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Italian Renaissance Drawings from the
Robert Lehman Collection

May 13-September 1, 2014

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Exhibition Location: Robert Lehman Wing, Court Level, Gallery 964 and 965
Press Viewing: Monday, May 19, 2014 10 a.m.-noon


Featuring masterpieces of Central and Southern Italian drawings spanning the 15th and 16th centuries, Italian Renaissance Drawings from the Robert Lehman Collection will be on view in the Robert Lehman Wing beginning May 13, 2014. The installation will explore varying ways that Renaissance artists employed drawing through the illustration of different stages of composition as well as through sheets bearing marks or annotations that attest to their use in the workshop and in transferring designs to other surfaces. Among the 42 works on view, Florentine drawings will be well represented by celebrated Renaissance masters such as Leonardo da Vinci and Antonio del Pollaiuolo, while the Southern Italian examples will include a rare sheet attributed to Antonello da Messina. The installation will highlight a period which witnessed a major transformation in the role of drawings, from the perception that they served solely as workshop tools to their increasing value as expressions of artistic genius, prized by collectors.

The exhibition will include works that explore the human form through figure studies and portraits, as well as expansive compositional sketches for biblical and mythological narratives, covering a wide spectrum of drawing types and subjects, both sacred and secular. Among the figural studies will be sheets that reveal artists’ increasing interest in exploring the anatomy of the nude human form through sketches of Christ, male saints, and ancient gods. Leonardo da Vinci’s keen study of anatomy and his tireless observation of the natural world will be represented by his delicately executed metal point Study of a Bear Walking, probably drawn from life and aided by his dissection of bears. Other figural studies, such as two sheets portraying female allegories—one attributed to the circle of Lorenzo Monaco and the other to Fra Angelico—reveal the artists’ concern with the interplay of drapery and the effect of light upon it. Other sheets will be dedicated to artists’ exploration of the interrelationship among figures and portray complex groupings and compositional arrangements, the majority of which date to the 16th century and include highly dynamic, intertwined Mannerist poses, inspired by classical reliefs.

Sheets representing varying stages of the design process will illustrate the diverse functions of drawing for Renaissance artists. These range from rapid preliminary sketches to more refined detailed studies, compositional designs, and cartoons (full-scale drawings that enable the transfer of the design to another surface), as well as highly polished drawings intended for patrons. As demonstrations of the artist’s working process, numerous sheets will represent vivid illustrations of the practical and very active role drawings played in the workshop, as well as the variety of ways in which they functioned in the creation of other media. While the role of drawings as preliminary studies for paintings is well known, Pollaiuolo’s study for a bronze monument will be one of various sheets in the exhibition that will illustrate the primacy of drawing as preparatory for works of art in a broad range of other media, such as sculpture, textiles, and engravings.

Several drawings bear physical evidence of their use as implements employed by artists to transfer designs to other surfaces or to enlarge their compositioned size. Examples will include Antonio del Pollaiuolo’s celebrated design for the equestrian monument to the Milanese duke, Francesco Sforza, which bears tell–tale holes along the outlines of the horse and rider. Another fascinating use of drawing—as a tool to study perspective—is Luca Signorelli’s drawing of a male head in profile, bearing pricked outlines, stylus ruling, and letter annotations; it served as a diagram for foreshortening the human head, following the method described and illustrated by his master Piero della Francesco in his treatise on perspective.

Giorgio Vasari, the 16th-century artist and biographer, was the most significant early collector of drawings and assembled an album of works by artists whose biographies were included in his “Lives of the Artists” (1550, 1568). Several drawings to be featured in the exhibition, including one by Pollaiuolo, have been identified as possibly having belonged in this album. Vasari’s writings played an important role in advocating for the primacy of drawing or disegno, a term signifying both the formulation of the idea in the artist’s mind (design) as well as its expression on paper (drawing), where hand and intellect met. Vasari also elevated the status of drawing by establishing the Accademia del Disegno in Florence in 1563, which was founded on the premise that the various arts had a common origin in disegno and included painters, sculptors, and architects trained in drawing. The fundamental role of drawing in the realization of painting, sculpture, and architecture had been recognized since antiquity and was described by early Renaissance writers. Illustrating the relationship between theory and practice, the drawings on view will be considered in the context of 15th- and 16th-century treatises such as Vasari’s.

Exhibition Credits
The exhibition is organized by Alison Manges Nogueira, Assistant Curator of the Robert Lehman Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Related Programs
Additional information about the exhibition and its accompanying programs is available on the Museum’s website at www.metmuseum.org.

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December 3, 2013

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