Drawings of the Renaissance
Greatest Sketches, Drawing Art of the Quattrocento & Cinquecento.

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Study of Arms and Hands (c.1500)
by the great Renaissance Artist
Leonardo Da Vinci. Believed to be
a preliminary study for the painting
"Lady with an Ermine".

Greatest Renaissance Drawings (1400-1550)

Contents

Drawing: The Foundation of All Fine Arts
Renaissance Drawing Materials and Techniques
Drawing Types and Collections
List of Greatest Renaissance Drawings (1400-1550)
Greatest Renaissance Paintings



5 Characters in a Comic Scene
Chalk drawing by Leonardo Da Vinci.


Head of a Smiling Young Woman
in Three-Quarter View (1543)
By Agnolo Bronzino.
Charcoal and black chalk,
highlighted with white chalk.


Grotesque Profile (c.1487-9)
Blach chalk drawing by Leonardo.

Drawing: The Foundation of All Fine Arts

The era of Renaissance art in Italy - encompassing the Early Renaissance (c.1400-90), the High Renaissance (c.1490-1530), and Mannerism (c.1520-1600) produced some of the finest drawings in the history of art.

According to Giorgio Vasari (1511-74) the celebrated Florentine painter and art historian, drawing is the father of all fine art. His comments came towards the end of the vigorous intellectual debate which had been raging in Florence from the late 15th-century to the mid-16th century, on whether sculpture or painting was the superior art form. Vasari was expressing the eventual consensus that drawing (disegno) was the foundation of both disciplines. Disegno translates as both drawing and design, thereby embracing the formulation of the idea in the artist's head as well as its expression on paper.

Renaissance Drawing Materials and Techniques

Thanks to The Libro dell'Arte by Cennino Cennini (1370-1440) published in the late 1390s, as well as Della Pittura by Leon Battista Alberti (1404-72) and the Commentarii of Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455), both published in the 1430s, we have a reasonable idea of the drawing materials and methods used by Renaissance draftsmen.

Renaissance drawing supports included a range of reusable tablets, (eg. erasable wooden tablets with a layer of ground bone mixed with saliva), parchment (vellum) made from goat/pig/calf skin soaked in lime, paper (often tinted), linen and canvas.

These ranged from the simplest stylus (a thin metal stick that leaves only a scored indentation on a prepared tablet or paper); metalpoint (like the stylus but made from softer metal that left a visible mark; silverpoint was the most popular, but leadpoint, goldpoint and copperpoint were options; overall, metalpoint was most popular preliminary drawing instrument with fresco and tempera painters); pen and ink drawings were also popular (made using quill or reed pens, and gallnut ink or bistre from wood soot, often combined with wash and highlighting: a brush was sometimes used instead of, or in combination with, a pen).

Drawing instruments like stylus, metalpoint and pen are usually classified as fine line media, in contradistinction to broad line media such as charcoal and chalks. Renaissance chalk drawings were usually executed with black or red chalks - chalk being particularly popular due to its smudging and blending qualities which enabled the artist to create a wide range of tonal variation. Charcoal drawings were also commonplace, although fewer examples have survived because charcoal is too easily erasable.

Drawings in both fine and broad line media were often heightened with white to accentuate the areas of brightest illumination and to enhance the 3-D effect of the modelling. Heightening could be done in three ways: with white chalk, with wet pigment (eg. a gouache of lead white) applied by brush or simply by leaving the support blank.

Drawing Types and Collections

The majority of all drawing executed during the Renaissance of the quattrocento (15th century) and cinquecento (16th century) were working drawings - that is, preparatory sketches used in fine art activities like architecture, painting, sculpture, as well as forms of decorative art such as mosaics, tapestry, stained glass, illustration, and the like. However, after Leonardo and Michelangelo in particular, autonomous or stand-alone drawings became more and more acceptable. Although these types of works on paper can be seen in most of the best art museums in Europe and America, the finest collections are held by the Louvre Museum Paris, the Uffizi Gallery Florence, and the British Museum, London.

