Drawings from Leonardo to Rembrandt
“Do you not see that among the beauties of mankind it is a very beautiful face that arrests passers-by and not their adornments.” Leonardo da Vinci
Today I went to see a wonderful exhibition of drawings at the National Portrait Gallery.
Its premise was so simple and yet revealing. The curatorial side was really nicely balanced; a little art history with well-placed texts and quotes. No convoluted dialogues about the socio-political context or the psychology of the sitter or artist, just informative text about drawing methods and the reason we draw.
‘Work hard and don’t on any account neglect your drawing.’ Michelangelo
The walls were painted a beautiful dark blue grey which set off the simple classic wood frames. Nothing from text, wall colour and frames, took away from or belittled the drawings; that they could be seen for themselves, uncluttered by words or theories. Some of the attributions were a little over ambitious but on the whole, it was a perfect exhibiting that achieved what it set out to do.
Refreshingly the show was laid out neither chronologically or by country so that varying artistic styles could be better appreciated. The Dutch rather more linear approach with some amazing Rembrandt drawings all drawn on one page, demonstrating his thought processes and musings. The Venetian drawings displayed more mass and shadow shapes compared to the more accented and linear central Italians drawings.
There was an especially lovely selection from the Carracci school who started the first Atelier as we now know them at London Fine Art Studios and across the States and Italy. My favourite was Annibale’s beautiful drawing of a study of a young Man. He must have known the arm was too long, but it is so touching to be irrelevant. I love the quote on the side which makes the drawing even more moving “Non so se Dio Me aiuta”. The softened mass with the red chalk balanced with little accents is so tender too.
“Stranger, do you want to see figures seemingly alive? Look at these, brought forth by Holbein’s hand.” Nicholas Bourbon
The last room shows many of Holbein’s master drawings. Some feel so modern as if one of the characters is just in the room right next to you.
He is surely the master of exquisite variety of technique and line from the refined drawing in the portrait to the softening of beard with accents and then near scribbled clothing.
The last quote of the show is so encouraging and relevant.
“Do not fail, as you go on, to draw something every day, for no matter how little it is it will be well worth while, and will do you a world of good.” Cennino Cennini The Crafstman’s Handbook, c1400
For drawing is not just about line, it is about the medium you use. It doesn’t have to be for public.( I’m sure poor Van Dyck would be horrified to see his drawing on show.)
So draw in a sketch book or doodle every day – not for end result but for the process itself.
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