Pr6-R.P: Old Masters Animal Drawings

Leonardo da Vinci (Italian 1452-1519)254

From the studies of animals  made by Leonardo da Vinci we can see he was concerned not only with getting the anatomy right but with the movement, gestures and characters of the animals. From the page full of cat studies we can see a curled up sleeping cat that appears to be smiling. Cats at play, fighting, grooming, stalking, at rest and even a humours depiction of a startled cat puffing up its fur. Here Leonard has used directional dash marks to indicate the fluffed out fur.



His studies of equines are of particular interest to me as I work with horses. He made many studies of the horse paying attention to muscle mass and bone beneath the skin. His measured study of the fore limb shows his workings on proportions much as he did with the Vitruvian man. My favourite of the drawings that I could source shows a horse rearing. Its head is roughly marked in many different positions. This shows us the horse is tossing its head. The same applies to the legs which are marked in several positions again suggesting movement. This is a technique I see from time to time used by artist to suggest a state of flux. I always find these drawings effective and pleasing. Although in this one of Leonard’s It is ment only as a personal sketch so he can decide on the position he would like to use in paintings.



Peter Paul Rubens (Dutch 1577-1640)

Rubens left many exquisite drawing of both the human figure and that of animals. Like Leonardo the drawings are evidence he spent many hours drawing the same subject over and over in the different poses the animals naturally adopts. I like this study of cows. It’s a nice way to lay out a page. Something I will try to emulate in my own sketch book. Its also interesting as the main drawing of three cows is quite finished with all the muscular sinew drawn in and cross hatching showing the areas in shadow.


Around this drawing are smaller quick sketches with only the preliminary lines drawn in. This shows how Rubens made a start on the drawings by drawing in the out line with a secession of lines. Rubens often draws on off white paper using a chalk to show the high lighted areas. This adds to a sense of 3D. In this drawing he has used red chalk and pencil or metal point not sure. Something leaving a grey mark. The two are effective used together.


The Battle of Standards (1603) Rubins copy of the earlier fresco by Leonardo da Vinci

Rubens, Centaur Tormented by Cupid

Ruben’s study of Cupid astride a centaur.

One of my all time favourite drawings is ‘The Battle of Standards 1603’. This is said to be copy of Leonardo Da Vinci’s lost painting ‘The Battle of Anghiari 1505’. Rubens drawing which now hangs in the Louvre is said to be a copy made from and engraving by Lorenzo Zacchia which intern was made from a preparatory cartoon by Leonardo. The original painting has never been found. It is rumoured to be under later frescoes in Salone dei Cinquecento in Florence. I deify any one to look upon this drawing and not be blown away by it. Highly stylised and dramatic. I think it has a circular composition later used by Tuner. The onlookers eyes move around the  drawing from the eyes of the men and horses. Each of their gases lead us o the next visual focus. Again  dark sepia tone is used for the shadows and a chalk white used to pick out the areas where the light reflects back.

The drawing of the Greek statue ‘cupid seated astride a centaur’ (the original of which dates from 2nd century BC) shows how Rubins took highly detailed drawings of this half horse helping him to understand a stylised muscular anatomy of the creature. He didi several studies of this statue. Drawing statues to this day is a good way to get to grips with anatomise. Particularly those of a romanticised and heroic stye like many of the Greek and renaissance pieces. V&A would be a good place to go for the purpose of drawing statues.


Albert Durer (German 1471-1528)

Albrecht Durer - Tutt'Art@ (27)

Durer devoted a lot of time studying animals. This picture of a parrots wing shows how he used dead animals to more closely looks at the anatomy and study the detailed texture, in this case feathers, close up. He quite often used colour in his drawings to accurately represent the colours of the animal in life. He studied all sorts from insects to birds to dogs. His most recognisable drawing is of a hair. In this he takes gate trouble to get the texture of the fur just right. He uses three predominate tones to do this. Dark black/brown a fawn brown mid tone and a light nearly white fawn for the high light. I like the texture on the paper which I think is probably just natural ageing marks and not the artist intention. Still I might try to recreate this for some drawings using tea or coffee.



About Emma Perring

Artist, oil painter

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