A selection of early fifteenth-century works from the Robert Lehman Collection and the Department of Drawings and Prints features drawings attributed to the artist Stefano da Verona (Italian, ca. 1375–ca. 1438). Stefano represents the dynamic artistic culture of northern Italy during the early fifteenth century, fostered by the region's close ties to France and Burgundy. These cross-currents are associated with the broader International Gothic style that flourished between about 1380 and 1430 and was characterized by its elegant courtly qualities and attention to naturalistic detail.
Stefano may have trained in Pavia, near Milan, in the late 1390s with his father, Jean d'Arbois, a French painter once active at the court of Burgundy. An itinerant artist, Stefano worked throughout northern Italy, settling in Verona relatively late in his career, in 1425. His artistic milieu included northern Italian masters such as Michelino da Besozzo, Giovannino de Grassi, and Pisanello, who were renowned for their naturalism, especially their detailed studies of animals. Pisanello left behind a significant legacy of paintings, drawings, and medals (two are on display in the exhibition). While Pisanello was once considered Stefano's pupil, it is more likely that the affinities between their styles resulted from their activity in Verona and the influence of Michelino da Besozzo.
Stefano's graphic manner differs markedly from the northern Italian model-book tradition in which highly finished drawings on vellum (prepared animal skin) were used as stock motifs reproduced in paintings. His rapid pen-and-ink sketches on paper are extraordinary for their spontaneity, freedom of expression, and bold, fluid style. They reflect a pivotal period in Italian art when drawings began to assume an experimental and creative purpose, serving as exploratory exercises, not necessarily as preparatory for paintings.