Workshop of Maso Finiguerra, A youth drawing; whole-length, resting a tablet on his raised right knee Pen and brown ink, with brown wash. © The Trustees of the British Museum, 1895,0915.440.
The first people to study drawings were artists, who had a professional understanding of the draftsman’s materials and the decisions that lay behind their use. When they considered the drawings of other artists, they were interested primarily in the character of a fellow artist’s work (or, conversely, the attribution of the drawing, if there was doubt) and in the quality of the sheet. Giorgio Vasari, the architect, painter, historian and theoretician of art, and the first systematic collector of drawings, shared both of these interests.
Soon the passion for drawings spread to gentlemen of means who were not artists. They were called virtuosi, or amateurs. Their primary interest was in amassing collections of the best drawings they could find, and they too focussed on quality and attribution, but as passive enthusiasts, who may or may not have had some experience with chalk, brush, or pen. However, they were served by expert advisors and dealers, who were often artists.
In the nineteenth century public museums proliferated and with them curators, professional scholars who were not necessarily trained in drawing. The study of the history of art began to find a place in universities by the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Likewise the professors of the new discipline were rarely artists.
Drawing, as it was practiced before 1800, is no longer a universal part of artists’ training, and the complex process of developing works of art through drawings has fallen largely into disuse. The materials used for most drawings before 1800 have virtually disappeared.
Today we rely on experts trained in art history, science, and, to a lesser extent, art to tell us who made a particular drawing, for what purpose, and how. Our curiosity about quality and attribution is as keen as ever, but few of these experts have practical experience with the materials. We must study these materials and techniques as we would learn a dead language.
The lengths to which we must go to gain an intellectual grasp of this basically simple art would seem contrived and perhaps absurd to Vasari, but from our vantage point we need to make this effort. While the study of materials and techniques is obviously vital to a conservator who is about to begin a treatment, it also brings the scholar, the collector, and the museum visitor into direct contact with the creative work of artists of the past.
Page from “Libro de’ Disegni”, Sheets probably 1480-1504; mounting & framework by Vasari after 1524. album page with ten drawings on recto and verso in various media with decoration in pen and brown i
Page from “Libro de’ Disegni”, Sheets probably 1480-1504; mounting & framework by Vasari after 1524. album page with ten drawings on recto and verso in various media with decoration in pen and brown ink, brown and gray wash, on light buff paper overall: 56.7 x 45.7 cm (22 5/16 x 18 in.) Woodner Collection, Patrons’ Permanent Fund 1991.190.1
Collectors have sought after drawings for more than four hundred years with no regard for the humble materials of which they are made. Enthusiasts, whether of modest means or extreme wealth, have often pressed their resources to the utmost limit and beyond, to acquire drawings which they treasure for their direct embodiment of the artist’s creative energy and pure reflection of his imagination.
Drawings as we know them today emerged in the Renaissance. As artists turned to direct observation of the natural world as a source for their work, it became necessary for them to prepare their images in drawings, which could be modified, erased, and discarded with relative ease and lack of expense. These drawings were artefacts of the creative process. They were never intended to be collected or displayed.
Contemporaries, mostly artists themselves, already recognized the extraordinary achievement of these draughtsmen and made efforts to preserve their preparatory drawings, which were often more beautiful than their finished work.
Giorgio Vasari, the painter and architect of Duke Cosimo de’ Medici’s court in sixteenth century Florence, was the first systematic collector of drawings. As a practicing artist, he understood the function of drawings in the creative process. In fact, the theory behind his lives and his basic belief in the excellence of the art of his own time and nation is founded on the primacy of drawing.
Vasari mounted his collection of drawings on album sheets with magnificent architectural frames. When, after his death, his collection was sold, the albums and even the sheets were broken up, and his drawings were scattered among collectors all over Europe, above all in France, England, and Austria.
In these early times drawings were kept in portfolios and enjoyed intimately, in keeping with the spirit of their creation. While finished drawings for presentation to friends, colleagues, and patrons emerged in the sixteenth century, a market for them developed only in the eighteenth, well after the tradition of collecting working drawings had reached maturity. These landscapes and portraits on paper, vellum, or leather were often developed to a high finish with monochrome washes, or with watercolor, bodycolor, or gouache.
Dealers and collectors then commonly framed them and hung them on the wall like small paintings, a custom which completed the transformation of drawings into formal art objects.
Venetian School, 1520-1550, Madonna and Child, black chalk, pen and brown ink on blue paper, retouched in gouache and oil.
Isidoro Bianchi (Campione d’Italia, 1581 – 1662)
Design for a Ceiling Decoration
Pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash heightened with white on tan paper, 298 x 298mm., 11 3/4 x 11 3/4 in.
