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Metalpoint Drawing through the Centuries

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

Italian Renaissance, c.1450–1515

The use of metalpoint in fifteenth-century Italy was centered in the work- shop, where artists found it particularly suitable for figure studies. They were sometimes intended for direct use in paintings, but more often they functioned as both preparatory study and studio exercise, blurring the distinction between the two: an artist practicing life drawing simultaneously created a stock of figures for possible later use in works in other media. Many of these drawings were executed on colored ground and highlighted with white paint, as artists strove to extend silverpoint’s tonal range and to convey volume.

Some Italian Renaissance artists also used metalpoint to make rapid sketches or explore different poses, their flow of ideas uninterrupted by the need to refill a pen or sharpen chalk. Leonardo da Vinci (1452 –1519) advised aspiring artists to carry a sketchbook of tinted paper and record the world around them, but on the whole Italian Renaissance artists were less likely to use metalpoint sketchbooks than were their german counterparts.

Raphael (1483 –1520) was the last major Italian artist to work extensively with silverpoint. Its use in Italy ceased almost completely after about 1515. Most sixteenth-century artists preferred the more fluid and expressive materials of pen and ink or chalk.