Leonardo’s Drawing Operations: Leslie Geddes, Allan Doyle and Claudia Tobin in conversation


This Spring Term, the Royal Drawing School continues its series of Creative Conversations; online dialogues between artists, curators and 
writers. Curated by Dr Claudia Tobin, lectures are held Wednesday evenings live on Zoom.

Leonardo’s Drawing Operations: Leslie Geddes, Allan Doyle and Claudia Tobin in conversation
Leonardo da Vinci, Map of the Arno River with scheme for a canal, c. 1503–04, charcoal, pen and ink, brush and ink, 335 x 482 mm., Royal Library, Windsor Castle, RL 12279. Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021. 


Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings concerning water were prompted by problems. How does one swiftly build a mobile bridge? What is the nature of a wave’s movement? Close analysis of his drawings provides a unique opportunity to witness the artist’s searching intellect at work. The representation of water endlessly circulates within his corpus. Water bears witness to his extraordinary curiosity and formidable creative powers of problem solving; it returns incessantly to activate works ranging from hesitant marginal doodles to sketches, maps, and presentation drawings—all are pictorial machines powered by the visual poetics of water. For Leonardo da Vinci and his fellow artist-engineers, water is a site of oppositions: surface and depth, contingency and control, nature and invention, blindness and transparency, life preserving and life taking. Just as water’s elemental nature posed challenges of flow and control, drawing was a method of navigation as well. The act of drawing is fundamentally the flow of pen and ink on paper and control in the steady and assured sweep of an artist’s hand. It is confronting the blankness of the page to make something visible, of encountering—and countering—distortion, and above all a way of negotiating man’s place in the world. 

 Leonardo’s Drawing Operations: Leslie Geddes, Allan Doyle and Claudia Tobin in conversation
Leonardo da Vinci, Storm over a valley, red chalk, c. 1506–10, 20 x 150 mm., Windsor Castle, Royal Library, RL 12409. Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021


Leslie Geddes is Assistant Professor of Art History at Tulane University in New Orleans. She is currently the Robert Lehman Fellow at the Villa I Tatti, the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies in Florence. She received her B.A. from Columbia University, and holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. from Princeton University. An art historian, she researches how Renaissance artists studied and depicted the natural landscape. Her first book, Watermarks: Leonardo da Vinci and the Mastery of Nature, was published with Princeton University Press in 2020. It analyses the subject of water in art in conjunction with the practical undertakings of hydraulic engineering. Her ongoing research is concerned with early modern intersections of art and science, cartography and navigation, visualizations of knowledge, and the environmental humanities. She has upcoming residencies at The Newberry Library in Chicago, The Huntington Library in San Marino, CA, and the American Academy in Rome. 

Allan Doyle is Assistant Professor of 18th and 19th European Art at Parsons School of Design. He received his PhD in art history from Princeton University and his MFA from Tufts University/The School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. He has published on topics ranging from French Romanticism to contemporary photography. His research has been supported by fellowships from Harvard University’s I Tatti, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Mellon Foundation, and the Social Sciences Research Council of Canada. His work has appeared in Representations and publications from the Getty Research Institute and the University Press of New England. He is currently completing his first monograph, Michelangelo and the Invention of the Modern Artist.