This painting carries many of the hallmarks of an Italianate picture: a soft Mediterranean light, the sun still warm although night is falling, distant hills not likely to be seen in a flat Dutch landscape, and idealised peasants with their garments loosened and walking at a leisurely pace. As far as we know, Adriaen van de Velde never went to Italy, but he knew artists who had and who allowed him access to their work.
Van de Velde’s depiction of the young man leading the cow is particularly skilled and sensitive: both have real weight and substance, yet show delicate details of texture, like the feathery hairs on the cow’s face and the flowing folds of the man’s shirt. This realism comes from the many superb drawings, mostly in red chalk, that van de Velde made from life.
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