Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Research Point - Drawing Animals

Look at how Renaissance masters such as Leonardo and Durer depicted animals. Make notes and try and find some images to include in your learning log.

Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) recorded thousands of drawings in his notebooks and journals. He is well known for his drawings of human anatomy and for his scientific sketches and studies but he also made many sketches from nature and he frequently would carry out preparatory sketches of plants and animals for his paintings and sculptures. He was brought up in the countryside and his love of animals led him to become a vegetarian which must have been very unusual for that period in time. Apparently he attempted to write a book about the anatomy of humans and animals but it was never completed.

He carried out systematic studies of animals concentrating on their movement and anatomy. The studies below demonstrate his close examination of the anatomy of the animal paying special attention to the external form and the way the skin lay over the tensed muscles of the horses. On some of the drawings he has included horizontal lines possibly indicating his methods for scaling up in larger paintings.

A Rearing Horse 11.4 x 19.6 cm  c1480
Studies of a horse 20 x 28.4 cm  c1490







A horse from the front 22.1 x 11 cm  c1490
The chest and hindquarters of a horse 23.3 x 16.5 cm c.1517-18
Uterus of a gravid cow 19 x 13.3 cm c.1508
This last drawing of the uterus of a gravid cow is highly anatomical and show he was carrying out studies following dissection.


Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) was not only a painter but an established goldsmith, printer, draughtsman, mathematician and theorist. He has a vast body of work including self portraits, altar pieces and religious works, and copper engravings. He is famous for his self-portraits of the first of which he completed when he was only 13 years old.

Growing up in countryside he was surrounded by nature and it became one of his most popular subjects. There are numerous drawings and prints of a large variety of animals by Durer, including birds, crustaceans,dogs, fish, exotic animals and lots of horses. This beautiful watercolour of a young hare shows his delicate draughtsmanship. It was probably drawn from a stuffed model.
Durer - Hare 1502

I found this description of the way he painted it which I though was quite interesting.  

"To begin the work, Dürer lightly sketched the image and underpainted it with some washes of brown watercolor. Then he patiently built up the texture of the fur with a variety of dark and light brushstrokes in both watercolor and gouache (an opaque form of the medium). Gradually, the painting is brought to completion with the addition of a few refined details such as the whiskers and the meticulous reflection of a window in the creature's eye. Finally, the artist dated and signed the work with his famous monogram - a mark of his approval."

I also found this later drawing of the hare from a different viewpoint. The date on this is the year of Durer's death but apparently the picture was assumed to have done within a short time of the first hare and the date was put on at a later date. Their detail is beautiful and the ways he has shown the softness of the animals fur is so impressive. You can see the difference between the velvety short hair on the top of the hare's head with the longer hair on it's back and chest.

Durer - Hare 1502?

One of Durer's most well known works of an animal, other than the famous hare, is the so called Durer's rhinoceros. This was a drawing and subsequent woodcut by Durer of his interpretation of an Indian rhinoceros. He had never seen such an animal before and created this work from a written description and brief sketch by an unknown artist which accounts for the numerous anatomical errors in the study. He shows the animal with large plates covering its body like sheets of armour and added a small horn on its back.

Durer - Indian Rhinoceros Pen and Ink 1515

Durer - Indian Rhinoceros Woodcut 1515
 This beautiful watercolour of a birds wing is incredible in it's colour and detail. It shows his ability to draw different textures.

Durer- Wing of a Blue Roller 1512

Some more examples of his work.....

Durer - Head of a Roebuck 1514
Durer - Bat 1522

Durer - Great Piece of Turf 1503
The last one is obviously not of an animal but I thought it fitted well with this chapter and having just done some drawings of flowers and leaves I can really appreciate the work that has gone into this watercolour. The detail is amazing.

Other artists of the period that depicted animals are Michelangelo, Raphael, Pisanello and Titian to name but a few.
Michelangelo - The Fall of Phaeton

Pisanello - Harnessed Horse

Raphael - St George and the Dragon

Titian - Charles V standing with his dog
Having looked at how Renaissance artists depicted animals it seems within this period the subject was  popular and the artists made a concerted effort to show an accurate (although not always successfully in the case of Durer!) and detailed representation. I wondered if there was a reason for this preoccupation and I found some conflicting comments and I did come across a book entitled "Animals as Disguised Symbols in Renaissance Art" which gives one possibility. Another reason is at that time travellers were visiting foreign lands and bringing back their finds so the whole natural world was becoming a subject of interest in general. Many of the paintings containing animals at that time were of hunting including horses and dogs so for these animals in particular the popularity of these types of sports were a reason. 

The Renaissance (literally rebirth) itself was a time of intellectual upheaval and of significant enlightenment within the sciences particularly. There was a thirst for knowledge which can be appreciated when viewing Leonardo's and Durer's work. Particularly Leonardo appeared to be studying the animals, paying great attention to their surface and sometimes internal, anatomy. So maybe you have to view these works with that in mind. Possibly these beautiful pieces of art have an educational purpose as well as a decorative one.

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