Old Master Drawings are classified as such because of the medium and support employed and the date of the work. The designation is commonly understood to include works of the 15th through the early 19th centuries (Renaissance through Neo-Classicism) most often executed in chalk, or pen & ink, and/or brush and wash, and usually on a paper support but sometimes on vellum or parchment. Often their purpose is of a preliminary or preparatory nature - as designs for an engraving, for instance, the drawing by de Cock, Allegory of Sculpture, and perhaps the drawing here attributed to Pozzoserrato as well as the Personification of Air by a German artist close to Weyer. Drawings can also be preparatory designs for ornaments or objects or for more temporal decorations such as a banner or statues made for a procession such as the Cigoli.
Drawings sometimes study the pose of a figure for a painting or an altarpiece, like the figure by Lorenzo da Ferrari for a known ceiling fresco or the Errard presented on this site, or for an interior wall in a palazzo like the study by Orazio Farinati. A figurative grouping such as that by Alberti was probably sketched as part of a larger composition. Drawings can depict an entire composition like the double version of Hagar and the Angel which presents ideas for a painting, as well as the Meeting of Abraham and Melchisedek by Prospero Fontana, likely for a fresco decoration. The lovely drapery study by Bottani exhibited here, is studied for the background drape in a large oil painting. The Boscoli was definitely a recorded work made because Boscoli thought the composition was worthy of study. Designs for sculpture and medals were also drawn before being cast or carved.
Drawings can be autonomous works, conceived for their own sake. Examples are the Divine Heads of Michelangelo, the portraits of Bernini, the pastoral or garden landscapes of Natoire or Fragonard, the Venetian capriccios of Guardi. Examples that can be seen here: the impressive Guercino and the monumental Castello Lamentation in brilliant color. The stunningly executed historical sites by Bazzani, the refined portrait drawing by Dolci, and the restless landscape by Giani are all autonomous. The Dalziel Tribute to Books is autonomous. It is of mixed technique, watercolor and gouache.
The use of colored chalks like a combination of red & black, as in the compelling head study by Fra Semplice and the already mentioned Carlo Dolci, are appealingly descriptive. Leonardo at the beginning of the 16th century and Barocci at the end, favored the use of multi-colored chalks, including yellows and oranges - a soft yet rich mixture that appealed also to Mola in 17th century Rome, Castiglione (who also added vivid touches of oil paint in 17th century Genoa), and culminating in the pastels, first of Benedetto Luti in Rome in the earliest decades of the 18th century, and soon after with the portraits of Rosalba Carriere in Venice. Pastels were soon thereafter used by such a good number of French artists in Paris that today it is of them whom we think as the masters of the medium. Yet the masterful pastels shown here are 19th c. and Italian: the Michetti and the Casciaro.
Colored papers as well as colored chalks can enhance any given drawing. Blue paper, as evidenced by the Personification of Air at blue paperís brightest and that on which the Fontana is drawn, are especially attractive. However, when exposed to light that beautiful blue often turns a greenish color. Still its tonality affords a rich middle tone between the darker chalk and white heightening. Sometimes artists themselves toned their paper to afford a comparable middle ground. See for instance the Bottani Drapery Study.
The use of multicolored paints when the medium is gouache, or watercolor, does not preclude us from including these works as drawings. The support is usually paper, as in the The Monkeys, which were likely engraved, but they are executed in color and painted on vellum. Sometimes, like with Marco Ricci's gouaches, it is leather or parchment that is used as the support. The Castello in vivid color shown here, is executed on vellum. The intensely studied rocks in an unusual landscape by Harpignies is painted with gouache on paper.
Oil sketches are often executed on paper; their purpose is sometimes exploratory and sometimes they are ends in themselves. When sufficiently articulated, they served as presentation pieces, enabling a patron to get an idea of what the artist's larger-scaled and more elaborate project would look like. The charming Procaccini on this site is a life study for the head of an angel in a known altarpiece. The Rocky River Landscape attributed to Calame and the study of a Rocky Outcrop in a Forest by Janus La Cour are executed in oil on paper. They are examples of plein air landscape painting, which is common to Northeners visiting Italy, such as the View of Lake Garda by the Danish Petersen, but unusual for Italian artists. Grisailles and brunailles in oil, monochromatic by nature, are often conserved by the drawings departments of institutions, even if they are painted in oil and sometimes on linen.
It is hoped that the previously uninitiated will be intrigued by the material presented here. Our intention is to show what a rich and varied field this is, to inspire you to view the drawings displayed on this web-site, and tempt you to collect in this fascinating field.