With digital photography so easy (and essentially without cost once you have the machines), I sometimes think that I’m spending too much time snapping pictures, and not enough time looking at drawings, paintings, architecture etc. There’s a strong desire to take the picture and then have a record forever.
While invention is what most people appreciate about drawings, a very large number of drawings have to do with copying or recording other works of art. Gabriel de Saint-Aubin (1724-1780) and Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle (1820-1897) were two of the worlds great recorders. Saint-Aubin was an artist; and Cavalcaselle, an art historian.
“Un priapisme de dessin” is what Greuze, a contemporary, is supposed to have said of Saint-Aubin. I guess this means he was constantly aroused to draw. (Greuze also produced a prodigious number of drawings.) Saint-Aubin filled catalogues with margin drawings illustrating the offerings he saw coming up at Paris auctions, and what was being shown at the Salons. At his death, there were some 100 catalogues filled with margin drawings, and about a third remain. The pages below are from a Salon booklet and an auction catalogue, both in the collection of France’s Bibliothèque Nationale.
Photography was in its infancy when Cavalcaselle was going about recording the pictures he was seeing. One of the striking things about the drawings, now housed in the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice, is the huge number of notes. Cavalcaselle collaborated with Joseph A. Crowe in producing a survey of Italian art, and other more narrowly focused books. The drawings must have been invaluable in keeping track of so much material. Just below is Cavalcaselle’s drawing of Raphael’s Galatea fresco at the Farnesina in Rome.
One wonders if Saint-Aubin and Cavalcaselle ever worried that they were spending too much time committing the works to paper and not looking.