Drawing: The moment of apprehension and response
Italian Drawings: Highlights from the Collection (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge)
The current exhibition at the Fitzwilliam celebrates the very best of the Museum’s collection of Italian Drawings – most of which have never been displayed together until now.
Working on the premise that most drawings appeal because of the immediacy of the artist’s expression and the direct contact established between the viewer and the work, the display explores how this sense of immediacy, of the intimacy carried within the act of drawing, seems to relate both to the spontaneity of execution and the fragmentary nature of the design.
Illustrating the evolution of Italian draughtsmanship from the 1430s (with drawings by Pisanello and Fra Angelico) until the 20th century (incorporating pieces by Modigliani and Boccioni), the sumptuous examples on view show both the versatility and vitality of the medium, offering an exciting opportunity to apprehend creative ideas in their essential traits. Among the featured artists are Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, Titian (whose ‘A Couple in Embrace’ is rich in its sense of abandoned sensuality), Parmigianino, Polidoro da Caravaggio, Giulio Romano, Tiepolo and Guardi. Also on display are sketchbooks by Carlo Dolci – which he used to teach his daughter Agnese to draw and includes some of her work – and Stefano della Bella.
Various classes of graphic work are represented, such as finished compositions in pen and wash, carefully heightened with white body-colour on grey or blue coloured paper (modelli or presentation pieces to impress patrons) or, more commonly, rough sketches made with a fine pen and a light touch, very lightly washed, from which there emerge beautiful rhythms and combinations. Not to be overlooked is Tintoretto’s ‘Study of a Fallen Man’ (below left), used in his painting of the ‘Last Judgement’ (Madonna dell’Orto, Venice – below right). Although accused of being extravagantly dramatic and superficial in his aspirations as far as drawing was concerned, in this sketch Tintoretto’s observation of action and gesture is compelling.
A drawing will not give you the quick fix of a bigger work of art. That said, the freshness, energy, and movement inherent in so many of the pieces in this exhibition will, I suspect, resonate with those OCA students who know only too well the truth of Tuscan-born Cennino Cennini’s words in his quirky, early 15th century ‘how to’ manual, Il Libro dell’ Arte: “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”.
Italian Drawings: Highlights from the Collection continues at the Fitzwilliam until 10 July 2011.
By OCA art history tutor Julia Biggs