December 4th, 2012 § § permalink
Thanks to Antonio Canova’s half-brother, sole heir of the artist, Bassano del Grappa’s Museo Civico has the largest collection of Canova drawings in the world. Some 79 drawings from the collection’s 1,876 drawings are being shown at the Museo di Roma – Palazzo Braschi from 5 December 2012 to 7 April 2013.
Antonio Canova | Study of the Medici Venus – Before Conservation | Red chalk | Museo Civico, Bassano del Grappa
As you’d expect from the foremost Neoclassical sculptor, many of the drawings are after the antique. Like others in the show, the drawing above has Canova’s notations giving measurements–nice reminders that they inhabit real space. Even subjects of his own invention are strongly influenced by the classical world and very few of the drawings seem to be drawn from life.
Most of the works in the show relate to commissions. Canova was a great glorifier of the powerful–Clement XIV, Napoleon, Horatio Nelson, and George Washington among them. With his works, the word monument seems to fit them better than statue or sculpted portrait. Even if monument has a heavy ring to it, there’s something amusing about a work like the Napoleon as Mars the Peacekeeper (heroic nude didn’t appeal to the emperor and he sent it back), or young George Washington in Roman cuirass and pteruges (nowadays this kind of skirt is known as a car wash skirt). Though we might smile at these very Neoclassical portrayals, Canova was dead serious and immensely successful because of them. So successful that he could do things like buy the Giustiniani collection of antiquities and make a gift of them to the Pope. (Canova was also a curator at the Vatican.)
Antonio Canova | Hercules Hurling Lychas into the Sea | Graphite, pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash | Museo Civico, Bassano del Grappa
The exhibition is being held in permanent exhibition rooms, with the Canova works set apart by blue panels. The panels, often freestanding, are used to create rooms that concentrate on one commission. Because the Bassano museum is so rich in Canova, it can provide several drawings for a commission, along with models, and prints (ordered by Canova) of the artist’s finished works.
Antonio Canova | Toilette of Venus | Black chalk | Museo Civico, Bassano del Grappa
The drawings are in a range of media: graphite, black chalk, red chalk, charcoal, pen and ink, brush and ink. They are often roughly sketched out or vigorously drawn. Because Canova’s marble works are so refined, snow-white, and polished, the drawings provide relief.
Canova. Il segno della gloria. Disegni, dipinti, e sculture
Curated by Giuliana Ericani, Dir. Museo Biblioteca Archivio di Bassano del Grappa
Museo di Roma Palazzo Braschi
Catalogue published by Palombi Editore
November 8th, 2012 § § permalink
Caricature, a branch of portraiture, is much more associated with drawing and printmaking than painting and sculpture. Caricatures are humorous in nature, often affectionately playful, but they can also be merciless in their ridicule. They are generally executed rapidly, and some of the best are drawn with the fewest lines.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598 – 1680) – Caricature of Pope Innocent XI – Pen and brown ink on laid paper – 114 x 182 mm – Leipzig
Very often the portrayed doesn’t know they’re being caricatured, and the artist wishes to keep it that way. Bernini, who was deeply religious, would not have wanted his patron Pope Innocent XI to see his caricature of him. The pope, known as a sickly man, is propped up in bed, and his ant-like head is topped by a tiara, while his bony fingers signal orders. The sheet is small, and is meant for Bernini’s amusement, and for his friends. (The artist sometimes included caricatures in the margins of his letters.)
Bernini’s drawing and a drawing such as Pier Francesco Mola’s, just below,
Pier Francesco Mola (1612 – 1666) – Caricature of a Gentleman Viewing a Painting of a Monkey – Pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash on laid paper – 91 x 189 mm – Louvre
must have been satisfying to do. They must have had a therapeutic effect–there’s not much an artist can overtly do to get back at a powerful and difficult patron, but they could be cut down to size in a caricature.
The brothers Annibale and Agostino Carracci are often considered the first artists to create caricatures. An example of “ritrattini carichi” or small loaded portraits is just below. Annibale Carracci covered the sheet with little heads, some might be exaggerated likeness of real people, while others look like invented comic heads, the product of nervous doodling. As with much caricature, heads are in profile allowing for the nose to be exploited to the fullest. With profile caricature, chins also get important treatment, whether exaggeratedly big or small; while with frontal caricature, the ears and eyes come into their own.
Annibale Carracci (1560 -1609) – A Series of Caricature Heads in Profile – Pen and gray-brown ink – 194 x 135 mm – British Museum
This drawing of Agostino is of mascheroni, or grotesque masks. The Carracci enjoyed crossing human and animal heads, like the ancient artists with their fauns and satyrs. It is both amusing and disquieting. It seems like a particularly good example of grotesque heads since they are studies for gesso sculptures, the descendants of antique stucco work which came to be known as grotesque, from the subterranean grottoes where they were discovered.
