Art seen up close #7: Leonardo da Vinci’s caricature of Chierico
The small drawing depicting the head and half-figure of a male figure is to be considered one of the few original works by Leonardo that can truly be called ‘caricatures.’ Beginning with the figure’s head, with hair and tonsure, and then observing the hooked nose, the receding chin and the half-open mouth, features that give the face, with a few quick pen strokes and spots of ink, resemblances almost of a bird of prey. The stance with the arm brought to the chest also suggests the gesture of holding an aspergillum (where he is not holding something on his shoulders), which, considered together with the tonsure and collar, has authorized speculation that we are dealing here with the caricature of a priest or cleric.
The facetries and little stories with which Leonardo mocks priests are well known, particularly fitting the one of the priest who goes blessing through the houses (Marinoni 1974, pp. 140-141): ‘Facetiousness. Going a priest through his parish on Holy Saturday, giving, as is the custom, blessed water through the houses, he happened to be in the room of a painter, where, sprinkling it over some of his paintings, this painter, turning to the scruffy one, said why he did such sprinkling over his paintings. Then the priest said it was so customary, and that it was his due to do so, and that he did well, and he who does well should wait well and better, that so God promised, and that of every good that was done on earth, there would be above [i.e. =in heaven] for every [action done] a hundred. Then the painter, waiting for him to come out, made it upstairs to the window, and threw a great bucket of water on this priest, saying, ‘Behold, there comes to you above for every one hundred, as you said would happen in the good, which you did to me with your holy water, with which you half-ruined my paintings.’ 
On the appearance that recalls that of a bird, the facetiousness of the archpriest of Santa Maria del Monte should also be recalled (‘Facetia dell’arciprete di Sancta Maria del Monte, che sta a Varese, che fu mandato legato al Duca ‘n iscambio d’uno sparviere’).
It is amazing how in a few essential strokes of the pen Leonardo was able to describe a human character, where cunning, wit and mockery are perfectly matched, and how perhaps never he was able to achieve. 
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