The Encounter brings together an outstanding collection of old master drawings, many rarely seen before in the UK, that capture a fleeting moment between artist and sitter. Nearly fifty Renaissance and Baroque portrait drawings, not paintings, by Master draughtsmen including Leonardo, Rembrandt, Durer, Parmigianino, Holbein the Younger and Van Dyck, showcase, above all, the exceptional observational skill of the artists.
Sketched in a range of mediums from ink and chalk, to silver point and metal point, these drawings, more often than not, are believed to be preparatory studies for grandiose frescoes, or more formal oil portraits. They are small, spontaneous, and intended to capture form, character of the sitter and perspective ahead of the main event. They have a poignant immediacy about them which makes them surprisingly engaging.
Giulio Pedrizzano, The Lutenist Mascheroni by Annibale Carracci, c.1593-4
While some of the sitters in the exhibition can be identified, such as the emperor’s chaplain, or the king’s clerk, there are many unidentified faces in the exhibition that would have populated the streets of Renaissance Europe. Nurses, pupils, studio masters, and shoemakers stare back at you from the gallery walls. As you eyeball the sitters, you are drawn into their worlds, their stories, their lives lived centuries ago.
Leonardo Da Vinci’s exquisite Study of a Nude Man, c.1504-5, is captivating. The artist has rendered his sitter’s form with characteristic realism and depth. The man’s gaze is stern. The connection between Da Vinci and his model is palpable. It’s a good opening to what could be an incredibly dry show. But that's really as good as it gets.
Leonardo da Vinci, Study of a Nude Man, c.1504-6
Yet the collection of Holbein portraits, lent by Her Majesty The Queen, is worth a good hard look. A showcase of outstanding draughtsmanship, this group of drawings are of individuals populating the household of Henry VIII. They vary in style, colour and quality, and they exemplify, above all, Holbein's influence in shaping the aesthetic perception of an historical period.
Young Woman in a French Hood (below), with its soft contours, the sitter's penetrating gaze and subtle coloured shading bears no stylistic resemblance to Man Wearing a black cap, where thick inky black lines and a frantic beard dominate the frame.
Young Woman in a French Hood, possibly Mary Zouch by Hans Holbein the Younger c.1533
The exhibition is compact and user friendly. Long text panels have been replaced with a nifty booklet, due to a necessity for low lighting, and the drawing techniques have been explained in layman's terms through a demonstrative video.
Happily coinciding with the annual BP Portrait Award for contemporary portraiture just a few galleries away, The Encounter is an accessible introduction to Renaissance portraiture for young and old.
|The Encounter, review
|National Portrait Gallery, St Martin's Place, London, WC2H 0HE | MAP
|Leicester Square (underground)
13 Jul 17 – 22 Oct 17, Saturday - Wednesday 10.00 - 18.00, Thursday - Friday 10.00 - 21.00
|Tickets on sale now