Agostino Carracci (1557 – 1602) – Mascherone Studies – Red chalk – 258 x 197 mm – Albertina
The word caricature was first used in print in 1646 and ever since the 17th century, there has been a lot of discussion about what a caricature is, when the practice began, if Leonardo’s testine mostruose are caricatures or grotesques. It’s well worth reading this essay by Gombrich (link to pdf here), which discusses why caricature should be considered an invention of the late 16th century because of the growing self awareness of artists and their place in society. That may be true, but it is certainly easy to find exaggerated and comic representations of people–even real people–earlier in time. Just because we don’t know their names, does not mean they didn’t exist. The twisted, and often funny, damned in representations of the Last Judgement, Romanesque capitals with their leering heads, medieval manuscript margin drawings, and then the graffiti of hated emperors in Roman times. One can only imagine all the caricatures done on wax tablets in antiquity.
It seems logical that prehistoric man would also have found amusement in the warping of features. The sun can play atmospheric tricks making our shadow impossibly long or crushingly squat. A fire or candle’s light is usually flattering, but at the wrong angle it can grotesquely amplify features.
December 11th, 2011 § § permalink
I wanted to read about drawings in India, and found this drawing through a search involving the words India preparatory drawing. It had been in a Christie’s sale a few years ago, and it reminded me more of an underdrawing than a drawing made in preparation of another work. The catalogue didn’t go into detail (relatively low value work with a $2-3,000 estimate), but it looked to me like an early stage of a collaborative effort. The overall design had been roughed out in brush and gray color (looking like graphite) and wonderful color touches were applied in paint. (The cataloguer wrote “transparent and opaque pigments” which seems like a more sensible way of putting it – better than worrying about whether to write watercolor or watercolour and choosing between gouache or bodycolor or tempera.) The touches of color look like they are meant as a guide for the next artist in an assembly line.
India, Kotah, 18th century | Preparatory Drawing of a Seated King | Opaque and transparent pigments on paper | 330 x 277 mm | Christie's NY 20 March 2008, lot 206
After this I was thinking of written notations about color in drawings and there seem to be two main reasons for their inclusion: as memory aids for artists and as guides for collaborators. The drawing below, from an album (now dismantled) at the British Museum, gives both painted indications for color and written indications for color and fabric types for the costume makers who would have to execute the garments.
Stefano della Bella | Ballet Costume Study for a Gardener | Pen and brown ink, with brown wash and watercolour, over graphite | 276 x 202 mm | British Museum
As an example of memory aid color notes, I found this completely atypical drawing of Ingres. Atypical because he usually draws in the most controlled way. Instead, here it is all about registering the colors in a cloud formation quickly. Gris, bleu tendre, clair and the other words are dashed off as rapidly as the cloud outlines. M. Ingres was in such a rush that rather than write clair again, he used id.
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres | Cloud Study | Graphite | 202 x 182 mm | Musée Ingres, Montauban
July 9th, 2011 § § permalink
Being just as curious as the next guy about the recently attributed panel picture to Leonardo, I thought I’d post images from Windsor of two red chalk preparatory drawings by Leonardo for a Salvator Mundi. Links to the Royal Collection allow for enlargement of the images.
LINK to Leonardo’s Studies of Drapery for a Salvator Mundi at Windsor
LINK to Leonardo’s A Study of Drapery for a Salvator Mundi at Windsor
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) | Studies of drapery for a Salvator Mundi | c.1504-8 | Red chalk with pen and ink and white heightening on pale red prepared paper | 164 x 158 mm | Royal Collection | Windsor
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) | A study of drapery for a Salvator Mundi | c.1504-8 | Red chalk with touches of white chalk and pen and ink on pale red prepared paper 22 x 139 mm | Royal Collection | Windsor
The picture below has just popped up on the internet, a good deal changed, and more believable than the pre-conservation photo.
Attr. to Leonardo | Salvator Mundi | Oil on walnut panel | 65.6 X 45.4 cm | Robert Simon et al. | NYC
January 17th, 2010 § § permalink
Old master drawings disgorge in museums just as surely as rivers flow into the sea. Collectors donate their collections to museums for mankind, tax deductions, recognition, and to spite their ungrateful children. Once in museums, it’s over for the trade, mostly. Deaccessioning does happen, but is frowned upon and discourages future donations. Without much supply, dealers and collectors (include myself here) are working with what they have, and that means upgrading attributions. Museum curators do this too. There is no way they can make the brilliant acquisitions of past curators because of simple lack of supply and the hideous cost of whatever little there is left. So, art works get reevaluated up, and seldom down, much like Moody’s ratings of instruments in the financial world. (The growing number of Caravaggio pictures, whether in the private realm or museums, is particularly puzzling.)
