Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Sketching from Ancient Art

In the old atelier system for training artists, drawing from casts and statuary was a customary way to begin. Although I don't come from an atelier background, it's easy for me to see the benefits of drawing from the master sculptors of antiquity. These works, beginning certainly in Greek Antiquity and continuing throughout the Roman era provide many opportunities.

One of my favorite drawing exercises is to pick an ancient sculpture--often a bust--and draw it. What sculpture doesn't really matter, the point is the drawing practice. A particularly interesting source of drawings for me are Roman portrait busts. Many such sculptures exist, commonly a portrait of an emperor, but just as easily a faithful image of an upper class Roman. Here is a page of one of my sketchbooks, showing three emperors and a bearded man who was likely not of the elite. These were done from photos of the busts, drawn in graphite on toned paper and accented with white chalk.

Here is an 8x10 sketch from a Roman portrait bust of an unknown gentleman. He looked like a fiery
fellow, and the expression the ancient sculptor caught was fascinating. Obviously the pitiless gaze is invented but somehow seemed perfect for the sort of person many upper class Romans were known to be.

Another fascinating group of ancient images are frescoes and encaustics. You can find a lot of fresco images of Romans that are work study and copying. Particularly useful are the so-called Fayyum portraits, done in encaustic in Egypt during the Roman era. Those were done as mummy images, mostly. Here's one of a boy named Eutyches, possibly Roman, from an encaustic. In the portrait he wears a toga and the purple stripe of the upper class. I took liberties with the image, but had fun translating the ancient painter's strokes into a drawing. His name is included in the ancient painting.

Although I haven't done so, it might be instructive to attempt a detailed drawing of one of the classical pieces known since the Renaissance. The Laocoon Group, the huge statuary group found in the early 16th century for example, would pose an enormous challenge; or perhaps the Apollo Belvedere, a full-length classical sculpture might be a better place to begin.

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