Tag Archives: italian renaissance drawings

DISEGNO V: Parmigianino

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In order to get out from under the shadow of Antonio di Correggio, Francesco Mazzola, called Il Parmigianino, left Parma and moved with his cousin, also a painter, to Rome in 1524. Francesco, being the younger of the duo from Parma, was referred to as il parmigianino. They worked profitably until the Sack of Rome (1527), when German soldiers broke into Parmigianino’s studio intent on stealing pictures, thus causing the two to return to Parma.

For Vasari, Parmigianino was a paragon of disegno, in this case the term meaning something like inventive drawing:

Among the many natives of Lombardy who have been endowed with the gracious gift of design, with a lively spirit of invention, and with a particular manner of making beautiful landscapes in their pictures, we should rate as second to none, and even place before all the rest, Francesco Mazzuoli of Parma … his manner has therefore been studied and imitated by innumerable painters, because he shed on art a light of grace so pleasing, that his works will always be held in great price, and himself honored by all students of design.

Vasari was less impressed by his painting technique and outright deplored his unreliability, which he attributed to Parmigianino’s deepening obsession with alchemy, which he practiced in an attempt to of getting rich quickly. Parmigianino died impoverished at the age of 37.

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DISEGNO III: Raphael


“The divine” Raphael Sanzio of Urbino (1483 – 1520), is the greatest draughtsman of the Western tradition. In his lifetime, his drawings were prized by collectors. The same remains true today: on 6 December 2012, a Raphael black-chalk drawing of a head of an apostle, from the collection of the 6th Duke of Devonshire, was sold at auction by Sotheby’s for £ 29.7 million ($ 50.7 million), a record for a work on paper. Before that sale, the record price for a drawing had been set by Raphael’s “Head of a Muse,” which was sold by Christie’s for £ 29.1 million on 8 November 2009. And in July 1984, Christie’s had sold a drawing by Raphael, also from the Chatsworth collection, for £ 3.3 million, a record for a drawing at that time. The British Museum, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, and the Chatsworth Collection are the repositories of the finest Raphael drawings, attesting to the long-standing taste for the Renaissance master in England.

Over the whole, in truth, there seems to breathe a spirit of divinity, so beautiful are the figures, and such the nobility of the picture, which makes whoever studies it with attention marvel how a human brain, by the imperfect means of mere colors, and by excellence of draughtsmanship, could make painted things appear alive.

This work is in every part so stupendous, that even the cartoons are held in the greatest veneration; wherefore Messer Francesco Masini, a gentleman of Cesena who, without the help of any master, but giving his attention by himself from his earliest childhood, guided by an extraordinary instinct of nature, to drawing and painting, has painted pictures that have been much extolled by good judges of art, possesses, among his many drawings and some ancient reliefs in marble, certain pieces of the cartoon which Raffaello made for this story of Heliodorus, and he holds them in the estimation that they truly deserve.

Albrecht Dürer, a most marvelous German painter, and an engraver of very beautiful copperplates, rendered tribute to Raffaello out of his own works, and sent to him a portrait of himself, a head, executed by him in gouache on a cloth of fine linen, which showed the same on either side, the lights being transparent and obtained without lead white, while the only grounding and coloring was done with watercolors, the white of the cloth serving for the ground of the bright parts. This work seemed to Raffaello to be marvelous, and he sent him, therefore, many drawings executed by his own hand, which were received very gladly by Albrecht.

O happy and blessed spirit, in that every man is glad to speak of thee, to celebrate thy actions, and to admire every drawing that thou didst leave to us! When this noble craftsman died, the art of painting might well have died also, seeing that when he closed his eyes, she was left as it were blind. And now for us who have survived him, it remains to imitate the good, nay, the supremely excellent method bequeathed to us by him as a pattern, and, as is called for by his merit and our obligations, to hold a most grateful remembrance of this in our minds, and to pay the highest honor to his memory with our lips. For in truth we have from him art, coloring, and invention harmonized and brought to such a pitch of perfection as could scarcely be hoped for; nor may any intellect ever think to surpass him.

— Giorgio Vasari, ”The Life of Raphael of Urbino,” Lives of the Artists (1550/1568).

DISEGNO II: Pisanello


At the 15th century courts of Mantua, Cesena, Ferrara, Rimini, and Naples, Antonio di Puccio Pisano, better known as il Pisanello, was primarily known for his cast-bronze portrait medals, a Roman genre he revived to make honorific images for his patrons. As an artist in the employ of the courts, he was also expected to fresco the walls of palazzi, paint portraits and design costumes and festivals, and make religious images, which also augmented his artistic reputation. Pisanello’s official duties did not include the meticulous drawing of carefully-observed natural subjects, the part of the artist’s œuvre most admired today, nor did drawings enhance his stature.

Most of Pisanello’s peers and patrons would have not have had the opportunity to see, let alone revere, his drawings, because they constituted the bulk of his studio’s model book, which only circulated within his workshop, providing models, guides, and templates for his assistants. Model books were jealously-guarded secrets in medieval and Renaissance workshops, and they were heavily used; as a result, very few survive. In the case of Pisanello, however, his extensive, nearly-complete model book, the so-called Codex Vallardi, miraculously survives, largely due to an error.

In 1856, the Louvre purchased an album of 317 drawings, from the Milanese antiquarian Giuseppe Vallardi for the hefty sum of 35,000 francs. At the time, the drawings were thought to be by Leonardo da Vinci, which explains both the high price and why they were carefully preserved over the centuries. It was later determined that several of the drawings were from Leonardo’s workshop, one was by Hans Holbein the Younger, while the majority were attributed to Pisanello.

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