Artist Study: Da Vinci and his Horses

Over the past few days school has been replaced by horses.  We have been studying, taking photos of, drawing and studying drawings of horses.  We have tried (unsuccessfully) to become as obsessed with horses as Leonardo Da Vinci was.  Horses just don’t float our boats with quite the same vigour that they obviously did for Da Vinci!  That said, thanks to a rather fabulous little book called Leonardo's Horse we were quite excited about the activities we had coming after the drawings:DSC_0689

This book is all about Leonardo’s dream to build a huge bronze horse.  We have already looked into Leonardo’s obsession with flight, his study of birds and how they might help man achieve his dream of soaring through the sky.  Birds weren’t the only animal Da Vinci studied in-depth.  Horses were another.  And this book really captures the essence of the man the world knew as Leonardo Da Vinci:

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From his sketches and ideas of war machines, bridges and flying machines to his adoration of horses, it does a great job of helping the reading get inside the workings of Da Vinci’s mind:

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It tells the story of how Da Vinci drew, designed and then sculpted an enormous clay horse and how it was trashed during Italy’s war with the French.  Through pictures it shows his obsession with horses and , ultimately, how he felt he had failed miserably to bring his dream to fruition:

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The book doesn’t end at the point of Leonardo’s death.  No, it continues the tale of passion, belief and dreams and how exactly 500 years after Da Vinci built his clay horse a bronze horse built in his name was finally unveiled:

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This was a picture book which was a joy to read, but even more of a joy to look at.  The drawings told a story all of their own and made us all want to dig a bit deeper and experience the wonder for ourselves.  It inspired us a great deal in our first instalment of a Da Vinci artist study.

The first thing I did was photocopy lots of Da Vinci’s own horse drawings and sketches for the children to study:

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After printing them out the children studied and drew some of their own:

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DSC_0695And some of their sketches:

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Next, using the instructions given in the above book, we began the process of making our own bronze horse.  It wouldn’t be 24 feet high; it wouldn’t even be 24 inches high.  Possibly 24 cm…

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Of course we couldn’t do it exactly like they did (I didn’t have a secret stash of spray on rubber for starters), but we did it the best we could, with what we had.  First the children made clay horses:

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DSC_0699horses T12 did particularly well with his, using the rod principles in the book, he supported his horse with a rod running down its back (A chopstick) and managed to make a horse which stood up on its hind legs:

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Then we decided to use plasticine and a plastic horse to make our own mould.  First L11 warmed up the plasticine until it was malleable enough to press the plastic horse into half way:

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She did this with both sides in order to make two moulds which would eventually fit together to make one horse (at least that was the theory).  She mixed some plaster and poured it into the mould:

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We let it dry and then carefully we peeled back the plasticine to create two halves of a horse:

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In the book it talks about all the problems they had throughout the project and how they solved each one.  The moment we began casting we began having our very own problems, mainly to do with horses limbs and heads breaking off!  So we got to problem solving and came up with the idea of super gluing everything together.  I don’t know if you have ever tried supergluing plaster but it is neither simple nor easy, and in the main unsuccessful.  We are not a family to give up though and through sheer grit and determination (and lots of willing the glue to dry on the plaster before it stuck to our fingers!) we managed a slightly lopsided horse statue.  We stuck the horse in some clay to make it seem as if it had four legs which were actually the same length (they really weren’t) and to help it to stand:

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L11 painted it with bronze paint and we sat back and admired.  Actually we sat back, relieved the project was over and done with before starting to pick the glue off our fingers:

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Not too dissimilar to the one in Venice (!):

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12 comments

  1. Isn’t it amazing the passion and (slightly obsessive) study Leonardo put into his interests? I am also impressed at how well your family stuck through to finish up the horse (I’m sure my girls would have given up). What a great lesson in casting. It turned out great in the end – the bronze paint really pulled it all together.

  2. You do find some absolutely fantastic resources, Claire! I love this project! I think the children’s studies of the horse sketches are all very well done. Horses are very difficult to draw properly, so they’ve done really well. The bronze horse model is beautifully done!

  3. Love, love, love Jean Fritz books. We studied this same topic and found it interesting and sad. Your children did a fantastic job on their horse sketches. The bronze horse is lovely.

    I just love your stick-to-it attitude.;)

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