The British Museum and National Gallery of Art in Washington represent an exceptional exhibition titled “Drawings in silver and gold: Leonardo to Jasper Johns.” For the first time in history, a single exhibition has brought together about 100 magnificent works created with the help of a special metal stylus. The case is that this metalpoint technique requires virtuosity and perfect movements and, therefore, it is used only by the greatest masters. In this way, art lovers have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the outstanding works by Leonardo Da Vinci, Albrecht Dürer, Raphael, Rembrandt, Hans Holbein the Elder, William Holman Hunt, Edward Burne-Jones, Jasper Johns, and many others artists working from the 15th century to present days.
Metalpoint is an elegant and very delicate technique when the artist uses a sharpened metal rod or wire, often made of silver, to draw precise compositions on a specially treated surface. It was extremely popular in Europe during the Renaissance until it was replaced by cheaper graphite in 1550. Since the late 17th century, the metalpoint technique was almost forgotten, but in the 19th century it was once again caused to life by the admiration for Renaissance art. Moreover, many artists in Europe and the United States use a silverpoint technique even now.
The “Drawings in silver and gold: Leonardo to Jasper Johns” exhibition for the first time explores the development of this technology throughout six centuries and demonstrates a wide variety of artistic styles it has already encompassed. The main feature of the metalpoint technique is that the drawn lines cannot be easily erased, so that the artist should be very careful in order not to start all over again. However, such works are very durable. Thus, the exhibits collected by the British Museum from different art galleries and private collections around the world are in excellent condition. It seems that many of them have been made specifically for this exhibition!
One of the first artists, who used the metalpoint technique, was Leonardo Da Vinci. His “Head of a Condottiere” demonstrates virtuosic craftsmanship of the artist performed with the help of a metal stylus. In fact, the Royal Collection has enough Leonardo’s drawings made by a silver rod to make a separate exhibition. Nevertheless, curators have decided to complement Da Vinci’s masterpieces with the works by other famous silverpoint masters including Petrus Christus, who lived in the 15th century, and the living artist Bruce Nauman. As the result, such a magnificent array of unique drawings in silver and gold created by the greatest old and modern art masters is gathered together for the first time. So it is truly a unique opportunity for everyone to get acquainted with a vast collection of masterpieces made in this intriguing metalpoint technology. The “Drawings in silver and gold: Leonardo to Jasper Johns” is on view at the British Museum in London till December 6, 2015.