Colnaghi Foundation Journal 03 - Page 91



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Vittore Carpaccio (1460/1466? – 1525/1526), an innovative draughtsman
However, the harbour area is a locus for experimentation
at the intersection of land and water, where the shape
of the mole and the types of shipping are freely
suggested with a spirited handling of the chalk.
Fig. 4 / Vittore Carpaccio,
Virgin and Child with
Female Saints, ca. 15001505, pen and ink, brown
wash, over red and black
chalk, 19 x 23.5 cm, New
York, The Morgan Library.
Vittore continued to work on compositions using
this combined technique, in each case adapting his
handling in keeping with the subject or with the stage
he had reached in the design process. His use of the
red chalk for thinking on paper is seen even at an
advanced stage, as in a compositional drawing relating
to the Virgin and Child with Female Saints of uncertain
date, ca. 1500-1505, in Avignon (fig. 4). Here the
strong pressure of his hand on the blunt, earthy chalk
is evident in the improvised delineations of a craggy
Vittore Carpaccio (1460/1466? – 1525/1526), an innovative draughtsman
rock formation and the habitats of hermit saints,
followed by strongly accentuated revisions in ink
that, together with light washes, create potent tonal
relations with the red.11 The main figure group of the
sacra conversazione had previously been studied in two
other sheets, so that little alteration was now required
to their disposition, but Carpaccio was still concerned
with injecting the landscape with drama and visual
interest. By contrast, a more even handling is seen in
the exploratory red chalk study for a narrative of the
Martyrdom of the Ten Thousand painted in 1515 for the
church of San Antonio di Castello (fig. 5).12 Carpaccio
tackled this complex subject by shaping a centrifugal
design with a crowd surging around the group of six
crosses; a further narrative episode is indicated at the
Fig. 5 / Vittore Carpaccio,
Study for the Martyrdom of
the Ten Thousand, ca. 1514,
red chalk, 21.3 x 29.7 cm,
Washington, DC, National
Gallery of Art.
left, while a serpentine movement in depth draws
our gaze towards the rearing mountain and heavenly
vision. The vertical direction of the composition is
re-asserted with the two firmly planted upright crosses
at the right. The rectangular format that emerged at
this stage of reflection, to be defined by framing lines,
was not in the end what the commission required, so
that Vittore did not need to take this particular design
forward with further exploration in pen and ink. The
light handling of the chalk and the shorthand treatment
of figures brings us closer to Gentile Bellini’s schematic
approach seen in the British Museum and Chatsworth
sheets, giving us a sense of the appearance of the older
master’s initial red chalk sketches. Yet Carpaccio’s
individual character is clear not only in the greater
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agility of the figures but particularly in his consideration
of the effects of light and atmosphere, with the red chalk
used broadly and vigorously to model the landscape
setting and to evoke a tempestuous sky.
The sensuous use of the red chalk in its material
qualities, already visible in Vittore’s Virgin and Child
studies of ca. 1490, can be seen in later drawings
attributed to Giorgione and other Venetian artists.13
However, the richness of tonality and the sense of
graphic vitality realized by the overlaying of ink,
often used lavishly, with the grainy texture and warm
hue of red chalk may be Carpaccio’s distinctive and
original achievement in drawing in the years around
1500 in Venice.

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