Old museum in Britain displays master drawings

Oxford, May 26 (IANS) The Ashmolean Museum, one of the world’s oldest public museums, has launched an exhibition of master drawings to mark its founding in 1683.

The exhibition will run from Saturday to Aug 18, bringing together 70 pieces of works on paper, including those from Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Raphael, Durer, Rubens, Titian and Rembrandt among others, Xinhua reported.

“Looking closely at drawings is an intimate experience,” said Christopher Brown, director of the museum.

“We can see how the artist’s hand, eyes and imagination are all engaged in capturing an idea or representing a motif in graphic marks on paper.”

Jon Whiteley, senior curator of European Art, has been working in the museum for over 30 years. He told Xinhua that the museum began collecting drawings from 1842.

A museum of art and archaeology, it gave up the plan of buying paintings because they were too expensive and hard to collect, and turned to the relatively cheaper drawings.

“When the present Ashmolean opened in 1846, people came not to see sculptures and paintings, but the largest collection of Raphael drawings and the collection of Michelangelo drawings which was at least among the top three,” Whiteley said.

As the museum gradually built up its fame in drawing collection, people would give it the pieces they had so as to have the works “come home”.

“Now we have 27,000 drawings here and more are still arriving,” said the curator.

The new exhibition started with North Renaissance artists, whose surviving drawings were rare. One of the big names was Albrecht Durer.

“He is the first artist that we know used water colour drawings,” Whiteley said.

The piece, View of the Cembra Valley, was assumed as among a series recording the route Durer took across the Alps.

Although faded, the shimmering evening sky added a touch of romantic poetry to the scene. The painter might be sitting on hilltop, looking down and responding to the twilight.

“An Elderly Woman with Clasped Hands” was the only drawing by Grunewald that bore a signature.

Recognized as maybe the Virgin or Magdalen, the woman who seemed to have lost a son or a companion put her palms together in sorrow.

“Compared with Italian paintings, it showed deeply human idea and realism,” explained the curator.

The works of Michelangelo Buonarroti was highlighted by the red-chalk studies for the Sistine Ceiling.

He defined the musculature and the effects of light and shade as the boy turned and held a scroll under his arms. But the artist didn’t concern with his hair or details of drapery.

In comparison, two other drawings seemed more complete.

“In the 15th century drawings were not considered as art, but after Michelangelo and Da Vinci, anything from the masters became collectable,” Whiteley said.

This pair, one is a head in profile and another the legendary Samson and Delilah, didn’t need to be drawn so delicately if they were only used for preparatory purpose.

Titian didn’t usually do drawings, but the work he was commissioned in the Palazzo Ducale at Venice was such a complicated one that he resorted to chalk and paper first.

He sketched roughly, but the energetic movement was captured vividly when a horse fell to the ground and its rider strained to ward off an attack.

Raphael’s “A Kneeling Youth” was made in preparation for the Mond Crucifixion.

On the picture, the kneeling figure looked upwards, hands raised in awe, but in everyday dress. He was believed to be a studio assistant.

His other drawings reflected the influence of Da Vinci and Michelangelo on him.

“I hope this exhibition will encourage the public to discover more about our collections and about the enchantment of drawing,” Brown said.

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