For more about the main centres of painting and sculpture during the Rinascimento, see: Renaissance in Florence (c.1400-90); Renaissance in Rome (c.1490-1550); and Renaissance in Venice (c.1400-1600).

 

Best and Greatest Renaissance Drawings (1400-1550)

Here is our recommended list of the finest graphic art produced during the Italian Renaissance by over 40 of its top draftsmen. (Note: all works are listed in chronological order of artist).

Pisanello (1394-1455)
Wild Boar (1434-45) Louvre, Paris.
Pen and ink, watercolour, white gouache, metalpoint and stylus.

Fra Angelico (c.1395-1455)
The Prophet David Playing a Psaltery (c.1430) British Museum (BM), London
Pen and ink with purple wash on parchment.

• Jacopo Bellini (1400-1470)
The Vision of St Eustace (1445-60) BM, London.
Leadpoint.

Fra Filippo Lippi (1406-69)
Female Saint, Standing (c.1440) BM, London.
Metalpoint and brown wash over black chalk heightened with white on salmon-pink paper.

• Benozzo Gozzoli (1420-97)
Study of one of the Dioscuri of Monte Cavallo (1446-9) BM, London.
Metalpoint with white highlighting on blue paper.
Head of a Monk (1447) Musee Conde, Chantilly.
White highlighting and brown gouache over metalpoint on ochre paper.

Gentile Bellini (1429-1507)
A Turkish Woman (1479-81) BM, London.
Fine pen and Indian ink.

Giovanni Bellini (1430-1516)
Pieta (c.1480) Musee des Beaux-Arts, Rennes.
Pen and ink.

Antonio del Pollaiuolo (1431-93)
Study of Male Nude (c.1469-70) Louvre, Paris.
Pen and ink with brown wash and stylus.

Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506)
A Man Lying on a Stone Slab (1470s) BM, London.
Pen and ink over traces of black chalk.
St James on His Way to Execution (1453) BM, London.
Pen and ink with traces of black chalk on pale pink paper.
Virgin and Child Enthroned with an Angel (1480s) BM, London.
Pen and ink.

Andrea del Verrocchio (1435-88)
Five Studies of Infants (1470s) Louvre, Paris.
Pen and ink.
Head of a Woman (c.1475) BM, London.
Black chalk with white heightening.
Head of a Woman (1470s) Louvre, Paris.
Metalpoint, brush w. black/grey inks, heightened with white on orange paper.

• Francesco di Simone Ferrucci (1437-93)
Studies of an Infant Christ (1470s) BM, London.
Pen and ink over black chalk.

• Marco Zoppo (1443-1478)
Dead Christ Supported by Angels (1455-60) BM, London.
Brush and brown wash with ink, traces of red wash, on parchment.

Botticelli (1445-1510)
Abundance or Autumn (1480s) BM, London.
Pen and ink and faint brown wash over black chalk on pink-tinted paper.

Luca Signorelli (1445-1523)
Study for Massacre of the Innocents (1490s) BM, London.
Black chalk with white lead highlighting.

Pietro Perugino (1445-1523)
The Baptism of Christ (1480s) Louvre, Paris.
Pen and ink with brown wash and white highlighting.

Domenico Ghirlandaio (1448-94)
The Naming of St John the Baptist (1485-90) BM, London.
Pen and ink.

• Bartolomeo Montagna (1450-1523)
Virgin and Child (1507) Musee des Beaux-Arts, Lille.
Black chalk with blue wash heightened with white on blue paper.

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)

Drapery Study for a Seated Figure (1470s) British Museum, London.
Brush with grey tempera and white highlighting, traces of brush and black ink on linen.

Virgin and Child with a Cat (1470s) British Museum, London.
Pen and ink over stylus.

Bust of a Warrior in Profile (1470s) BM, London.
Metalpoint on cream-coloured paper.

View of the Arno Valley (1473) Gabinetto dei Disegni e Stampe, Uffizi.
Pen and ink.

