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Metalpoint Drawing through the Centuries

Note: dimensions are given in inches, followed by centimeters in parentheses. Height precedes width.

Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, c. 1550–1630s

As metalpoint fell out of favor with artists after the Renaissance, it assumed new importance as a writing material. Tafeletten (tablets) — small sheets of coated paper or parchment — became commercially available in notebooks in northern Europe by the mid-sixteenth century. The specially prepared ground of the tablets made metalpoint easily erasable. Unwanted notes could be wiped away with a damp cloth and the page reused repeatedly.

Late in the sixteenth-century, the printmaker Hendrick Goltzius  (1558 –1617) began to use tafeletten for tiny drawings. Because many were made as preparatory studies for portrait engravings, he may have chosen tafeletten for practical reasons, as they allowed him to erase or revise his drawings. More important, the tablet’s uniquely smooth surface would have appealed to him for its aesthetic possibilities. using a sharp stylus, goltzius created metalpoint drawings with extraordinarily fine detail and extremely high finish. Shading with almost impossibly tiny strokes, he evoked the textures of flesh, hair, and velvet. goltzius, Rembrandt (1606 –1669), and their contemporaries also found the portable notebooks of tafeletten useful as sketchbooks.