Editor's note: Why does the Getty, with all its money, need to follow the crowd and put a colon in every exhibit title. I should hold a seminar called, "The Colon: its Use and Mis-Use in Academic Nomenclature." -- John
(Image: Vittore Carpaccio, c. 1500. Accession No. 91.GG.38. Getty Museum.)
HAEFELE GETTY DRAWING
100,000 years ago, someone made a humble sketch on a flat rock with a burnt stick. And the art of drawing — the parent of painting, architecture and sculpture -- was born. But it didn’t grow up until much more recently.
HOST: Off-Ramp commentator Marc Haefele on about 200 years of Renaissance master drawings, now showing at the Getty.
All visual art begins with drawing. But it’s such a fragile medium that for millennia, it left barely a trace. Until 600 years ago, when the art of papermaking and the art of the Renaissance ignited the art form of master drawing. 45 of these pictures are at the Getty, mostly from Florence and Venice.
The drawings come in all shapes, colors and sizes, some big as a major painting, some smaller than post cards. Sometimes they were the prototypes of great paintings. Or they were simply jotted down ideas or solutions to artistic equations like, how do you show a fiddler’s elbow from below? Or the Martyrdom of a saint?
The first thing you see when you enter the two-room gallery is Veronese’s 1576 “Martyrdom of Justina,” patron Saint of Venice. At its bottom, the holy woman is about to be stabbed. But dominating the sketch is a celestial mushroom cloud, crowded with the intricately drawn ranks of Christ, his angels, saints and prophets, all happily awaiting poor Justina’s ascension to glory. This heavenly array is so extreme that Veronese dropped it when he finally painted the martyrdom. His original idea was simply too big for his canvas.
Many of the drawings demonstrate similar primary sparks of artistic imagination. Nothing was too small or too big for these artists to draw — Raphael’s lissome Asian girl playing a flute, or Carpaccio’s Lord God the Father Himself, in an absurd papal tiara, glowering down at gallery visitors over a bank of finely-rendered storm clouds that perfectly match the gnarly dark hair of God’s beard.
Curator Julian Brooks says the show includes works of two of the four legendary “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle” old masters—Michelangelo and Raphael. But he adds, “We decided to give the other guys a chance” … geniuses like Giovanni Bellini, Mantegna, Pontorno. Filippo Lippi. Perino la Vaga and Titian.
Starting with a simple anonymous figure of 1380, you see techniques advancing into the late style known as mannerism, wherein artists worked their simple lines like sculptors molding clay. Cross-hatching, color washes, colored chalk, metal point and pen came into use, and the line between drawing and painting, like the lines of the later drawings themselves, became blurred. A masterpiece was a masterpiece, on paper or in paint.
Some of these precious works were carefully treasured by the artists’ heirs and generations of collectors. Yet the vast majority was simply tossed away. Curator Brooks notes that one great painter used old sketches … to clean his kitchen pots.
We’re lucky that in this show, we can see so many of those great drawings that weren’t used up as Brillo.