(b. 1395, Pisa, d. 1455, Roma)

Three Cows

Silver point, pencil and pen, 176 x 226 mm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

This drawing is from the Vallardi Codex.

The cows which are lying in more or less similar positions are represented from three different angles. In Pisanello s studies of animals there is no single emphasized view, he looked at the animal from every side, observed the tension and relaxation of its muscles, the resilience or flabbiness of its skin or hide while it was moving and then depicted it. He did not construct his drawings by simply placing scrupulously observed details side by side, but threw light upon the various details while keeping in mind the whole structure. So profoundly could he pursue the smallest change in the animal's appearance that he had no need to take an inventory of its limbs, nor to regard the position of its head as a symbol of its body. All we can see represents the whole animal most expressively. This, of course, demands a very high and sophisticated level of draughtsmanship. Pisanello conveyed the animals' contours and interpreted the different shapes, masses and delicate effects of the surfaces by changing thickness of a single line, or by lines drawn closely side by side with a sure hand and an unbroken, enclosed line.

It is well worth noticing that even if it was only a sheet of studies the artist paid marked attention to the harmony of the composition. The contours of the two cows on the right, sloping towards each other, are symmetrical, and along these lines the same shading might suggest either mass or space.