Learning from the Masters: how to look at Italian Renaissance drawings
Learning from the Masters: how to look at Italian Renaissance drawings This slideshow will help you to: • examine the drawings in detail • analyse the techniques used in drawings • consider the reasons for drawing in the Renaissance • think about why drawings are so important in the development of Italian Renaissance art
During these two slideshows, think about these important questions: • Is it a quick drawing? How ‘finished’ is it? • What materials did the artist use? • How has the artist created a sense of light and shade? • How has the artist created a sense of depth? • What was the drawing for? • Who was the intended audience?
What was Italy like in the 15th century? What do you notice about this map of Italy? Italy was not united but made up of republics, duchies and kingdoms. Republic of Venice Wealth: trade with the East Patrons: the Doge, Senators, scuole (confraternities), merchant families, church Republic of Florence Wealth: banking, wool trade Patrons: Medici family, rich banking families, church Although politically divided, people in Italy shared a common language, enabling artists to travel and ideas to be communicated. Two of the most important regions were the Republic of Florence and the Republic of Venice. These wealthy cities had many patrons of the arts.
What was the Renaissance? Raffaelino del Garbo, who made this drawing, was probably inspired by a Classical statue like this Roman sculpture. • ‘Re’-‘naissance’ = Rebirth • Revival of the arts and ideas of Classical Greece and Rome • Focus upon naturalism and realism in art • Classical subject matter as well as religious subjects • Inspiration from Classical material such as coins, medals, sculpture Roman version after a lost Greek 3rd century BC, Dionysus or Bacchus Marble, British Museum 1861,0725.2 Raffaellino del Garbo (?1466-1524), The Risen Christ, c. 1495-7, Silverpoint, heightened with lead white over stylus , British Museum Pp,1.32
Why drawing? Why the 15th century? • Masters such as Leonardo and Michelangelo, whose celebrated careers began towards the end of the 15th century were only able to achieve such mastery of art, sculpture and architecture because of the development of skills, techniques and ideas in the previous 100 years. • Changes in drawing were central to this…
Which of these drawings was a quick drawing? • How do you know? • Be precise and think about: • materials • technique • composition Understanding these elements helps you to work out how and why the artist made the drawing Raphael (1483–1520), Studies of the Virgin and Child, c. 1506-7, Pen and brown ink, over traces of red chalk British Museum Ff,1.36 Gentile Bellini (?1429–1507)A woman in Middle Eastern costume, around1480, Pen and blackish brown ink, British Museum Pp,1-20
What materials were available? METALPOINT These were thin rods of metal attached to a handle which were used as a drawing tool. In the early 1400s, silverpoint was the most commonly used form of metalpoint. A stylus was often used first to plan the design first (silverpoint could not be rubbed out.) This was a sharp-ended metal stick which made an indentation into paper as a guide when drawing. As silver was very hard, little variation could be achieved with it (like drawing with a ballpoint pen), but it was very precise. Silverpoint: From these details you can see that the marks Leonardo made are of a similar tone and weight but variation is achieved through density of marks and hatching. Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), Bust of a warrior, around1475–80, Silverpoint on cream preparation British Museum, 1895,0915.474
Which metalpoints to use? Leadpoint was another metalpoint – it was softer than silver and responded more easily to movements of the hand. But it was less precise. The Florentine artist Perugino used both silverpoint and leadpoint in this drawing, and heightened it with lead white (which is the bright white you can see here). Can you tell which was used where? Pietro Perugino (around 1450–1523), Head of a bearded man, around 1490-1500, Leadpoint and silverpoint, heightened with lead white, on ochre preparation, British Museum Pp,01.28
It is hard to tell with the naked eye so we can use scientific imaging to reveal them. Examine these two images: can you now see what areas Perugino has used each material for? Leadpoint: Silverpoint: (darker lines – not white) Softer medium: to outline the head and create the curly hair of the beard Harder, more precise medium: to define the features.
What materials were available? This drawing and the scientific imaging show us how Perugino selected carefully selected his drawing tools. Perugino combined these two metalpoints to create the texture of the hair and define the features. Imagine using an 3H pencil for precise details and an HB pencil for creating varied textures.
Pen and ink Pen and ink These became the most favoured drawing tools in 15th century. Pens were made from goose or duck feathers. Inks were originally black but now look brown. Various nibs could give very fine detail. Most importantly it was sensitive to small changes in pressure from the artist’s hand so drawings light and dark areas could be drawn very easily (unlike silverpoint). Pen and ink were very good for quick drawings. Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), Virgin and Child with a cat, around1475–81, Pen and brown ink, over black chalk and leadpoint, British Museum 1860,0616.98
Additional effects There were limitations with metalpoint and pen and ink. Other media were often used. Wash Washes were made by adding water to ink and applying with a brush. It was combined with another medium, either a metalpoint or pen and ink. Washes enabled the artist to enhance the sense of light and shadow. Pen and brown ink to depict figures and details Brown wash adds shadow which creates depth in the building. The dark arcade creates the effect of space. Filippino Lippi (around 1457-1504), Triumph of St Thomas Aquinas, around1488-93, British Museum 1860,0616.75
Additional effects Charcoal and chalk Charcoal, from carbonised wood, and chalks, made from sticks of limestone were very soft. Black charcoal has been used here to create soft shaded tones on the face. Lead white This was applied with a brush, made from lead carbonate and used to lighten or ‘heighten’ the drawing.
What surface is the drawing made on? Paper: In the middle of the century it was still expensive but the invention of the printing press at the end of the 15th century made paper widely available and increasingly less costly. What might the pros and cons be of paper? Vellum: In the early in the 1400s vellum was the most common material used by artists. Vellum was made from calf-, sheep- or goatskin. Pros: - long-lasting Cons: - expensive - tough to work on to Therefore drawings were used for important patrons or when they had to last, e.g. to show pupils. Pros: -cheaper than vellum in 15th century - easy to draw on to with a variety of materials - different colours could be prepared to create different effects Cons: - not durable - still expensive – had to use both sides Greater opportunities for experimentation. Paper was a new material which was invented in China and became readily available in Europe in the 15th century. Follower of Giovannino de’Grassi (died 1398), Recto: A cheetah, around1400–10, Watercolour and bodycolour on vellum, British Museum 1895,1214.94
Checklist for examining drawings: • Is it a quick drawing? How ‘finished’ is it? • What materials did the artist use? • How has the artist created a sense of light and shade? • How has the artist created a sense of depth? • What was the drawing for? • Was the drawing meant to be seen outside the studio?