Research point: Renaissance Masters and their depiction of animals

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)

Leonardo was an artist, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, and writer. He was a genius with an unquenchable curiosity and inventive imagination.

Leonardo da Vinci, Study Sheet with Cats, Dragon and Other Animals, c. 1513, chalk, ink on paper, The Royal Collection, Windsor, UK

Leonardo da Vinci, Study Sheet with Cats, Dragon and Other Animals, c. 1513, chalk, ink on paper, The Royal Collection, Windsor, UK

Considered to be the greatest artist and scientist of the Italian Renaissance, he drew meticulous, finely observed pictures of animals, as preparation for his paintings and sculptures. His interest in animals was wide-ranging but cats, dogs and horses appear to be among his favourite subjects.

He made extensive preparatory drawings observing the tiniest details of skin, hair, feathers and anatomy. Leonardo dissected animals and compared their ‘parts’ with those of humans. He also studied the way creatures move – running across the land, rearing, soaring into the sky and swimming. He is rumoured to have bought caged birds in order to release them to see how they fly.

Leonardo’s in depth studies enabled him to produce highly realistic drawings, which was unusual at the time.  He sometimes also drew fantastical creatures such as the dragon that appears in the midst of his study of twenty seven cats.


Leonardo – Study of a horse

Albrecht Durer (1471-1528)


A Young Hare
by Albrecht Dürer, 1503,
watercolor and gouache on paper,
10 x 8. Collection Graphische
Sammlung Albertina, Vienna.

Born in Nuremburg, Germany, Durer was a naturally gifted artist of the Renaissance period. He was a  talented painter, draughtsman and printmaker, as well as a writer. His mastery of technique and imagination make him comparable to Italy’s Leonardo da Vinci.

Like Leonardo, Durer was fascinated by all aspects of nature and meticulously observed detail. In his watercolour entitled A Young Hare it feels as if he has managed to draw every hair and whisker but this is not a dead anatomical study, the hare looks alive and has a glint in it’s eye.


Albrecht Dürer’s Rhinoceros,
a drawing and woodcut, Germany, AD 1515

Durer also worked from his imagination. In his famous Rhinoceros drawing and woodcut he had to rely on written descriptions. He has covered the creature’s legs with scales and the body with hard, patterned plates. It is thought that these features may have been drawn from lost sketches, or even the text, which states, ‘[The rhinoceros] has the colour of a speckled tortoise and it is covered with thick scales’.

Also see Research point: Two artists who exemplify mastery of detailed drawing


Ohio State University
A-Z of Art and Artists, David Piper, Mitchell Beazley Publishers, 1984
The British Museum


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s