Drawing in Silver and Gold: Unique Exhibition at the British Museum

The British Museum and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. present an exceptional exhibition titled “Drawings in silver and gold: Leonardo to Jasper Johns.” For the first time in history, a single exhibition brings 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. Art lovers now have a unique opportunity to enjoy some of the most outstanding works by Leonardo Da Vinci, Albrecht Dürer, Raphael, Rembrandt, Hans Holbein the Elder, William Holman Hunt, Edward Burne-Jones, Jasper Johns, and many other 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 being 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 brought to life thanks to the renewed 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 drawn lines cannot be easily erased, so the artist should be very careful in order not to start all over again. However, such works are very durable. It is no wonder that the exhibits brought together 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 performed with the help of a metal stylus. In fact, the Royal Collection has enough of 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 a result, such a magnificent array of unique drawings in silver and gold created by the greatest old and modern art masters is on display for the first time. It is truly a unique opportunity for everyone to get acquainted with a vast selection of masterpieces made in this intriguing metalpoint technique. The “Drawings in silver and gold: Leonardo to Jasper Johns” is on view at the British Museum in London through December 6, 2015.