Adoration of the Magi (1481) Louvre, Paris.
Pen and ink over traces of stylus and leadpoint.

Head of a Grotesque Man (1503) Louvre, Paris.
Red chalk with traces of stylus. A prototype example of caricature art.

• Filippino Lippi (1457-1504)
Two Men, One Seated, the Other Standing (1482-3) BM, London.
Metalpoint and white heightening on grey paper.
The Triumph of St Thomas Aquinas (c.1487) BM, London.
Pen and ink with brown wash.

• Giovanni Battista Cima (1459-1517)
Christ the Redeemer (1485-90) BM, London.
Drawn with point of the brush in brown on blue paper heightened with white.

• Lorenzo di Credi (1459-1537)
Bust of an Old Man Wearing a Hat (c.1500) Louvre, Paris.
Metalpoint with white highlighting on pink paper.

Vittore Carpaccio (c.1465-1525/6)
Vision of St Augustine (c.1502) BM, London.
Pen and ink with brown wash.
Head of a Middle-Aged Man (c.1507) British Museum, London.
Brush, ink and white highlighting, on blue paper.

• Raffaellino del Garbo (1466-1527)
Standing Figure of Christ and two studies of Hands (1497) BM, London.
Metalpoint and white heightening on blue-grey paper, set in a Vasari mount.

• Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio (1467-1516)
Portrait Bust of a Young Man (c.1510) Louvre, Paris.
Black with traces of white highlighting on blue paper.

• Marco d'Oggiono (1467-1524)
Drapery Study for the Resurrection (1491-4) BM, London.
Metalpoint with white highlighting on blue paper.

• Giovanni Agostino da Lodi (1467-1525)
Bust of a Young Man (c.1513) Louvre, Paris.
Red chalk.

• Fra Bartolommeo (1472-1517)
Drapery Study for Christ in the Last Judgment (1499) BM, London.
Brush drawing in grey-brown and white distemper on linen tinted dark grey.
The Annunciation (1500) Louvre, Paris.
Pen and ink.

Michelangelo (1475-1564)

Ignudo (c.1511) Louvre, Paris. (study for Genesis Fresco)
Black chalk with traces of white over stylus.

Ideal Head of a Woman (c.1525-8) British Museum, London.
Black chalk.

The Fall of Phaeton (1533) Royal Library, Windsor.
Black chalk.

Portrait of Andrea Quaratesi (c.1528-32) British Museum, London.
Black chalk.

Study for the Dome of St Peter's Basilica (Late 1550s) Museum of Art, Lille.
Black chalk with brown wash.

Lorenzo Lotto (1480-1556)
An Ecclesiastic in His Study (c.1530) BM, London.
Pen and brown wash heightened with white.

• Baldessare Peruzzi (1481-1536)
The Adoration of the Magi (1514) Louvre, Paris.
Pen and ink, brown wash and black chalk with white highlighting.
The Last Supper (c.1517) Louvre, Paris.
Pen and ink; red and black chalks.

Raphael (1483-1520)

Study: St Nicholas of Tolentino Altarpiece (1500) Musee des Beaux-Arts, Lille.
Black chalk over stylus, and black chalk with pen and ink.

Heads of Virgin and Child (1504-8) British Museum, London.
Metalpoint on pink tinted paper.

Cartoon for St Catherine of Alexandria (c.1507) Louvre, Paris.
Black chalks.

Study of Nudes for the Disputa (1508) Stadelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt
Pen and ink over traces of black chalk and stylus. [For more about nudity in drawing and painting, see: Female Nudes in Art History and its counterpart Male Nudes in Art History.]

Study for the Alba Madonna (c.1509-11) Musee des Beaux-Arts, Lille.
Red chalk.

Study for the Phrygian Sibyl in Santa Maria della Pace (1511-12) BM, London.
Red chalk over stylus.

Cartoon for the Mackintosh Madonna (c.1512) BM, London.
Black chalk with touches of white chalk.

St Paul Rending His Garments (1514-15) J Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.
Metalpoint heightened with white gouache on lilac-grey paper.

