At the British Museum

Peter Campbell

Three mundane facts say superficial but significant things about the look and content of the drawings, particularly the earlier ones, in Fra Angelico to Leonardo: Italian Renaissance Drawings at the British Museum (until 25 July).

First, paper was expensive and vellum more so. The drawings tend to be small and nothing is wasted – variations or new subjects are often found on the other side of the sheet or in unoccupied corners. Second, painters kept hold of drawings so that an unfamiliar thing, a cheetah say, or a difficult one, such as a gesturing hand, or even whole figures, were there to be reused – drawings were tools of the trade. Third, time has winnowed Italian Renaissance drawings. What is left is a small fraction of the total, unrepresentative and rarely in perfect condition.

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