In my last post I wrote about my view of drawing as a stand-alone art form that does not have to be in the service of painting or sculpture. The current exhibition of Michaelangelo's 'presentation' drawings now on at The Courtauld Gallery demonstrates that the idea of a highly finished drawing being a recognised art object started in the Renaissance.
Michelangelo’s Dream is a rare opportunity to see one of The Courtauld Gallery’s greatest treasures brought together for the first time with international loans to form a celebrated group of extraordinary ‘presentation’ drawings.
Described as one of the finest of all Renaissance drawings The Dream (Il Sogno) was one of a series Michelangelo made at the height of his career as gifts for Tommaso de’ Cavalieri, which includes the punishment of Tityus, The Fall of Phaeton, A Bacchanal of Children, and The Rape of Ganymede.
Michelangelo drew throughout his life but it was with this series of highly finished works, made at the height of his career, that he transformed drawing into an independent art form because they were made for their own sake and not as preparatory sketches for paintings.
They were publicly exhibited as finished works and in a letter to Michelangelo, Cavalieri wrote that they had been admired by ‘the Pope, Cardinal de’ Medici and everyone’. 'Truly miraculous,' wrote Vasari. 'Outstanding drawings the like of which has never been seen'.
They are now termed ‘presentation’ drawings because Michelangelo presented them, partly finished, to close friends for approval. Depending on how they were received they would be corrected and finished before being returned to the friend as a gift to demonstrate his artistic proficiency. So what were intended as private drawings have led a very public life to to the technical virtuosity of the execution.
In his first (1550 edition) of Michelangelo’s Life, Vasari noted the effect of chiaroscuro that he achieved by combining shadow and light until they merged into smoke ‘a uso di fumo’.
The show also includes Michelangelo’s drawings of Christ’s Resurrection, including the Saviour from the collection of Her Majesty The Queen. The show concludes with a small selection of works by contemporaries, such as Vasari and Dürer, who addressed similar themes of rebirth, dreaming and the nature of man.
18 Feb 10 - 16 May 10
The Courtauld Gallery
Somerset House, Strand London WC2R 0RN