Heinrich Schwemminger (Vienna 1803-1884)
Ferdinand Schubert Posing as David Giving Thanks for his Victory over Goliath
Graphite, conté crayon, and red chalk, heightened with white chalk on tan wove paper
231 x 326 mm, 12 7/8 x 9 1/8 in.
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
Bernardino Licinio (Venice, c. 1490 – Venice, after 1549)
Standing Draped Male Figure, black chalk heightened with white on blue paper, 266 x 173 mm., 10 1/2 x 7 15/16 in.
Inscr. on mount in graphite: Bernardino Licinio; sticker de Bayser
Just as the serene, atmospheric manner of Giovanni Bellini’s late style — disseminated not only by his workshop, but by other artists who took it up in their own way, including his pupil Giorgione — dominated the latter quattrocento and the first decade of the next century in Venice, another pupil of Giovanni’s, Titian, was to have a similar widespread influence on style and taste hard upon it, even while the master was still alive. Titian’s energetic, dramatic treatment of his subjects and the paint itself set the tone for painting through the entire century, culminating in the competition amongst himself, Pordenone, Paolo Veronese, and Jacopo Tintoretto. While Titian’s manner, as well as certain technical developments he favored — e.g. painting in oils on canvas and drawing with black chalk — were widely adopted in Venice and the Veneto, a strain of Bellini’s quietism persisted, creating not so much a retardataire alternative to Titianism as a parallel approach which kept the spirit of Bellini alive, as long as it remained relevant to patrons’ desires, above all, those of the middle class private collectors in Venice and on the Mainland. Nor were they mutually exclusive. Both contemporary Venetian collectors and their Pan-European and American successors in later centuries found both styles essential in representing sixteenth century Venetian art. This quietistic style appears in the works of Bernardino Licinio, a native Venetian who often worked on the mainland, as well as that of the mainlanders, Moretto da Brescia (Brescia, c. 1498 – 1554) and G. B. Moroni (Albino, ?1520–24 – 1578), into the latter part of the century.
A modern inscription on the backing attributes this handsome drawing of a robed young man to Bernardino Licinio. This most likely points in the right direction, even if it is extremely difficult to attribute drawings to this artist. While the older generations of scholars, among them von Hadeln and the Tietzes, saw fit to attribute a number of drawings to Licinio, the late Roger Rearick reduced this somewhat incoherent group to one, the Seated Woman Holding a Vase in the Yale University Art Gallery, executed in black chalk, heightened with white, on blue-grey paper. The attribution to Bernardino Licinio is supported by the resemblance of the woman to counterparts in over ten altarpieces securely attributed to him: the artist used the drawing, presumably developed from a life study, as a model for these figures, rather in the tradition of the medieval model-book — a conservative practice which persisted in Venice, because the artists liked to introduce variants and specific details while working on the canvas. In addition, the woman in the drawing holds a vessel roughly the size and shape of an infant, a convenient substitute for a figure of the Christ Child, which would have been taken from a separate, specialized study. The resemblance of the human type, her attitude, and the drapery, as well as a place in a convincing working method, establish the Yale drawing as Bernardino’s.
A freer, more lightly drawn sheet in the Berlin Kupferstichkabinett, has recently been connected with the Yale drawing by Aidan Weston-Lewis. The undefined, heuristic treatment of the contours and surfaces (which indicated in broad, thinly applied strokes of chalk then treated with the stump, overlap one another as layers) the attitude of the model, more animated and angular than in the Yale drawing, and the off-balance ponderation, indicate that this is a study from a life. The flat forehead and rounded, full cheeks of the head are similar to those of the woman in the Yale drawing. However, it appears that the sitter for this drawing may have been a male, a young apprentice in the workshop — a common practice in Renaissance Italy. In the Berlin study, the outer mantle is draped over the opposite shoulder, the proper right, which holds the jar. This could well have been changed in subsequent studies, as the ideal attitude for the Virgin was sought out. Note how the figure’s posture has been straightened in the Yale drawing, and her balance placed in the center — in harmony with Licinio’s classicizing treatment of the Virgin Mary enthroned.
Our drawing, executed with the same materials as these two, on freshly preserved blue paper, shows a young, beardless man with full cheeks, dressed in a robe with a mantle over his left shoulder and draped over his right forearm like a Roman toga. He leans somewhat to his proper left side as he gestures with his left hand, as if making an expressive movement while giving a speech. This same gesture with the open palm occurs in a portrait of a young orator or scholar — which, coincidentally, was once attributed to Bernardino, but that is not pertinent here. Such a figure, which appears to have been drawn from life, could be adapted in a finished work to a St. John the Evangelist at the Crucifixion, for example. The broad lit surfaces of the drapery, the stumped chalk of the shadow areas and the way it intermingles with the fibers of the paper resemble the treatment in the Yale drawing. In physiognomy the figures, with their full cheeks, rounded chin, small, slightly open mouth, long nose, and deep, narrowly spaced eyes, are akin. The round opening at the neck of their garments indicate the roundness of the shoulders and neck in the same way. Especially telling is the analogy between the contour of the upper arms and shoulders in our standing orator, as he gestures, and the leaning seated figure in the Berlin drawing. In this context our figure appears to be a more finished study from life, sharing features of both the Yale and the Berlin drawings.