Newspapers, fed by what seems a PR machine, have been reporting the recent upgrade of an anonymous 19th century drawing to Leonardo. Right out, I am very doubtful. However, it is always wonderful when something that is thought to be late, is instead very early. This was the case of a drawing of peonies, in an auction as anonymous, what seemed like another beautiful botanical illustration, and instead turned out to be a preparatory drawing by Dürer’s idol, Martin Schongauer.
Leonardo ? | Portrait of a Young Woman | Pen and brown ink, bodycolor, and colored chalks on vellum | 330 x 239 mm. | Paris ?
The drawing in question is of a young woman, bust length and in absolute profile to the left. The drawing measures 330 x 239 mm, and is executed in pen and brown ink, brush and bodycolor, and colored chalks on vellum. The names of Bianca Maria Sforza (1472-1510) and Bianca Giovanna Sforza (1482-1496) have been advanced for the sitter, although this is conjecture. (Lodovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, was Leonardo’s patron from 1482 to 1499 and the idea is to keep it in the family.) If it’s Bianca Maria, the hair and eye color, for starters, don’t match up with a portrait in the Washington’s National Gallery of an older Sforza by Giovanni Ambrogio de Predis. I haven’t read enough about the Profile to know how this is reconciled by the owner’s expert team. Giovanni Ambrogio de Predis’s portrait of an unknown woman in the Ambrosiana, illustrated below, and which shows a scarily similar hairdo (minus the coazzone, coazzone is the name of the braid in Milanese dialect) and knotted hairnet, was once attributed to Leonardo. It wouldn’t be entirely surprising to me if we start gearing up for an upgrade of this picture back to Leonardo if any trace of left-handed hatching (more about this below) can be found.
Giovanni Ambrogio de Predis | Bianca Maria Sforza | Oil on Panel | 51 x 32.5 cm. | National Gallery | Washington
Giovanni Ambrogio de Predis | Portrait of a Woman | Tempera and Oil on Panel | 51 x 34 cm. | Ambrosiana | Milan
Martin Kemp and Carlo Pedretti, two towering figures in the Leonardo world, are convinced the drawing is by Leonardo. Kemp’s writing/written a book on the drawing. Nicholas Turner, known for his seriousness and excellent eye, is also convinced of the attribution to Leonardo. His essay, download available here, from the site of Lumiere Technology, a Paris firm involved in high high resolution imaging. Turner writing in 2008, anticipates what critics will find hard to square: that there are no Leonardo drawings on vellum and that the mixture of media–pen and brown ink, bodycolor, and colored chalks, in combination and so highly finished–isn’t found in other drawings of the master. He also carefully ties what Leonardo writes about art, and writes about ideal beauty, to the drawing. Skeptics will say this is being done because the visual evidence–other drawings–is so scanty.
The owner, pushing hard to make the case for his Leonardo, and not wanting to rely solely on connoisseurship, has had the vellum carbon dated to between 1440 and 1650 and had fingerprint analysis done by one Peter Paul Biro. A scientific study of the pigments will also be interesting. In writing this post, I tried to find out about Biro and it seems his reputation in the fingerprint community is not great. Here is a video of a detective and fingerprint expert named Tom Hanley from Long Island poking holes in one of Biro’s prior projects involving Jackson Pollock fingerprints. Hanley in the video is circumspect, but it seems Biro was enhancing and reading into the fingerprints when there was insufficient evidence.
If the vellum is from 1440 – 1650, as one test has shown, the drawing is probably not from the 19th century (it would be worth investigating when forgers started using period paper, vellum, panels etc.). Early paper is easily had from the end papers of books and the drawing forger Eric Hebborn made full use of such paper. Vellum too could be easily recycled from book covers, say account books, which are often not tooled and loosely cover boards. For what it’s worth, it doesn’t look like a Hebborn, at least the ones I remember illustrated in his memoir. Hebborn’s normally draws sheets of studies, often attempting to show the thought process of the artist, and to boost credibility, he includes inscriptions and collection marks. His use of inscriptions was pointed out to me by Konrad Oberhuber, whom Hebborn hated for first identifying his forgeries, and in childish repayment Hebborn misspelled Oberhuber’s name in his memoir–something Oberhuber found very amusing.
