It is now exactly a hundred years since the discovery by Swedish and international
researchers of the existence at Nationalmuseum of an important collection of
drawings that shed light on the genesis of 'modern' art in Europe. The drawings were
made in the 15th century in the prosperous trading centre of Florence, ruled for most
of that century by the Medici family.
What was not noted at the time was that the entire collection had been compiled by
Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574), whose monumental work, Lives of the Artists, serves as
a basic source of knowledge about Renaissance art and was the foundation stone for
the study of art history. Vasari was himself an artist who studied under Michelangelo,
but who as a young man started gathering all the knowledge he would later pass on
through his books.
An important instrument for Vasari's studies was the large collection of drawings he
had put together, using unconventional methods. Visiting artists' studios, he had
noticed the piles of drawings and sketches that had accumulated over centuries and
which were frequently put to use. Vasari realised their value and acquired many,
archiving and restoring them with wisdom. Finally, he collected what he had in a
number of large tomes, richly framed by his own artistic hand. After his death, the
collection was dispersed haphazardly and the world's great museums that have been
able to acquire any of them are proud. Only two places - the Uffizi Gallery in Vasari's
own Florence and the Louvre in Paris - possess larger numbers. Nationalmuseum
now joins that illustrious group as number three.
Closer study of old written sources and the museum's inventory has revealed that
Carl Gustaf Tessin (Sweden's ambassador to France in the mid-18th century and one
of the founders of Nationalmuseum's collections) had purchased almost ninety of
these papers at an auction in Paris. Among them where some of the most important
papers illuminating the genesis of the Renaissance. A small number of the drawings
retain Vasari's sumptuous framing while a few have signs of it; all, however, show
indications of the artist's dutiful restoration. In the hundred years that have elapsed
since the first of these drawings were discovered, Renaissance researchers have
tried to determine exactly which artists had produced the various pictures. In some
cases, we are now quite sure; in others, unanimity has not been established, which is
hardly surprising in view of the circumstances of the discoveries.
However, several of the greatest names in art are represented: Paolo Uccello,
Domenico Ghirlandaio, Benozzo Gozzoli, Filippino Lippi and Fra Bartolommeo. They
all typify what has been described as the style of grace, characterised by
harmonious colourtreatment and fluid lines. It is unobtrusive art, distinguished by a
jewel-like beauty, most often produced by silver point on a coloured background.
The exhibition catalogue includes an illustration of each drawing, most often in colour.
Thanks to a generous donation, the catalogue price will not be excessive.
(Florence 1420 - Pisa 1497)
Young male nude holding a
A lion is at his feet.
Silver point, pen and brown ink,
heightened with white on green
22.3 x 15.7 cm.