• Giovanni Antonio de' Sacchis, il Pordenone (1483-1539)
The Lamentation (1520-1) BM, London.
Red chalk over stylus.

Sebastiano del Piombo (1485-1547)
Standing Female Nude with her arms behind her back (1517) Louvre, Paris.
Black chalk with white highlighting on blue paper.
Clement VII and Charles V in Bologna (1529) BM, London.
Black and white chalks on grey-washed paper.
Virgin and Child (c.1530) BM, London.
Black chalk heightened with white on blue-grey paper.

Andrea del Sarto (1486-1530)
Four Studies of a Child (c.1520) BM, London.
Red chalk with red wash.

Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (1485-1576)
St Eustace in a Landscape (1518-22) British Museum, London.
Pen and ink

NOTE: For more drawings by Titian, as well as those by Tintoretto and Paolo Veronese, see: Venetian Drawing (c.1500-1600).

Correggio (Antonio Allegri) (1489-1534)
Study of Eve Holding the Apple (1522-30) Louvre, Paris.
Red chalk with white highlighting.
Study of Two Apostles for San Giovanni Evangelista (1520-4) Louvre, Paris.
Red chalk with white highlighting.

Giulio Romano (c.1492-1546)
Virgin and Child (c.1516) Louvre, Paris.
Red chalk with white highlighting.
Pope Sylvester I Being Carried in a Procession (1520-4) Louvre, Paris.
Pen and ink over traces of stylus.

Baccio Bandinelli (1493-1560)
Two Standing Nudes (c.1526) BM, London.
Pen and ink.

Pontormo (Jacopo Carrucci) (1494-1556)
Self-Portrait (1523-5) BM, London.
Red chalk.

Rosso Fiorentino (1494-1540)
Design for an Altar (1529) British Museum, London.
Pen and brown wash, heightened with white over traces of black chalk on blue-green paper.
Mars and Venus (1529) Louvre, Paris.
Pen and ink with brown wash and white highlighting on brown paper.

• Polidoro da Caravaggio (1497-1543)
The Entombment (1528-43) Louvre, Paris.
Black chalk, pen and ink with brown wash and white highlighting.

• Perino del Vaga (1501-47)
St Matthew (1539-43) Louvre, Paris.
Black chalk with touches of white highlighting, pen and grey ink on grey-beige paper.

Parmigianino (Francesco Mazzola) (1503-40)
The Martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul (1524-7) Louvre, Paris.
Pen and ink with brown wash, heightened with white.

Other Renaissance Draftsmen

Other outstanding exponents of drawing and sketching during the Early and High Renaissance periods, include:

Gentile da Fabriano (c.1370-1427)
Influential International Gothic style painter active in Florence.
Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446)
Florentine architect, sculptor.
Paolo Uccello (1397-1475)
Mosaicist and painter, active in Florence.
Tommaso Masaccio (1401-1428)
Best Early Renaissance painter, noted for Brancacci Chapel frescos.
Piero della Francesca (1420-92)
Umbrian painter, pioneer of linear perspective.
Antonello da Messina (1430-1479)
Sicilian painter influenced by and promotor of Netherlandish oil painting.
Donato Bramante (c.1444-1514)
Greatest architect of the High Renaissance; noted for architectural drawings.
Giorgione (1477-1510)
Mysterious painter of the Venetian School.
Titian (c.1477-1576)
Greatest Renaissance exponent of colour painting.
Jacopo Bassano (1515-1592)
Mannerist painter noted for his animal drawings and Biblical genre-painting.
Tintoretto (1518-1594)
Venetian painter famous for monumental religious pictures.
Paolo Veronese (1528-1588)
Another of Venice's leading colourists.

Modern Drawing Media

Graphite point led to the development of the lead pencil and the evolution of pencil drawings; while later innovations included conte crayon drawings and pastel drawings.

• For an guide to the aesthetic issues concerning fine/applied arts, see: Definition of Art.
• For details of drawing/sketching, see: Visual Arts Encyclopedia.


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