Colnaghi Foundation Journal 03 - Page 89

Vittore Carpaccio (1460/1466? – 1525/1526), an innovative draughtsman
Vittore Carpaccio (1460/1466? – 1525/1526), an innovative draughtsman
previously in use in the Bellini studio, where Carpaccio
was traditionally thought to have trained,8 if only
because the older Gentile employed it in these inventive
sketches in a purposeful, adept manner. Nonetheless,
no Bellini examples are known that pre-date the
Courtauld studies by Carpaccio.9 Another technique,
that of the tonal drawing on blue paper with brush,
ink, and white heightening often over black chalk, used
by Vittore throughout his career, does seem to have
been widely disseminated in the circle of Giovanni
Bellini. The highly-worked chiaroscuro drawing, the
Head of a Bearded Man in the Royal Collection, generally
agreed to be by Giovanni about 1460-1470, provides a
landmark in the development of the technique, which
was employed by artists associated with Bellini such as
Alvise Vivarini or Cima da Conegliano, and exploited
brilliantly by Carpaccio.10
Fig. 2 / Gentile Bellini, A
Procession in Saint Mark’s
Square, Viewed from a Height,
1496, pen and ink over red
chalk, 13 x 19.3 cm, London,
British Museum.
The growing interest in red chalk as a warm-toned
medium that could be used broadly or sharply can be
charted in its forceful use in combination with black
chalk by Luca Signorelli around 1500, in a group of
figure studies relating to the Orvieto commission; as a
medium for free sketches of the Madonna and Child
by Raphael about 1506; or in a richly layered form in
the elaborately modelled ignudo studies by Michelangelo
for the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Suffusing black chalk or
charcoal figure studies with warmth by applying red
chalk to certain areas, as did Piero del Pollaiuolo and
Signorelli, was not uncommon. However, using red
chalk in combination with pen and ink was far from
conventional in the years around 1500 (though examples
can be found in Leonardo’s practice). In the 1500s, both
Raphael and Michelangelo might use red chalk on the
same sheet as other studies in pen and ink, but not as a
rule in a layered technique where red chalk is worked
over in ink as an integral part of the artist’s thinking on
a particular composition. Michelangelo would go on
to make various studies using this method, such as an
evolving narrative scene about 1516-1520 relating to
the façade of San Lorenzo, Florence, begun in red chalk
and continued, pen in hand; he would also overlay ink
and red chalk in architectural studies (superb examples
are found in his studies of fortifications).6
From Venice in the 1490s two compositional drawings
in this technique by Gentile Bellini have come down
to us, one in the British Museum and the other at
Chatsworth (fig. 2).7 Both are associated with the cycle
of paintings for the Sala della Croce of the Scuola
di San Giovanni Evangelista, and datable ca. 1496.
It seems plausible to suppose that this technique was
Fig. 3 / Vittore Carpaccio,
A Fortified Harbour with
Shipping, ca. 1495, pen and
ink over red chalk, 17.2 x
19.1 cm, London, British
Perhaps what is most remarkable about Carpaccio’s
approach is his broad, decisive handling of the red chalk,
which is unlike Gentile Bellini’s more meticulous, sharp
treatment as he set out in chalk, albeit schematically,
the flow of a procession against the topography of the
Piazza. The contrast is especially evident in the vivid
swirls of the grainy medium as Carpaccio considered
alternative possibilities for the harbour area in the study
in the British Museum that clearly relates to the landscape
setting at the left of Saint Ursula and the Prince Taking Leave of
their Parents, painted in 1495 for the Scuola di Sant’Orsola
(fig. 3). He based much of the architectural detail of the
fortified hillside on a favoured print source, the woodcuts
by Erhard Reeuwich used as illustrations to Bernhard
von Breydenbach’s Peregrinatio in Terram Sanctam (1486),
so that only minor revisions were made to the red chalk
indications as he built up the composition with the pen.


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