19 December 2019

Landslides in Art Part 31: Leonardo da Vinci

Posted by Dave Petley

Landslides in Art Part 31: Leonardo da Vinci

A few days ago this blog reached its 12th anniversary.  Over the years I have run a series of posts about the depiction of landslides in art, a topic that is quite neglected.  The most recent post was back in September.  Interestingly, a short paper has just been published in the journal Landslides (Margottini 2019) that examines an aspect of this in a formal way.  The paper examines two drawings by Leonardo da Vinci.

Leonardo da Vinci was a quite wonderful artist.  His drawings depict many aspects of life in 15th and 16th centuries, and he had a particular interest in landscapes.  Italy is the most landslide prone country in Europe, so it is perhaps unsurprising that his work appears to depict mass movements.

The first drawing is entitled A Ravine, drawn in the period c.1482-85.  Margottini (2019) suggests that this probably depicts an imaginary location, rather than a specific site.  He suggests that there may be more than one way to view the drawing, but one interpretation, which I think has appeal, is that it is a rockfall deposit and scar.  Margottini (2019) provides this interpretation of the work, alongside the original:-

Leonardo da Vinci landslide

Leonardo da Vinci’s “A Ravine”, c. 1482–1485, with an interpretation of the landslide by Margottini (2019).


This interpretation has the rock pillars as a rockfall deposit, with some scree on the valley floor.  This interpretation is strengthened by the appearance of a rockfall scar in the slope behind the pillars.  It is interesting that he has depicted to waterfowl on the lower right side of the image.  Is he showing that the landslide deposit has blocked the valley?

The second image is entitled “A rockfall in a mountainous landscape”, drawn in the period c. 1512–1518.  Margottini (2019) interprets this as a rockfall in process (note the clouds of dust).  In the lower right side of the image there are two caves, presumably about to be buried by the collapse:-

Leonardo da Vinci rockfall

A rockfall in a mountainous landscape c.1512-18 by Leonardo da Vinci. Image from the Royal Collection Trust.


This drawing is held by the Royal Collection Trust, who provide this interpretation:-

In this drawing the side of a mountain is collapsing, great chunks of rock exploding outwards, issuing plumes and vortices of dust; what seems to be the entrance to a tunnel at lower right offers no protection from the forces of nature.

These works are a fascinating depiction of landslides and their aftermath.  However, I think that Leonardo da Vinci actually drew another, much more dramatic, landslide, but that the work has been misinterpreted.  That will feature in a future edition of Landslides in Art.


Margottini, C. 2019. Leonardo da Vinci and landslides. Landslides: doi:10.1007/s10346-019-01326-0