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Metalpoint Drawing through the Centuries

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

Netherlandish Renaissance, c. 1400–1520s

Renowed for their ability to depict light and texture in oil paint, artists in the Netherlands such as Jan van Eyck (c. 1390 – 1441) and Rogier van der Weyden (1399 /1400 – 1464) turned to silverpoint’s luminous and precise line to achieve similar effects in their drawings. Netherlandish artists created texture, tone, and shading by building up networks of fine lines, and sometimes achieved highlights by scratching through the lines to reveal the creamy white coating of the paper.

In the years around 1400 some Netherlandish artists used pale-green or blue- green grounds, but after that brief interlude, they worked mainly on white or cream grounds. Many of the surviving Netherlandish metalpoints of the fifteenth century are meticulous copies of other works of art and were kept in workshops as models for future paintings, samples for prospective patrons, and examples for aspiring artists to follow as they learned to draw. Silverpoint was ideal for this purpose, as its resistance to accidental smudging meant that details remained clear throughout years of studio use.