This exhibition features masterpieces of Central and Southern Italian drawing spanning the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Among the forty-two works, Florentine drawings are especially well represented by such celebrated Renaissance masters as Leonardo da Vinci and Antonio Pollaiuolo, while among the Southern Italian examples is a rare sheet attributed to Antonello da Messina.
Explorations of the human form through figure studies and portraits, as well as expansive compositional sketches for biblical and mythological narratives, present a wide spectrum of drawing types and subjects, both sacred and secular. The exhibition examines the varying ways that drawings functioned in the Renaissance, from working tools in artists' workshops to sheets made for patrons. Representing different stages of the design process, the selection ranges from rapid preliminary sketches and detailed figural studies to highly finished compositional drawings. Several examples bear physical evidence of their use in the workshop to transfer or enlarge designs. While the role of drawings as preliminary for paintings is well known, the selection illustrates the primacy of the medium for designing a broad range of media, including sculpture and textiles.
The exhibition explores the evolving role of drawings during the Renaissance. While they played a practical role as tools in the workshop, beginning in the sixteenth century, drawings were increasingly valued by a wider public as expressions of artists' creative processes and as highly prized objects worthy of collecting. Illustrating the relationship between theory and practice, the drawings are considered in the context of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century treatises, which lend a contemporary voice to developments in technique and medium, as well as the role of drawing during the Renaissance.