The straighforward realism of our drawing is entirely in harmony with Bernardino’s finished work — an attempt to capture the optical character of a life study in a pose derived from classical antiquity. Bernardino is known to have explored classical types extensively in a series of idealized “courtesans” in bust view. This drawing, then, tells us more about Licinio’s known interest in classical types, although the vast majority of his works are portraits or depict religious subjects. It is also a robust, lively treatment of a youthful male figure energetically engaged in the art of oratory.
Bernardino Licinio was born in Venice, into what appears to have been a family of artists originally from around Bergamo. Paris Bordon was his relative by marriage. Licinio’s true character as an artist went unrecognized for centuries, because Vasari confused him with Pordenone. In fact Bernardino was a very different kind of painter. Instead of Pordenone’s intensely emotive distortions of human form and gesture, he gravitated towards a restrained, descriptive realism, gently deepened by sensitive psychological observation and, in his religious paintings, distanced, dreamy moods. This made him an effective portraitist, who modestly and accurately created lifelike, vividly characterized, even earthy records of his sitters and their attributes, including members of his own family. This solid inhabitation of the physical world and fine sense of the psychological presence of the subject informs the present drawing as well.
Provenance: Giorgio dalla Bella (L.3774); Michel Gaud (L.3482); Galerie de Bayser
 Detlev Freiherr von Hadeln, Venezianische Zeichnungen der Hochrenaissance, Berlin, I925, p. 32, pls. 14, 15
 Hans Tietze and Erica Tietze-Conrat, The Drawings of the Venetian Painters in the 15th and I6th Centuries, New York, 1944, pp. 81-82
 Rearick, W. R., “A Drawing by Bernardino Licinio,” Master Drawings, Vol. 5, No. 4 (Winter, 1967), pp. 382-383+436; Boorsch, Suzanne., and John. Marciari. Master Drawings from the Yale University Art Gallery. New Haven, 2006., No. 8, pp. 55f.
 Costamagna, Philippe., Florian. Härb, Valenti Rodinò Prosperi, Simonetta., and Catherine. Monbeig-Goguel. Disegno, Giudizio e Bella Maniera : Studi sul Disegno Italiano in Onore di Catherine Monbeig Goguel. Cinisello Balsamo, Milano: Silvana, 2005, No. 17, pp. 48f.
Beyond Old Masters
American, 19th Century, Calligraphic Drawing Celebrating a Marriage, pen and brown ink on cream-colored card, 9 3/4″ x 12″ (248 x 305 mm), dated 1854: “Hope, Love, and Faith; Lavinia and Wesley; AFFECTION; Presented to Mr. and Mrs. Hill by A. S.” with roundels containing the Lord’s Prayer in Latin and in English.
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Anonymous, A Pair of Objets Trouvés: industrial drawings, mounted (pen, ink, and yellow wash on drafting paper), printed flour sacks, and stained wood, 29 7/8 x 24 7/8 in., 633 x 754 mm.
1. (horizontal) inscribed lower left: No. 7 Fulling Mill, built by Jas. Hunter Mach. Co. May 12/03 – N. Adams Mass. 1 1/2 = 1 foot; in circle: 6/79
2. (vertical) inscribed lower left: Elevation and section of No. 7 Fulling Mill, built by Jas. Hunter Mach. Co. May 12, 1903 – N. Adams Mass. 1 1/2 = 1 foot; in circle: A/80
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Important Past Sales
Drawings in the Berkshire Review and New York Arts
The online arts magazines, The Berkshire Review, an International Journal for the Arts and New York Arts regularly publish previews and reviews of sales and exhibitions of old master and modern drawings. You can access all of these directly through Old Master Drawings.
Giuseppe Cesari, called Il Cavaliere d’Arpino (Italian, 1568–1640). Head of a Satyr. Black and red chalk on paper. 7 1/2 x 6 in., 1596. Collection of Robert Loper
Claude Lorrain. Landscape with a Rider and an Idealized View of Tivoli, 1642. Pen and brown ink with dark brown wash on white paper. 7¾ x 10 in. The British Museum, London.
Sebastiano del Piombo (c.. 1485 – 1547). Recto: Study of a Woman’s Head. Charcoal heightened with white chalk on blue laid paper. H. 0,232 ; L. 0,177 m. Musée du Mont-de-Piété de Bergues.