Colnaghi Foundation Journal 03 - Page 86

For Jennifer Fletcher
Vittore Carpaccio (1460/1466? – 1525/1526),
an innovative draughtsman
In studies of Venetian drawing the idea that red chalk
was introduced to Venice by Leonardo da Vinci during
his sojourn there in 1500 has traditionally formed
part of a narrative whereby the work of the Florentine
genius spurred the avant-garde Venetian, Giorgione
and those in his circle to develop a sensuous mode of
drawing. Undoubtedly, Leonardo’s expressive studies
in red chalk of about 1495 for the heads of apostles in
the Last Supper attest to his virtuoso use of the medium
by that time, and had a lasting impact on drawing
in Lombardy and elsewhere.1 Vittore Carpaccio by
contrast has often been perceived as a conservative
artist rooted in earlier fifteenth-century conventions,
whose surviving oeuvre in drawing provides evidence
of copying and repetition in workshop practice rather
than of inventive flair. Yet red chalk was used by
Carpaccio in ways that mark him out as an innovative
artist, notably for his combination of red chalk with
pen and ink in compositional drawings.
Fig. 1 / Vittore Carpaccio,
Study of the Virgin and Child,
ca. 1490, pen and ink over
red chalk, 12.8 x 9.3 cm,
London, Courtauld Institute
of Art Gallery.
Inventive sketches in red chalk overlaid with further
thoughts in pen and ink, a felicitous technique in terms
of its visual impact, is common in eighteenth-century
Venetian drawings. That the technique was also
widely used by seventeenth-century artists in Venice
is attested by the variety of examples found in the
work of Giulio Carpioni, Johann Carl Loth, Giuseppe
Diamantini, Antonio Molinari or Gregorio Lazzarini.
Not surprisingly, the technique was explored by
Palma Giovane, and also by contemporaries such as
Pietro Malombra. Earlier Venetian sixteenth-century
examples are rarer (which may be a question of
survival, rather than of changes in drawing practice)
so that it is particularly important to recognize
Carpaccio’s achievements in this regard. Jennifer
Fletcher closely scrutinized a double-sided sheet with
studies of the Virgin and Child in the Courtauld
Institute in an article of 2001 (fig. 1).2 Her acute
observations brought into focus for me the originality
that Carpaccio demonstrated in these drawings.
Jennifer noted the substantial use of the red chalk,
and the way in which the dotted, broken pen lines
anticipated the light effects of the eventual painting.
In an important article of 2004, Caroline Brooke
examined Carpaccio’s design process in working
towards the complex narratives of the Scuola di San
Giorgio paintings, emphasizing his flexibility and
openness to revision even at a late stage in the process.3
More recently, in discussing the Courtauld sheet and
the large compositional drawing in the Uffizi, The
Triumph of Saint George, I have highlighted Carpaccio’s
experimental approach particularly in the dynamic
interaction of red chalk with pen and ink.4
How significant is Carpaccio’s use of red chalk with
ink in his inventive or compositional studies, and
how might this compare with contemporary uses?
Red chalk appears as a drawing medium in the
Pollaiuolo workshop in late 1460s Florence, when Piero
del Pollaiuolo combined it with charcoal in a head
study that functioned as a full-scale cartoon, pricked
for transfer; above all Leonardo demonstrated its
expressive potential by the mid-1490s.5 Earlier in the
Quattrocento, various artists including Pisanello had
rubbed or wetted red chalk onto paper to provide a
mid-tone for figurative drawings in ink.


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