Drawing as Discipline

The sixteenth-century painter and art historian Giorgio Vasari called drawing, or disegno, “the father of our three arts: architecture, sculpture, and painting.” Fundamental to the creative process, drawing was the backbone of artistic training in Renaissance Italy and consisted of two principal components: copying from the masters and drawing the human figure. Through the mid-fifteenth century, aspiring artists were instructed to make copies after drawings in a model-book, a compendium of motifs (human figures, flora, and fauna) passed from one generation to another, ready to be inserted into paintings or illuminated manuscripts. With the shift away from this medieval tradition—and toward a greater emphasis on individual artistic expression—copying from a wide variety of easily available sources, such as prints and plaster casts, became a way of honing and perfecting one’s draftsmanship beyond the confines of the workshop or teaching academy. These settings provided the principal context for the study of anatomy and the figure in motion, with apprentices and students often posing as models for life-drawing sessions.

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