Venetian Drawing
History, Characteristics of Drawings in 16th Century Venice.

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Studies for The Allegories of Love
(1528–88) Pen and brown ink,
brush and brown wash.
Drawn with great rapidity and
economy of means, this page of
sketches shows Veronese's
extraordinary narrative power.

Venetian Drawing (c.1500-1600)


Drawing in Venice and Florence
Disegno versus Colorito
Giorgione and Others
Palma Giovane
Paolo Veronese

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Drawing in Venice and Florence

Drawing appears to have been less popular in Venice than elsewhere in Italy. There are fewer surviving Renaissance drawings from Venice, for instance, than from Florence. From the fifteenth century, there is a large collection of drawings by Pisanello (1394-1455) and his followers in the so-called Vallardi Codex in the Louvre, and in the Louvre and the British Museum two precious volumes by Jacopo Bellini (1400-70), the father of two great artists and father-in-law of a third. But these have survived by accident; drawings by his sons, Gentile Bellini (c.1429-1507) or Giovanni Bellini (1430-1516), or their brother-in-law Andrea Mantegna (1430-1506), are not common even in the best art museums, like the Venice Academy Gallery; and of the later 15th and early 16th century only Vittore Carpaccio (1460-1525) is really familiar as a draughtsman. And yet Venice was not quite without collectors of drawings; we know that Gabriele Vendramin, whose art treasures were seen and described by Marcantonio Michiel in 1530, owned for example at least one famous drawing by Raphael (1483-1520), and one might have expected such a collection to have included drawings by Giorgione (1477-1510) and Titian (c.1485/8-1576). But in fact only one drawing, now at Rotterdam, is generally accepted as Giorgione's autograph, and drawings by Titian are decidedly rare by comparison with the surviving material of his Florentine contemporaries: Michelangelo (1475-1564), Fra Bartolommeo (1472-1517) or Andrea del Sarto (1486-1530), only one of whom lived as long as he did. This may be due partly to accident; and it is no doubt also due to some extent to the emergence in Florence of great art collectors in the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574), the Medici family of Florence and Filippo Baldinucci (1625-96), much of whose accumulations have been preserved.



Disegno versus Colorito

Nevertheless, it seems likely that Giorgione and Titian and other famous artists of the Venetian Renaissance, at least in the first half of the sixteenth century, were less interested in sketching than the Florentine artists, and less inclined to consider it an integral part of the process of producing a picture. (Note the differing approaches of disegno [Florence] and colorito [Venice] adopted in the two cities.) Vasari, in the introduction to his Lives of the Artists, refers to drawing as the father of our three arts - Painting and Sculpture, as well as Architecture - and discusses at some length the processes and functions of drawing. I doubt whether most Venetian artists of the sixteenth century attached so much importance to it. There was never an Accademia del Disegno in Venice. A Venetian of Titian's genetation preferred to draw with soft scumbling chalk or with the brush, a painter's medium, rather than with the pen or the hard chalk of the Florentines; and this applies to Carpaccio, a prolific draughtsman, and to most artists in the immediate circle of Titian, to Paris Bordone (1500-71) and Jacopo Bassano (1515-1592) in particular, if it is only partly true of Pordenone (1483-1539) and Lorenzo Lotto (1480-1556). Those two important artists (of whom one was not strictly speaking Venetian, while the other worked much away from the capital) did use soft chalk in Titian's fashion; but also the pen and wash technique to produce pictorial compositions, which might be studies for paintings, or presentation pieces for friends or patrons.

For other types of art, see Venetian Renaissance Architecture (1400-1600.)


Of the few known drawings - about fifty at most - that modern authorities attribute to Titian himself, the majority of these are chalk drawings or charcoal drawings. The attribution to him of certain pen drawings, especially landscapes, though of early authority, is now much more generally disputed; and it may be thought, that this was not the medium that suited Titian best. Was it to some extent forced upon him by the required practice, in his earlier days, of drawing upon a wood-block, so that a block-cutter could work upon a clear linear design, and so multiply and popularise his productions in the form of prints? With soft black chalk or a charcoal stick and some white, on his blue Venetian paper, he was certainly much better able to suggest form, even colour. Any painter, I suspect, would recognise the hand of a master in the splendid Horse and Rider Falling (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford); fewer would feel the same enthusiasm for the drawing of the Duke of Urbino's armour (Uffizi Gallery).

See also: Venetian Altarpieces (c.1500-1600).

Giorgione and Others

Giorgione's fashion of sketching (though Vasari said that Giorgione never drew at all) is evident in several drawings by his little-known disciple, the engraver Giulio Campagnola (1482-1518), and also in one Giorgionesque subject attributed to Titian - Landscape with St Eustace (British Museum). But it was Titian's manner of drawing freely with chalks on blue paper, exemplified by figure studies and the rare composition sketch for the Battle of Spoleto (Louvre), that was adopted by Jacopo Bassano and his sons' prolific studio, and by Paris Bordone and others of that generation — even occasionally by some (Lotto, Palma Vecchio, Pordenone) who were probably older than Titian himself.

