ammanati, Italy (Florence), about 1535
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Pope-Hennessy, J. Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum London, 1964. Text: Vol.II, No. 484, pp457. Plate: Vol.III, fig 478, p285
Summers, J.D. The Sculpture of Vincenzo Danti: A Study in the Influence of Michelangelo and the Ideals of the Maniera New York and London, 1979. Cat No. XI, pp374-7, fig. 35
Kinney, P. The early sculpture of Bartolommeo Ammanati Garland, 1976. pp25-33
Avery, Charles Florentine Renaissance Sculpture New York, 1970. pp232-5 and pl.173
Waldman, L.A. 'Florence After Michelangelo' Exhibition Review Burlington Magazine CXLIV, no.1194, September 2002. pp574-8
Davis, Charles 'Working for Vasari: Vincenzo Danti in Palazzo Vecchio' in Giorgio Vasari Convegno, Arezzo, 1981. Florence, 1985, p270
Santi, Francesco Vincenzo Danti Scultore (1530-1675) Bologna, 1979. pp.57-8
Battista Fidanza, Giovan Vincenzo Danti 1530-1576 Florence, 1996, pp36-37, 38, 99
Keutner, H. 'The Palazzo Pitti 'Venus' and other works by Vincenzo Danti' in Burlington Magazine C, 1958, p427-431
Motture, P., "Leda e il cigno," in L'ombra del genio: Michelangelo e l'arte a Firenze, exh. cat. eds. M. Chiarini ,A. Darr, C. Giannini, Milan, 2000
Trusted, Marjorie (ed.), The Making of Sculpture. The materials and techniques of European Sculpture. london, 2007, p.96, pl. 166.
Raggio, Olga. 'Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum' in Art Bulletin Vol. L. 1968. pp. 103.
Cook, R and Martin, G. 'Preliminary investigation into discolourations occuring in white marble' Recent Advances in the Conservation and Analysis of Artifacts: University of London Institute of Archaeology Jubilee Conservation Conference. July 1987, pp.359-364.
Falciani, Carlo and Natali, Antonio, eds. The Cinquecento in Florence: 'Modern Manner' and Counter-Reformation, exh. cat., 2017, pp.238-239.
Labels and date
The marble group is closely related to works by Vincenzo Danti, particularly the Salome on the Baptistry in Florence (ca. 1570), and the Venus in the Studiolo of the Palazzo Vecchio. It was bought by Sir John Everett Millais from the Galli collection in Florence in 1865, and was exhibited the following year at the South Kensington Museum as a work of Michelangelo. The left leg of Leda and the wings of the swan are unfinished. 
The statue, which is unfinished, can be identified with a Leda of this size recorded by Raffaello Borghini (1584) as carved by Ammanati in Florence after his return from Pisa in 1534, and at the time of writing in the possession of the Duke of Urbino. Ammanati's preliminary drawing is in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The group was bought by Sir John Everett Millais in 1865 from the Galli-Tassi collection in Florence, and was exhibited in this Museum in the following year as a work by Michelangelo. 
The statue, which is unfinished, can be identified with a Leda of this size recorded by Raffaello Borghini (1584) as carved by Ammanati in Florence after his return from Pisa in 1534, and then the possession of the Duke of Urbino. Ammanati's preliminary drawing is in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The group was bought by Sir John Everett Millais in 1865 from the Galli-Tassi collection in Florence, and was exhibited in this Museum in the following year as a work by Michelangelo. Ammanati was both a sculptor and architect, active in various cities including Venice, Padua and Rome. 
Scallop shell; Swan (animal)
Sculpture; Myths & Legends; Gender and Sexuality