Drawings of the Masters: Flemish & Dutch Drawings from the 15th to the 18th Century

Drawings of the Masters: Flemish & Dutch Drawings from the 15th to the 18th Century

Drawings of the Masters: Flemish & Dutch Drawings from the 15th to the 18th Century

Drawings of the Masters: Flemish & Dutch Drawings from the 15th to the 18th Century

Excerpt

The eloquent line, whether in the calligraphy of medieval manuscripts, the interlace of early metalwork or the incised ornament of sculpture, has always been the hallmark of Dutch and Flemish art. The lands now known as Holland and Belgium, together with the southwestern section of Germany provided the pioneers of the graphic arts, the inventors of new drawing techniques and almost every aspect of the discovery of print-making and typography as well. Among the earliest special media for drawing is the silverpoint method, in which a silver or other metal stylus is impressed on chemically prepared parchment or paper, producing a particularly delicate and shimmering line.

Rarely intended as independent works of art, the first drawings were often designer's models, plans for future projects, indications of how a finished commission would appear. The earliest sketches are hastily drawn in the margins of medieval manuscripts, or in small highly-finished renderings for enclosure in pattern books which the traveling artist would take with him to show prospective patrons what he could do. In the late middle ages drawings were generally small in size as all the materials needed were costly. In the fifteenth century, as paper-making became widespread and steadily lower in cost, drawings became larger. Artists who had hitherto made their preparatory drawings directly on the surface of the painting itself, started using paper for their preliminary designs.

Typical of the graceful style of the early fifteenth century, emphasizing refinement and delicacy, are the silverpoint drawings of The Betrayal of Christ (Plate 1) and of A Courtly Company (Plate 2). In each the artist is also a choreographer, placing his elongated, slender figures in dancing attitudes, whether portraying the Passion of Christ or an aristocratic flirtation. The courtiers' somewhat grimacing faces anticipate the realistic trend of art in the northern Netherlands (later known as Holland). The participants in the Betrayal , however, already show the more classical style and less broad char-

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