The Encounter: Drawings from Leonardo to Rembrandt brings together 50 drawings showcasing Britain’s finest collections by artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Dürer, Rubens and Rembrandt in one exhibition in London.
The National Portrait Gallery is to stage its first exhibition of old master European portrait drawings this summer. The Encounter: Drawings from Leonardo to Rembrandt will run from July 13 to October 22 and will include works by some of the outstanding masters of the Renaissance and Baroque, many rarely seen, and some not displayed for decades.
The drawings not only serve as extraordinary records of an artist’s skill and a sitter’s appearance, but have been selected for this exhibition because they appear to capture a moment of connection, an encounter between an artist and a sitter.
Some of the people depicted in these portraits can be identified, such as the emperor’s chaplain or the king’s clerk, but many are the faces from the street – the nurse, the shoemaker, and the artist’s friends and pupils in the studio – whose likenesses were rarely captured in paintings during this period. The exhibition includes some of the hidden treasures of Britain’s finest collections, as the drawings’ sensitivity to light means they cannot be put on regular display.
Highlights include 15 drawings lent by Queen Elizabeth from the Royal Collection, including eight portraits by Hans Holbein the Younger; a group of drawings produced in the Carracci studio from Chatsworth; and the British Museum’s preparatory drawing by Albrecht Dürer for a lost portrait of Henry Parker, Lord Morley, who had been sent to Nuremberg as ambassador to King Henry VIII.
The Encounter: Drawings from Leonardo to Rembrandt brings together 50 portrait drawings by artists who worked throughout Europe, including Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Annibale Carracci, François Clouet, Albrecht Dürer, Anthony Van Dyck, Benozzo Gozzoli, Hans Holbein the Younger, Antonio di Puccio Pisano (Pisanello), Rembrandt van Rijn, Peter Paul Rubens, Francesco Salviati and Leonardo da Vinci.
Lenders to the exhibition include the Royal Collection Trust, The British Museum, Chatsworth, Senate House Library, Scottish National Gallery, Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, UCL Art Museum, V&A, Ashmolean Museum and The Courtauld Gallery.
Some of the portrait drawings in this exhibition were executed at speed, capturing a fleeting moment in time
The exhibition came about as a result of the gallery’s continuing interest in exploring the practice of making portraits in a variety of media throughout history. By bringing together an important group of drawings, The Encounter: Drawings from Leonardo to Rembrandt explores what the study of European portrait drawing can tell us about artistic practice and the process of sitting.
By including a display of the types of drawing tools and media used – from metalpoint to coloured chalks – and considering the individuals depicted in these often intimate portraits, many of whom remain unidentified, the exhibition will show how these artists moved away from the use of medieval pattern-books as source materials, to study the figure, and the face, from life.
The exhibition has been supported by a panel of exhibition advisers who have embraced the exhibition’s challenge to consider the terms of portraiture and the extent to which an encounter between individuals captures a portrait, even if the image was intended as an exercise in drawing with no thought for the identity of the sitter.
National Portrait Gallery director Nicholas Cullinan says: “While our collection includes Holbein’s magnificent and monumental ink and watercolour drawing of Henry VII and Henry VIII from c.1536–7, remarkably, the gallery has never staged an exhibition devoted to the practice of portrait drawing during the European Renaissance.
“While the sitters’ identities are often unknown, their encounters with the artist are preserved in drawings that vividly demonstrate the creative moment that lies at the heart of many of the greatest portraits.
“Some of the drawings were perhaps never intended to leave the artists’ studios, but are arguably among the most engaging and powerful impressions of personal likeness in the history of art.”
Tarnya Cooper, curatorial director at the gallery and co-curator of the exhibition, adds: “Part of the appeal in looking at portrait drawings is that they seem to speak to us directly without embellishment or polish; in contrast to painted portraiture the graphic process appears unmediated by the artfulness of technique.
“Some of the portrait drawings in this exhibition were executed at speed, capturing a fleeting moment in time, while others were more finished and controlled, yet still appear to have an honesty and integrity that captures a dynamic connection between artist and sitter.”
The Encounter: Drawings from Leonardo to Rembrandt runs between July 13 and October 22 at the National Portrait Gallery, London.
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