Study of five grotesque heads - by Leonardo da Vinci

This picture, dated about 1493, of four grinning, taunting grotesques surrounding a dignified elderly man with a wreath of oak leaves around his head, is not known to be for any particular painting. Leonardo did several more examples of grotesque heads, included in this section, so the piece may have been an idea he was experimenting with. The identity of the man crowned with oak leaves is not known.

The extraordinary faces surrounding him have expressions of extreme emotions and extreme forms to match: the wide-open mouth of the man at the back, his head tilted back and his tonsils showing; the overshot jaw of the man at his left shoulder with his cruel-looking eyes; the man on the right with a pendulous lower lip, hooked nose and heavy eyelids; and the man behind him, looking grimly intent. That the central figure seems to be ignoring his tormentors suggests that either he considers himself above their level or conversely that he is being deceived by their conduct and simply does not comprehend what is going on around him. It is an interesting and unusual piece of work.