This post is from Siobhan, our project conservator, on one fo her favourite objects at Knole.
Knole’s collection of Old Master drawings
These small framed objects are easily lost and ignored amidst the rest of Knole’s grandeur. Four of them sit in the Cartoon Gallery and two more in the Ballroom. They are beautiful objects in their own right and of considerable importance. The fact that these delicate objects still exist is quite remarkable. The drawings were collected by the 3rd Duke who assembled many old masters pictures on his Grand tour.
Copy of a nude figure depicted in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling
The artist was Annibale Carracci (1560-1609) who was the greatest of a renowned and prominent family of artists working at the end of the 16th century.
The drawing is done in metal point with added white chalk highlights on European handmade, rag, paper.
Apollo and Daphne
This has an inscription ‘Solimena’ referring to the Neapolitan artist Francesco Solimena (1657-1747) but this is not his work. It is suspected that the work is late 17th century Roman with the style resembling that of Pietro da Cortona (1596-1699)
It is executed in graphite and iron gall ink on European handmade, laid paper.
St Anthony of Padua being received into Heaven
Artist – Ciro Ferri (1634-89) Pupil of Pietro da Cortona
Bistre and chalk on light weight European, handmade laid paper
An Allegory: Saint receiving a warrior, possibly St Mark, St Peter, and St George
Pen and ink – iron gall ink on European handmade laid paper. Red chalk under drawing evident at top right hand corner
Madonna and Child with Saint
Possibly a copy of the famous composition by Andrea del Sarto (1486-1530) of the Madonna del Sacco in the Church of Ss. Annunziata in Florence.
Black and red chalk on European hand made laid paper.
Polidoro da Caravaggio was born Polidoro Caldara (1500-43) and named after his birthplace. He assisted Raphael in the decoration of the Vatican Loggie and achieved great success painting palace facades with monochrome scenes imitating Classical sculpture. These became well known through engravings and drawings and were much imitated.
Ink and wash, sepia and iron gall ink
The Early Renaissance was the first great age of the art of drawing in Western Europe with an enormous increase in the practise between the late 14th and early 16th century. Styles developed rapidly during the 15th century moving away from controlled precise styles of the 14th century towards a much freer, more individualistic style. Techniques and materials available to the Renaissance artist also had a direct impact on the art works being produced.
Drawing played many roles in the work of the Renaissance artist studio. The young apprentice artist would use drawing as basis to his training. He would use a model to copy from, whether another drawing, sculpture or live model, to learn the art of close observation, and also channelling his style towards that of his studio. Drawing also became more important as the natural medium for experimenting with ideas. It was the first step in preparing for a specific commission, whether a painting or a sculpture, allowing the artist to get to grips with the new expectations generated by the cultural and intellectual changes occurring in the Renaissance. The Renaissance saw a desire to observe and record nature more accurately and move away from representational conventions and formulas used earlier.
It is not until around 1520 that the activity of collecting drawings becomes usual enough to significantly increase the chance of drawings surviving. From the middle of the 16th century drawings then began to be collected and assembled in large private collections.
Materials and techniques
Until the mid 15th century the primary support for drawings was vellum. With the evolution of the printing press the paper industry greatly increased due to demand, and paper became much more widely available and cheap. This had a real effect on the development of drawing practises in this time. Its cheapness and availability allowed artists to use it more liberally and therefore drawing as a practise expanded in studios. Artists could now experiment with both composition and technique. With this came the use of new materials.
This is the earliest technique used by artists for drawing. The instrument was a silver stylus, sharpened at both ends. The technique requires precision and control and gives a light, even delicate line that is indelible. Areas of shadow could only be indicated through hatching, and highlights could then be added with white paint. The nature of this medium means that silverpoint drawings are often precise and beautifully executed, there being little room for spontaneity.
Pen and Ink
With the development of a more naturalistic style, pen and ink became the more favoured drawing medium. The quill pen is much more versatile than the silverpoint. It requires skill, but with skill it can respond to speed and changes in pressure to produce different marks. Tonal highlights again can be added with brush and paint.
The inks commonly used were either made from carbon particles, or iron gall ink, made from a combination of the acids found in oak apples and ferrous sulphate. This produces a dark brown ink which over time will degrade the paper.
Only later in the 15th century when artists started to develop an interest in the more sophisticated description of modelling of form, did chalk become established as an important technique.
Red and black chalks were favoured with white for highlights. Chalk allowed freedom and spontaneity with a large varieties of tonal ranges.
Black chalk and charcoal lend themselves to large scale drawings such as preparation cartoons for frescos. Red chalk became more popular in the 16th century and its warm colour was especially appropriate for use in studies of the human expression.