Saturday, March 23, 2013

Fra Angelico to Leonardo: Italian Renaissance Drawings

The exhibition, “Fra Angelico to Leonardo: Italian Renaissance Drawings” displayed around 100 works by Fra Angelico, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Mantegna, Michelangelo and Titian.

The exhibition explained how drawings were used to prepare for major paintings and frescoes and, later in the 15th century, how they became works of art in their own right, particularly with the arrival of print-making from northern Europe. The exhibition combined works from the museum’s own collection and from that of the Uffizi in Florence. The show ran from April 22 to July 25 2010 at the British Museum and then transferred to the Uffizi.

In addition to often detailed and exquisite pictures of figures, limbs and drapery are fast, rough sketches by the likes of Leonardo who used pen and ink drawings as a way of brainstorming and arriving at ideas for major works.

The show also underlined how the development of paper, a cheaper alternative to vellum, was key to drawing’s expansion.

Most of the works on display were never intended for public exhibition although today they would be considered masterpieces. A drawing by Raphael for a work commissioned by Pope Julius II in the early 16th century, sold in December, 2009 for $47.9 million at Christie’s, a world record for any work on paper.

The exhibition opened with a demonstration of the different stages developed by Renaissance artists to design a painting, from the earliest sketches to the use of grids that allowed them to copy it across to a larger cartoon.

One drawing, by Piero Pollaiuolo and dated around 1470, features the face of the allegorical female figure of Faith where the contours are pricked with a small pin allowing him to transfer the image exactly, using powdered chalk.

The show included the earliest known preparatory study for an extant panel painting, and Lorenzo Monaco’s drawing of around 1407 for the left wing of his “Coronation of the Virgin” altarpiece was united with

the painting for the first time.

Mantegna is represented by his “Allegory of the Fall of Ignorant Humanity,” which, unusually for the exhibition, was intended as a finished work of art.

To the left of the original, dated between 1490 and 1506, was a print of the same image by an engraver, a method that had arrived in Italy from northern Europe earlier in the century. His use of prints was one reason the artist became so well known across much of Italy.

Giuliano da Sangallo "Standing man tearing a scroll," c.1485 Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffiz

Leonardo da Vinci "Head of a woman," 1470s Black chalk or leadpoint brown and grey black wash with white The Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi

Leonardo da Vinci, Warrior, silverpoint on prepared paper, around 1480. © the Trustees of the British Museum.

At the end of the show, drawings by Michelangelo and Raphael underlined how High Renaissance masters developed pre-existing Florentine artistic trends and took them to a wider stage.


This sumptuously illustrated catalogue charts the history of drawing in Italy from 1400, just prior to the emergence in Florence of the classically inspired naturalism of the Renaissance style, to around 1510 when Michelangelo, Raphael and Titian were on the verge of taking the innovations of earlier masters, such as Leonardo and Pollaiuolo, in a new direction. The book highlights the key role played by drawing in artistic teaching and in how artists studied the human body and the natural world. Aspects of regional difference, the development of new drawing techniques and classes of graphic work, such as finished presentation pieces to impress patrons, are also explored. An extended introduction focusing on how and why artists made drawings, with a special emphasis on the pivotal role of Leonardo, is richly illustrated with examples from the two collections that elucidate the technique and function of the works. This is followed by catalogue entries for just over 100 drawings where discussion of their function and significance is supported by comparative illustrations of related works, such as paintings.