The Encounter: Drawings from Leonardo to Rembrandt

Past exhibition archive
13 July - 22 October 2017


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The creative encounter between individual artists and sitters was explored in this major exhibition featuring portrait drawings by some of the outstanding masters of the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Drawn from the holdings of British collections, exquisite observational drawings by artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Holbein, and Rembrandt were on display in a celebration of portrait drawing from life, during a time of extraordinary artistic ingenuity.

Supported by The Encounter Supporters Group and The Tavolozza Foundation. Media Partner Classic FM.

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Young Man Looking Left
Young Man Looking Left by Francesco Salviati c.1540. Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Bequeathed by Rev. Alexander Dyce.
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

How to Draw Like a Renaissance Master

The Encounter celebrated the creative connection between artist and sitter during the Renaissance and Baroque periods, ranging from fifteenth-century figure studies to bravura portraits of the seventeenth century. But what did it take to become a master of portrait drawing?

A Sheet of Figure Studies, with Male Heads and Three Sketches of a Woman with a Child by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn c.1636 The Henry Barber Trust, the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham

 In the fourteenth century, Florentine artist Cennino Cennini wrote The Craftsman’s Handbook (Il Libro dell' Arte) a fascinating and instructive handbook for aspiring artists of the period.

This is his advice on drawing in silverpoint:

  • Find a place to draw where the light is diffused, and have the sun fall on the opposite side to the hand with which you draw.
  • Prepare the paper with a coloured ground
  • Select a slender, smooth and handsome metal stylus with a silver tip
  • Begin by copying simple subjects
  • Make the first marks very lightly, so that they can barely be seen
  • Strengthen the strokes little by little, going back many times to produce the shadows
  • Touch in highlights with white lead on the tip of a pointed brush
  • Work a little each day, so that you don’t tire of it.

Woman Wearing a Hood by Domenico Ghirlandaio, c.1485-90. Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

After about a year of drawing in metalpoint you may take up drawing with a pen and ink on paper, which will make you expert, skilful and capable of drawing from your imagination:

  • Cut your quill from a goose feather
  • Work up your lights, half lights, and darks gradually, going back to them many times
  • Shade with washes by adding two drops of ink to a nutshell of water and applying with a dry, blunt brush, made from miniver tails.

His key advice: Do not fail, as you go on, to draw something every day, for no matter how little it is it will be well worth while, and will do you a world of good.

Self-portrait by Unknown Dutch or Flemish Artist c.1625-35. © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford


Drawing Materials and Techniques: Metalpoint


Drawing Materials and Techniques: Chalk


Drawing Materials and Techniques: Pen and Ink


catalogue cover


Published 13 July 2017

By 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.