Two amazing 15th century drawings are Jan Van Eyck’s St. Barbara (Royal Museum, Antwerp) and Giovanni Bellini’s Lamentation (Uffizi, Florence). Both are on gesso covered panels and painted with fine, fine brushes. The Bellini is a large work and measures 74 x 118 cm., and the Van Eyck small at 31 x 18 cm. They are often referred to as grisaille paintings. To me they are much more drawings than paintings, and if I were a drawings curator at the Uffizi or in Antwerp, I’d surely agitate to have them in my department. The limiting of drawings to paper or animal skin supports seems too arbitrary.
Scholars are undecided as to whether these are finished or unfinished works. To modern eyes, it would seem insane to do such detailed works, only to be covered with paint. (The colored paint in the sky of the Van Eyck work was added later, not by Van Eyck.) Fifteenth century painters were meticulous in their preparation, but to this extent?
– Unfinished, meant to be completed with paint
– Meant to be exactly as they are
– Meant to be used as teaching/workshop models
Or, maybe we’re dealing with instances of “quit while you’re ahead.”