Publication date: 13 July 2017
ISBN: 978 1 85514 7751
Format: 290 x 230mm
Category: Renaissance Art/ Art History/Drawing
Word count: Approx. 47,000 words
Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Anthony Van Dyck
Hans Holbein the Younger
Peter Paul Rubens
Leonardo da Vinci
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Tarnya Cooper and Charlotte Bolland with an essay by Jeremy Wood
This book brings together fifty exquisite observational portrait drawings from the Renaissance and Baroque periods, including works by Leonardo da Vinci, Dürer, Holbein, Bernini, Carracci, Clouet, Rubens and Rembrandt. More than a record of the sitters’ appearance, these works capture a moment of connection between artist and sitter: an encounter.
Recording likeness was fundamental to the idea of the Renaissance, and capturing lifelike figures in highly resolved paintings and sculptures relied upon accurate observational skills in drawing. Fine-tuning these skills allowed artists to capture the world as they experienced it, recreating accurate perspective and proportion. Highly skilled artists across Europe varied their approach to these principles, and the range of materials to hand meant that drawings from this period, fifty of which are beautifully reproduced in this book, show, for the first time, an outstanding sense of likeness and physical appearance. Some drawings could be executed at speed, capturing a fleeting moment in time, while others were more finished and controlled, but all have an honesty and integrity that capture the connection between artist and sitter.
The drawings produced in Europe in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries by such artists as Pisanello, Gozzoli and Leonardo are like no others that had been seen before. They moved away from the use of medieval patternbooks as source materials, and instead they studied the figure, and the face, from life. The authors explore the development of portrait drawing at this early date and its evolution in the 1500s and 1600s, examining the drawing tools and media used – from silverpoint to coloured chalks – and considering the individuals depicted in these often intimate portraits, many of whom remain unidentified. Were they assistants working in the studio? Did they have a relationship with the artist? Or perhaps the artist simply liked their face?
This book includes illuminating essays on drawing practice by the Gallery’s Curatorial Director Tarnya Cooper, and on the British collecting of portrait drawings by Jeremy Wood. Putting the emphasis on the sitter, the plates are divided into sections such as Self-Portraits, Workshop Models and Assistants and Family Portraiture, and each image is accompanied by a text that examines in more detail the artist, the sitter and the sitting itself. Although some of the drawings were perhaps never intended to leave the artists’ studios, these works are arguably the most engaging and powerful impressions of personal likeness in the history of art.
Tarnya Cooper is Curatorial Director at the National Portrait Gallery, London.
Charlotte Bolland is Collections Curator Sixteenth Century at the National Portrait Gallery, London.
Jeremy Wood is Professor Emeritus of Art History at the University of Nottingham.