Following his stay in Rome as a guest at the French Academy, Ingres stayed in Italy until 1824. The painter then made a living from portrait commissions and painted small historical scenes for private customers.
He painted the death of Leonardo, with Francis I receiving his last breaths, for the Count de Blacas, ambassador of Louis XVIII and an influential figure during the Restoration. The work has a troubadour feel and was freely inspired by French history seen from the angle of an edifying anecdote.
We know that Leonardo, who had come to France at the invitation of Francis I, died in Amboise in 1519. The undoubtedly fictitious story of his death in the presence of the king comes from The Lives by Vasari. This work, which appeared in 1550, celebrates the excellence of Italian painting following an ascending curve that starts with Cimabue and ends with Michelangelo and Raphael.
Having dropped out of his studies at a young age, the painter relied more on his exceptional visual memory than his literary knowledge to compose historical subjects. He in fact used various famous paintings exhibited at the Louvre Museum as models to represent the characters in the scene. The use of iconographic citation can be clearly seen in the face of Francis I, transposed from the portrait painted by Titian in 1538. The figure of the dying Leonardo is a typically “Ingresque” creation on the other hand, with the expressive contortion of the neck and subtle colour scheme.
In the style of Romantic theatre, in one scene Ingres combined the sublime emotion inspired by the death of the hero with a diversion provided by more anecdotal characters, who restore the picturesque quality of en era.