Ten Days, Ten Drawings and Ten Facts

We, the marketing team, thought we’d share with you some interesting facts we have found about Da Vinci while preparing for the opening of the exhibition. We thought it fitting to give you the best 10 facts as are there are 10 days to go (eeeek!), 10 students helping with the exhibition and of course the 10 drawings… you can see this is becoming our favourite number!

Leonardo facts

  • Bill Gates bought Leonardo Da Vinci’s Codex Leicester in 1994 for $30 million. A few pages were used as screen saver on Windows 95.

codex leicester

Leonardo Da Vinci, Codex Leicester, Pen and Ink,  c. 1510

  • Allegedly, actor Leonardo DiCaprio’s name is Leonardo because when his mother was pregnant with him, she experienced his first kick standing in front of a Leonardo Da Vinci painting.


  • Leonardo Da Vinci was home-schooled and lacked a formal education in Greek and Latin. However, this clearly did not limit his extraordinary mind.


  • Da Vinci’s studies of river erosion convinced him that Earth is much older than the Bible implies. Therefore, his revolutionary inventions and discoveries were not the only controversial thing about him, he challenged religious ideas too.


  • Art historians have discovered that Leonardo Da Vinci seems to have signed his initials on the right pupil of the Mona Lisa. They can only be seen through a microscope.



  • Da Vinci was arrested when he was 24, on the charge of sodomy. His case was dismissed due to no witnesses.


  • Leonardo Da Vinci translates to ‘Leonardo of Vinci’, referring to the town in which he was born.


  • He was left handed and could write in reverse, which is how he wrote in many of his sketchbooks.

Studies for casting an equestrian monument (recto)

Leonardo da Vinci, Studies for casting an equestrian monument (recto); Further casting studies, and lines of poetry (verso) c.1492-3, Recto: Pen and ink with some notes in red chalk. Verso: Pen and ink, Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016.

  • Da Vinci did things many would not in the name of research.. he reportedly stole corpses from graveyards to aid his study of the anatomy.

Recto: Vessels of the thorax, with comparison of the heart and a

Leonardo Da Vinci, Recto: The heart compared to a seed. Verso: The vessels of liver, spleen and kidneys  c.1508, pen and ink over black chalk, Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016.

  • Leonardo produced maps which are still accurate today (e.g map of Cesare Borgia).
cesare borgia map
Leonardo Da Vinci, Town plan of Imola, c.1502

Looking forward to seeing you all at the exhibition to experience the work of this amazing man!

Claudia Hogg & Bethan Street

University of Nottingham


Meet your marketing team

intro blog pic

We would like to introduce ourselves as the main faces behind the blog and social media pages. From left to right: Claudia, Vicky and Bethan. In true student style it is very difficult to all be in the same place at once, especially now that term is over until September. So, this is our best attempt at a ‘group photo’!

Please take a moment to read about who we are and what we are doing in the ‘about the project’ tab. In short, we are a group of very excited Art History students alongside our amazing tutor, Dr Gabriele Neher. We have been lucky enough to get involved with one of the biggest exhibitions Nottingham Castle has ever put on: 10 original drawings by Leonardo Da Vinci, owned by the Royal Collection. As a way of introducing ourselves, we would like to tell you what our favourite drawing is and why…


It is almost impossible to try and decide a preference between these incredible drawings, but if I have to choose one it has got to be The expressions of fury in horses, a lion and a man c.1503-4 . I have a natural leaning towards this because of my personal connection with horses. My family has a history of owning and riding horses, so from a young age they have been one of my favourite animals. This meant that they were something that I would attempt to draw time and time again. My grandfather is an artist, and has always been of great influence to me. He used to tell me that horses were the most difficult animals to draw, which I think fuelled my determination to get it right!

However, if this is the case, you wouldn’t believe it when looking at Leonardo’s horses. In a time when photography didn’t exist, we know that all of Leonardo’s drawings are either studies from life or from his magnificent imagination. This makes the perfect proportions and outstanding sense of life and movement even more admirable. I cannot wait to see this drawing in the flesh.

expressions of fury in horses, a lion and a man

Leonardo Da Vinci, Expressions of fury in horses, a lion and a man c. 1503-4, pen and ink with wash and red chalk, Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016.



My favourite drawing from these ten Leonardo Da Vinci drawings is The heart compared to the seed; The vessels of the liver, spleen and kidneys, c.1508. Anatomy has always fascinated me and I explored some of Da Vinci’s research during my A Levels when studying the body and beauty. Da Vinci plays a major role in understanding the human body as shown in this drawing. I like how this drawing displays his range of interests – anatomy was of high importance to Da Vinci. However, art and botany are also shown through his use of an analogy of a plant to reinforce his discoveries of where the centre of the vascular system is. My favourite aspect of this sketch is Da Vinci’s delicate, intricate drawing technique that he completed with pen and ink over black chalk, as well as showcasing his unique writing style through his annotations.