Many drawings purported to be by Leonardo, a left-handed artist, have been discounted because of telltale right-handedness, a characteristic most easily seen in shading or hatching. Left-handed draftsmen shade \\\ and right-handed artists like this ///. The draftsman of the Profile is left-handed and this is considered a pivotal point in attributing the drawing to Leonardo. The hatching can be seen just outside the profile. A clear example of Leonardo’s hatching can be seen in this study in Turin.
Leonardo | Study for Angel – Virgin of the Rocks | Metalpoint, brush and white heightening on prepared paper | 181 x 159 mm. | Biblioteca Reale | Turin
None of Leonardo’s followers were left-handed and this makes differentiating Leonardo drawings from those of his followers fairly easy. Only fairly easy because they sometimes copied the left-handed shading, probably by turning the paper upside down. (Followers of Leonardo, and artists ever since, have copied works of the master as part of their training. That there are no copies of the Profile should be taken into account. ) Nowadays, about one in ten people are left-handed, but in the past people were discouraged from writing or drawing with their left, or sinister hand. Still, there have been plenty of left-handed artists (I hope eventually to post a table of these draftsmen). Also, those who were left-handed and adapted to fully using their right hand, might well be considered ambidextrous and be able to shade with either hand.
Some clever people commenting on the blog the Daily Kos have said that the sitter looks like Kirsten Dunst, the American actress. There is a definite resemblance. And this is where the drawing fails to convince me. The sitter conforms much more to a 19th or 20th century ideal of what a Renaissance beauty should look like, rather than a 15th century ideal, and much more to a Northern European than to an Italian ideal. (Yes, what Errol Morris was talking about in his Hans van Meegeren and Vermeer series of articles in the NYT.) At times I feel like I’m looking at Rapunzel. The Louvre’s Leonardo portrait of Isabella d’Este, a cartoon in colored chalks, with anything approaching the finish of the Profile, is very different. Very different. The d’Este portrait, with the body turned out to the viewer, is far more innovative–and what one would expect from Leonardo– than the strict Profile, where the pose looks back to an earlier 15th century type which Pisanello, Piero della Francesca, and the Pollaiolo, had so famously exploited.
Leonardo | Isabella d’Este | Preparatory cartoon in black, red, and ochre chalks, heightened with white, on prepared white paper and pricked for transfer | 610 x 465 mm. | Louvre | Paris
I can’t keep but thinking that draftsman who executed this had seen not only the portraits of Giovanni Ambrogio de Predis, but was also informed of Hans Holbein the Younger (left-handed draftsman). What would be interesting is to see the early 19th century German drawings Kate Ganz, a former owner of the drawing, and the experts at Christie’s (OMD NY 30 January 1998, lot 402) based their ideas upon. After some looking, I have to say that I can’t find any similar 19th century portraits. Maybe it is by Leonardo, but it would then be like the Michelangelo painting after Schongauer which recently caused a stir, an anomaly. Another possibility is that an earlier drawing was colored and reworked in the 19th century, the fate of too many drawings, and then everyone could be right at the same time.
October 4th, 2009 § § permalink
With Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom we can change the color of iron gall ink drawings from brown to black and see, at least vaguely, how the drawings would have originally appeared. When an artist uses iron gall ink it starts out gray, quickly oxidizes to blue-black, and over years changes to brown. It is hard to grasp that so many of the warm brown drawings we know were conceived in black.
Gall Apples on an Oak Tree | Bomarzo
Gall Apple on an Oak Tree | Bomarzo
The color in iron gall ink comes from gall and vitriol–yes, a negative ring. Recipes call for ground wasp’s galls (tannic acid), iron or copper filings (vitriol or sulfuric acid), gum arabic, and water or wine. The photographs of the galls here are on oak trees in Italy. Galls, also called gall apples, are nests built by wasps for their larvae. This kind of ink was made in antiquity and again starting in the 13th century. It was the most commonly used ink until the 19th century. Part of its appeal was that it was indelible, unlike carbon ink. Since it eats into the paper, it could not be altered, a positive attribute for scribes with their official documents.
Most old master drawings in brown ink were created with iron gall ink. The other important brown inks are bister and sepia, both of them more stable. One easy, and unfortunate, way to tell the difference between these inks, is that the iron gall ink bites into the paper, making it look seared or burnt. Some greatly damaged drawings appear lacy with all their holes. In this example by the artist Mola, we can see how the areas with concentrations of ink, especially in the eye and cuff sections, are weakening the paper. This is the action of the acid in the ink.
Pier Francesco Mola (1612 - 1666) | Caricature | Pen and Iron Gall Ink on Cream Laid Paper | 14.7 x 17.8 cm. | National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
The Ink Corrosion Website details the scope of the problem of deteriorating documents, drawings, and music scores created with iron gall ink and has information on what conservators are doing about it. The excellent site also gives recipes for the ink.