This mule is by Pisanello, an Italian artist who lived a hundred years before Dürer and Michelangelo. Most of his remarkable drawings were lost until 1836, when a Milanese print-publisher, out of the blue, offered them for sale as works by Leonardo da Vinci. The Louvre of Paris bought them and found that they were by Pisanello.
The mule is so skillfuly drawn—obviously from life—that not only are all its shapes rendered truthfully but even the hair covering them—all with absolute economy of line. And, as if that weren’t enough of an achievement, the animal looks alive and even friendly as it seems to wait for its rider.
It is a great drawing. How did they find out the author? Did he sign the work? If so how could the man try to sell them as being by da Vinci?
This is what my book, a Dover Publications selection of Pisanello’s drawings made by George Hill and first published in 1929, has to say:
“In 1856 Giuseppe Vallardi, a Milanese publisher of prints and dealer in antiquities, brought out in Milan a catalogue of drawings in his possession, under the attribution to Leonardo da Vinci. He had acquired them, according to his statement, from a noble family in Piacenza. Such statements are notoriously untrustworthy, and this one has not enabled the earlier history of this collection to be traced….”
In a footnote he says: “The discovery that many of the drawings in the Recueil Vallardi are the work of Pisanello seems to have been made more or less independently by Reiset (he gives the magazine and year, 1877) and the Vte. Both de Tauzia (in the catalogue of an exhibition of the drawings, 1881). Hill doesn’t say on what they based their attribution.
However, many of them are clearly studies for figures in his paintings. Years ago I brought home from Verona a beautiful poster-reproduction of a famous fresco of his (S. Anastasia) that, in a corner, has two thieves hanging. They are unforgettable. Well, here in the collection of drawings are the two thieves, exactly as they appear in the painting. Hill says many people have pointed out similarities of this kind.
This week sometime I’ll put another drawing here as a page. They are really spectacular. I only wish my scanner were better so it could show you each pen stroke.