Though Alvise Vivarini (1445-1505), Bartolomeo Montagna (1450-1523), Buonconsiglio and Boccaccio Boccaccino all outlived the turn of the 15th/16th centuries, they belong essentially to the tradition of Giovanni Bellini (1430-1516) and his pupils; breaking away, as Bellini himself did, from the hard linear style of Andrea Mantegna, but still some way from the 'painter's style' of drawing as practised by Titian and his contemporaries.


We know far more drawings by Tintoretto (1518-1594) than by Titian; and indeed of the great Venetians of the High Renaissance only Jacopo Tintoretto and Paolo Veronese were really prolific draughtsmen - with Domenico Tintoretto imitating his father in the second rank, and Palma Giovane following the example of both of them in this respect. Michelangelo's Renaissance sculpture, according to Ridolfi, was almost a second master, after Titian, to Tintoretto; and there is a whole series of early studies by Tintoretto after plaster casts or small copies of Michelangelo's famous works in the Medici Chapel, more or less straightforward, but sometimes drawn in artificial lighting. But one doubts whether Tintoretto's drawings in general, whatever Titian may have thought of them, would have much impressed Michelangelo. Tintoretto was of a different temperament, more extravagantly dramatic, perhaps more superficial in his aspirations so far as drawing was concerned. Ridolfi says too that he made little figure models in clay or wax, 'mannikins' of his own invention, and suspended them from the ceiling, artificially lit, in order to observe figures in sharp foreshortening and in different light effects. There are among his drawings numerous single figures, roughly drawn in chalk or charcoal, with unnaturally swelling contours, anatomically impossible, some nude, some in contemporary dress or armour; and many of these have been connected with the huge battle-pieces painted in Tintoretto's maturity - the Gonzaga Triumphs now in Munich, and those in the Doge's Palace in Venice. They are very different from the careful academic figure drawing that the Florentines produced, often with details of hand or foot drawn at the side, as preliminaries to their paintings of the same period. Occasionally Tintoretto may have studied a static living model; but much more often his drawings are of struggling distorted figures in violent action - archers drawing their bows, soldiers brandishing swords or banners, falling horsemen - in poses such as no model could keep in the studio. More detailed studies might have been more useful to himself and to his pupils in carrying out their great works; but above all the tempo of violence had to be maintained; and where studies used in known paintings have been identified, they are studies of action or gesture rather than of the human body or of drapery or other details. Hardly any large sketches for whole compositions, like Titian's for the Battle of Spoleto, have survived; if Tintoretto made such sketches, we must suppose that they disintegrated because of their size, through use in the studio.

The distinction between the art of the Old Masters and that of their best pupils is often a matter of subjective judgement, and of disagreement among the experts; and this difficulty is particularly apparent in Venetian Painting, where family studios were the rule, and several members of the family assisted the founder of the studio and drew more or less in his style. Some small, dashing oil sketches on paper, once supposed to be by Jacopo Tintoretto, have turned out to be almost certainly by his son Domenico, who was born in 1560 and lived well into the next century; he and his sister Marietta both made drawings from an antique bust (the supposed Vitellius) which was among the studio properties and had been drawn by Jacopo himself in his younger days; and Tintoretto's other son, Marco, and his son-in-law Sebastiano Casser must also have drawn in the 'Tintoretto' style.

See also: Venetian Portrait Painting (c.1400-1600).

Palma Giovane

Apart from Tintoretto's own family, and certainly more important than any of them, Palma Giovane (1548-1628) in his early figure studies comes very near to the Tintorettos in style and character. But Jacopo Tintoretto seems only very occasionally to have drawn in any medium but chalk or charcoal, heightened with white on blue paper; whereas Palma Giovane, though he sometimes imitated Tintoretto in this, used also pen and pale wash to great effect, imitating the method of free sketch practised so brilliantly by Paolo Veronese, who was nearer to him in age. Palma's earlier drawings in this medium have sometimes been mistaken for Paolo's; though in the latter part of his long life, in the early decades of the seventeenth century, Palma's handling of the pen became looser, his line more broken, his forms more mannered, and the influence of Paolo is less obvious.

Paolo Veronese

Paolo Veronese (1528-88) himself was not only a great painter, but a great draughtsman too, the best of the Venetians of the later Renaissance period. He did produce early in his career some figure-studies in the chalk manner of Titian, Bassano and Tintoretto; but the most characteristic of his drawings are of two quite different sorts: either finished compositions in pen and wash, carefully heightened with white bodycolour on grey or blue coloured paper - completely pictorial, like studies for paintings, though seldom used for that purpose by Paolo himself; or, more commonly, rough pen and ink drawings made with a light touch, very lightly washed, of single figures or small groups, all confused together on the same large sheet of paper, which can often be identified as ideas for important paintings, sometimes two or three different subjects on the same sheet. From those swift notations there emerge beautiful rhythms, graceful combinations of figures in motion or in relationship to one another, that exceed in elegance and charm anything produced before in Venetian drawing of the sixteenth century. They set a fashion in drawing that was followed not only into the seventeenth centuty by Palma Giovane and others, but even into the eighteenth, in Venice by Sebastiano Ricci (1659-1734), and in England by Sir James Thornhill (1675-1734).

See also: Venetian Painting Legacy.

We gratefully acknowledge the use of material from J.B.Shaw's article on drawing in Venice, published (1983) by the Royal Academy, London.


• For a chronological guide to drawing, see: History of Art Timeline.
• For information about draughtsmanship, see: Homepage.

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