The discovery of the centre of the vascular system as well as many other findings from Da Vinci has had a huge influence on the medical world. Mark, my brother, is currently studying biomedical engineering at King’s College London. I asked for his perspective on the drawing. If unaware this was artwork Mark said he would have considered it a sketch from an anatomy book. This brings to light the question of what art is while showing Leonardo’s versatility in combining both science and art. Some may believe that Da Vinci was the first biomedical engineer – his work is still significant today.

Leonardo Da Vinci, Recto: The heart compared to a seed. Verso: The vessels of liver, spleen and kidneys  c.1508, pen and ink over black chalk, Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016.


Please keep an eye out for our social media pages, where we will keep you updated with the progress of the exhibition.  We hope you are as excited as us for this once-in-a-lifetime exhibition!

Instagram: @tenstudentsandtenleonardos

Twitter: @tenstudents


Claudia Hogg & Bethan Street

University of Nottingham

Why Leonardo da Vinci would have aced the internet cat craze

Gabriele Neher, University of Nottingham

Leonardo da Vinci may have been ahead of the curve in aerodynamics, anatomy and mechanics, but he also possessed an incredible foresight for another modern staple: cat obsessions.

In some of the last years of his life, Leonardo sat down, perhaps at his desk, perhaps on the street, took out his pencil and absent-mindedly sketched a cat. The resulting drawing is of not just one, but over a dozen of them, grooming, playing and fighting each other, with a couple of stalking lions thrown into the mix and to top it all, a slinky little dragon sinuously twisting backwards and baring its teeth. Evidently he appreciated them for their personalities and characteristics: not such a jump from cat doodles to the ubiquity of cats on social media today.

Leonardo da Vinci, Cats, lions, and a dragon c.1513-18. Pen and ink with wash over black chalk.
Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016

In the week that the latest blockbuster exhibition on Leonardo da Vinci, The Mechanics of Genius, opens to great fanfare at the Science Museum, a second, much smaller show is opening in Newcastle. The Laing Gallery’s exhibition showcases just ten of Leonardo’s best drawings from the extensive collections at Windsor, cats included. Whereas the Science Museum showcases the extraordinary mechanical genius of this remarkable artist, these drawings offers a more playful insight into Leonardo’s mind.

Cats were a commonplace sight in medieval and early modern houses, kept as pets to curb the mouse population. They sometimes left quite unexpected traces, such as the medieval moggy who marched over the still wet pages of a manuscript, much to the consternation of its scribe. And clearly they featured in more of an esoteric manner too: there are countless depictions of cats within medieval manuscripts, as featured in Nicole Eddy’s fabulous post on the “Lolcats of the Middle Ages”.


So it’s not so surprising to find Leonardo caught in the act of doodling. It seems as though Leonardo’s cats are drawn from life, attesting to his often commented on interest in first-hand observation. He lets his imagination run riot in the process of turning his playful cats into a writhing dragon.

What makes his drawing so charming is that ultimately, what he is interested in here is nothing more significant than the playing cats. He draws cats on other occasions, such as in some studies for the Virgin and child (with cat), but there the cat is drawn as an attribute, becoming a subsidiary accessory to the telling of the story. In the cat doodle, the purpose of the drawing is nothing other than to record Leonardo’s delight in the carefully observed play and movement of his feline companions.


A 13th-century image of a cat beating a cymbal, from the margins of the Book of Hours.

There’s a rich history of associating cats with imagination and creativity, as well as more negative connotations with heresy and wilfulness. This is especially true of medieval imagery. Cats, with their noted reputation for autonomy and independence, provide a bridge between the unruly and uncontrollable chaos of untamed nature, and the quiet, submissive, orderly domesticity of a well-ruled household. A cat can function both as a symbol for obedience (and is often depicted as such, for example as a companion to devout women) as well as a sign of heresy, in the shape of a witch’s familiar.

So cats are not inherently good or evil. Instead they appear to reflect the moral character of the household they interact with: in accordance with their mercurial, quirky nature. In this light, they seem the perfect companion for a creative and scholarly owner.

Fast forward 500 years and perhaps it doesn’t seem so surprising that social media has become the perfect vehicle for displaying this connection. While Salvador Dali needed to take long walks with his pet ocelot Babou to generate interest in his unusual status pet, Twitter and Facebook offer platforms for often quite witty plays on the link between cats and creativity.



My favourite example of this is the #AcademicsWithCats Twitter feed, which led to the annual “Academics with Cats awards”. I like to think that Leonardo would have entered with gusto. He definitely would have won. With a cat dressed as a dragon.

The Conversation

Gabriele Neher, Assistant Professor of History of Art, University of Nottingham

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.