Friday, December 14, 2018

Renaissance Drawings

Michelangelo Buonarotti, "Study of a Mourning Woman, ca 1500
At the Getty Renaissance drawings are on display in an exhibition called Spectacular Mysteries: Renaissance Drawings Revealed (until April 29). The premise of the exhibit is that many many drawings made in during the period were and are difficult to attribute, given that they are generally unsigned, the question of authorship is quite often difficult. The Getty has brought together a group of drawings from the Italian Renaissance (16th century) from their own collection and from private hands and investigated. The show brings together "what we know, what we do not know, what we would like to know, and what we may never know," about these esteemed works.

Because these works are difficult to attribute, quite often the only evidence at hand to determine the why, who, how, when and so on is the actual drawing. This exhibit shows the visitor how these kinds of art are investigated, from working on attribution by stylistic comparisons. An excellent example is the drawing by Michelangelo (right) of a mourning woman. This particular drawing, though unsigned, is very much in the style of the master, and further analysis confirmed the impression of an auction house expert.

Lorenzo di Credi, "Head of a Boy Crowned with Laurel," ca 1500
The group of nearly forty drawings on display include works by Titian, Parmagianino, Credi, and others that have never been attributed. Each work has been investigated and evaluated by the Getty, but as is often the case, if the image does not relate to other known works either stylistically or as apparent preparatory work, the actual artist may never be known.

For me, the important thing is the drawings themselves. That is, if the drawing is effective and well made it is interesting. Study of these sorts of works gives the working artist an opportunity to speculate on how they were made, what the artist was thinking while laying down red or black chalk or ink lines. How did he  (or rarely, she) accomplish this feat of legerdemain, representing three dimensions in two? Attribution is important because it gives us a clue about where to look for more examples of the mastery we're seeing; for the "art world" of course, it allows assignment of financial value. But the actual art is considerably more interesting. Happily, there is a book from the Getty that includes many of these drawings (available on the museum website and also from Amazon) that provides many closeups and discussions.

My regret about this show is that like many it's not possible for me to visit. If you live in the area, take time to visit the Getty and see this show. After all, it's free.

Titian, "Pastoral Scene," ca 1565
Parmagianino, "Head of a Young Man," ca 1540
Pollauido (attrib), "Head of a Young Man," ca 1470

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