Leonardo da Vinci’s Pet Dragon

One day Leonardo da Vinci’s dad knocked on his door. “Haven’t you finished that shield yet? The guy’s been waiting for it for over two months?”
Leonardo called from deep inside his room. “Just a minute!”
Not even his dad had ever entered. It was a wizard’s workshop and contained secrets. “All right! Come in.”
“Ugh!” said his dad, wincing as he walked in. “Stinks like the devil in here. Don’t you smell…..?”

And then he let go a howl of fear. “What is THAT?” His eyes were fixed on a strange monster wriggling in a corner of the room. It looked like no animal on earth—in fact, it looked like a dragon.

a dragon by Michelangelo

Study for the Medici Chapel (see this)

(Sorry–this dragon is by Michelangelo; I’m still looking for one by Leonardo)

A reader (Acitra) has found this study of a dragon supposedly by Leonardo:

Study of a dragon University of the Arts, London

“Fine,” said Leonardo, who had been watching his father’s reaction. He walked over to the monster, picked it up, and handed it to his dad. “You can take it now—I see that it works.”
It was a monster he had painted on the buckler, snarling and threatening, looking so real his father had been frightened. “Incredible!” his dad said, beginning to smile. “How did you make it?”

Leonardo opened the shutters of the only window in the room and let light fill the room. There on his work-table were the bodies and parts of bodies of a dozen animals. “I make my own monsters,” Leonardo explained. “I took the scales from this carp and the wings and teeth from this huge bat and the crest from this rooster and I glued them onto the body of the lizard here. I thought he needed a longer tail too, so I used this snake. When he was all assembled and propped up, I painted him on the shield. Before you came in here I set it up in the half-light to see if you would think it was real, and you did, so I’m satisfied. I hope your friend who ordered the buckler will like it.”

Leonardo was sorry his dragon wasn’t really alive, of course. One day a caretaker working in the Medici gardens found an enormous and strange-looking lizard and brought it to him. “This reminds me of one of your painted dragons,” he told him.
It reminded Leonardo too, and he started thinking how he could improve on this real dragon. First he made some wings for it, covered them with real scales, and glued them on its back. When the lizard moved the wings wagged. Then he gave the dragon a beard and horns and bigger eyes. He kept it in a box and “used to show it to his friends and frighten the life out of them,” says Vasari.


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22 Responses to Leonardo da Vinci’s Pet Dragon

  1. Anonymous says:

    This is very cool.

  2. erikatakacs says:

    And he didn’t leave behind a sketch of the dragon? Sounds like he liked practical jokes.

  3. rich says:

    There’s Paolo Swallows – eh – forgive me for confounding things, I mean Paolo Uccello.
    That dragon reminds me of his “St.George with the Dragon”, a common motive of those times.

    These dragons always look similar to me; like what I would call the Western Dragon concept, or the Snake concept (except the Aesculap which looks quite sound and healthy)… Always dragons and snakes are shown to us in an evil context and with a frightening touch.

    I have a book on ancient Chinese painting and enjoy those dragons there. Would be an interesting study, about the Occidental and the Oriental concept of the dragon.

  4. 100swallows says:

    But Michelangelo’s looks more like a possible creature, doesn’t it, rich? Of course this one has gotten itself dangerously knotted up. Uccello’s (the one in the National Gallery, London) looks just a little too improbable. (I was surprised to see insignias like those on the wings of a praying mantis, who spread them to defend himself against a cat.) Maybe I’ll make a dragon post–that’s a good idea. Renaissance dragons, though: I don’t know much about the Chinese ones. To me, THEY all have a predictable look.
    Not every uccello is a rondine.

  5. ion danu says:

    …a beard and horns and bigger eyes… That looks pretty much as a Romanian Drac (Devil)… Dragon… Dragu… Dracu… It’s the derivation of the name of Vlad Dracul (Vlad the Devil), the father of Vlad the Impaler or Draculya (name he signed some documents, for real…) Vlad Dracul was called like that especially because he was a member of the Order of the Dragon, a knight order, very exclusiv, founded by Sigismund of Luxembourg, king of Hungary…

    And, by the way, I do my own monsters too… not as scary as those of Leonardo, of course, but still…

  6. john says:

    It is a awsome story, I read it every day and tell all my friens about it

  7. 100swallows says:

    Thanks, John. I’ll try and find some more good ones for you and your friends before they start to tell each other: “Oops! Here comes John again with that darned dragon story of his!”

  8. Acitra says:

    Is this the Da Vinci dragon you’re looking for? It’s a beautiful piece. :)


  9. 100swallows says:

    Acitra: Thanks a lot for finding this drawing. It does look like it could be the Leonardo hybrid of the story, doesn’t it? I wish it had wings.

  10. Pingback: Leonardo da Vinci’s Regret « The Best Artists

  11. zeladoniac says:

    That’s a great dragon drawing, I’ve never seen this one. It looks VERY Chinese-inspired, not the usual Western dragon type.

  12. 100swallows says:

    Zeladoniac: I had never seen it either and I wonder if it is authentic. Could it be a coincidence that it looks Chinese?

  13. sharon says:

    hi everyone
    i’m sorry to berst your bable but : 1. georgeo Vasary wrote that story in his decomentry of lives or artist.
    2. there are a numeres number of Dragons Leonardo drow :
    the dragpn figting the lion (self portrate) and it has wings,
    the Hidra, tow alegories, study of dragons, st.george with the dragon – that is so faided you can see it only on the original, study of anumals.
    and that is only what i know so far.

    if you wnt to see truly remarcabel dragons, go to see Jacopo belinis sketch book.

    if you wnat i can send you all the skeches i am talking about.

  14. Janet says:

    I know of three images of Davinci dragons as mentioned by Sharon. The dragon fighting the lion is great as it depicts a true wyvern (two wings, two legs).

    • sharon says:

      if you liked that – look also for a horse backraider figting the dragon (mostly dipicted as St. George).
      and comper it to the Magy adoration – in the right high corner).

      • cantueso says:

        Sharon! Please, I would like to know what your mother tongue or primary language is, because of that funny contrast between your content and your spelling, as if you had learnt English entirely by listening to the spoken kind, but your content reflects reading!

        This is very rare and very interesting, because in theory it does not exist :-)

        and so I would very much like to know why it exists anyway

  15. sharon says:

    i don’t know if i should say “thank you” or not.
    my mothertongue is “Heabrow”. my speling is horobal becoues i also have dislectsia but i do read alot in inglish and lost without the “office” speling tool.

    i’m a living contrediction : )

    • cantueso says:

      Well, it’s very nice! Very funny!

      It is very funny indeed, because it would throw anybody off and made me blink to see all those names in the sea of spelling mistakes like daffodils in the desert.

  16. Anonymous says:

    i think De Vinci like to play jokes on people :P

  17. Anonymous says:

    it was a brilliant story

  18. Sophie pennal says:

    It’s a cute little story

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