helena fourment

Artists’ Studies

Among my favorite works of art here are a good number of artist’s “studies” or drawings made in preparation for finished works (paintings, prints, sculpture etc…). 

I immediately think of Michelangelo’s terra-cotta sketch for the Libyan Sibyl on the Sistine…

Michelangelo was one of the greatest draftsmen of all time with an understanding of human anatomy and physiology that few artists might rival. This is clear from his anatomical studies…

Michelangelo, however, did make frequent use of distortions of the body for expressive purposes. The figure of the Virgin in the Pieta is quite a bit larger than that of Christ… 

… which allows the artist to place Christ in her lap without it appearing awkward. David’s hands are larger than they should be… 

… emphasizing the “weight” of the coming confrontation with Goliath and the stone he holds. 

The painting of the Libyan Sibyl is almost a “cubist” image portraying the various parts of the figure from various angles in a composite manner. Her toe, for which he clearly made careful and intentional studies, juts toward us. Her legs are seen in profile in the act of stepping away. Her back is turned toward us as she places the heavy tome down opposite us. The pose could only be taken by a contortionist… but the result is that it conveys an incredible sense of motion. Seated on a throne (which faces us) in which she has been reading, she now twists around and sets down her over-sized book on the podium behind her, and then steps forth daintily upon her toes like a ballerina, pirouetting away… Exit, Stage Left. As in the sculpture of the Pieta, the draperies in the Libyan Sibyl mask the anatomical distortions while further emphasizing the twisting motion. 


I hope to keep this post active… and continue to add to it as I come upon further interesting sketches


Peter Paul Rubens is another master draftsman. I have long adored this marvelous drawing of his first wife, Isabella Brandt, in which you can surely sense the twinkle in her eye and the mischievousness in her smile that the artist must have fallen in love with:

The drawing likely served as the model for more than a few portraits of the Rubens’ wife… 

-This brilliant portrait is perhaps my absolute favorite painting in the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Rubens made an almost equally marvelous drawing of his second wife, Helena Fourment…

The drawing was likely employed in the artist’s Portrait of Helena in Her Wedding Gown (made some time after their wedding)…


I initially came up with this notion for a thread on artists’ sketches after stumbling upon some of Alphonse Mucha’s drawings made in preparation for his series of muses (The Muses of Dance, Music, Painting, and Poetry):


Incredibly a wealth of original drawings by the Netherlandish Renaissance artist, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, have survived. Many of these drawings are studies of the landscape. He likely employed elements of these later on in his paintings and prints:

These drawings have an energetic calligraphic manner and a rich sensitivity that is lost to a certain extent in the prints… engraved by other hands. Of course the warm sepia color makes them even more handsome.

One of the only prints to retain the calligraphic and gestural nature of Bruegel’s drawings is this early landscape… etched by the artist himself:

Bruegel’s drawings weren’t limited to landscape. Just as his prints and drawings often dealt with allegory and everyday life in his native Netherlands, so his drawings often dealt with the same. The Beekeepers has long struck me as a fascinating… almost “surreal” image… for all its mundane realism:

We his can truly compare drawings to the resulting prints and paintings with the famous image of Big Fish Eat Smaller Fish:

Then there is the sketch of the Netherlandish feast of Kermis filled with such exquisite little details…

… and the subsequent painting of the same subject:

And perhaps the finest example by the artist of a sketch directly linked to a subsequent “finished” work of art is this drawing of laborers harvesting under the August sun:

This sketch would serve as the model for the engraving, Summer:

… and it would also serve as a source of inspiration for the marvelous painting of the same theme (Summer) AKA The Harvesters… one of my favorite paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art:


Another master of sketches is of course Rembrandt. He is one of the few artists among the old masters whose drawings often have an Asian-like calligraphic manner:

There are two drawings by Rembrandt that immediately come to mind that were almost certainly employed as sketches in preparation for finished prints and paintings. The first of these is a sketch upon the theme of Christ preaching unto his followers:

This likely served in preparation for two of Rembrandt’s prints upon the same theme…

… including the so-called “Hundred Guilder Print”:

The second sketch is a fascinating little drawing…

It was made after Raphael’s Portrait of Baldasar Castiglione:

Interestingly enough, Raphael’s masterful portrait was inspired by his study of the composition of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa:

Rembrandt would employ the ideas from Raphael in his own self portraits… including this lovely etching:

This etching suggests that Rembrandt may also have been aware of Titian’s famous Portrait of a Man with a Blue Sleeve:

Rembrandt’s later Self Portrait (age 34) almost suggests a merger of ideas taken from both Raphael and Titian:


Albrecht Dürer

Along with the masters of the Italian Renaissance, the German Renaissance painter and print-maker, Albrecht Dürer was one of the most brilliant draftsmen of Western art history.

Dürer’s importance as a draftsman dates back to his youth, when at age 13 he sketched this self-portrait:

… one of the earliest acknowledged self-portraits. 

In his early 20s, Dürer made his first journey to Italy where he was exposed to the art of Greco-Roman classicism including (almost certainly) the Apollo Belvedere:

Dürer made several sketches based loosely on the Apollo Belvedere…

Eventually he would alter the pose of Apollo and of the figure of Diana who originally turned her back to us resulting in the marvelous engraving of Apollo and Diana (1502):

Dürer became more ambitious, and began to transform the classical Apollo into the Christian Adam, replacing Apollo’s solar orb with the apple from the Garden of Eden:

Dürer made several studies of Eve prior to hitting upon the image for the final print:

The final Eve was almost certainly modeled after a medieval sculpture of Adam and Eve that the artist also saw in Italy:

Eve’s hair in Dürer’s engraving (as well as her Roman nose) is undoubtedly based upon this work. 

In his mid-30s, Dürer made a second journey to Italy. Among the works he created there was the painting, Christ Among the Church Doctors:

This painting featured a brilliant variety of facial types… and an even more brilliant variety of hand gestures. Dürer made a number of studies in preparation for this painting… including studies of hands…

… the face of an angel…

… and the face of Christ:

The two head studies… that of Christ and the second of an angel (top of post) … both on blueish toned paper… were both obviously once a single drawing:

The head of the angel was not employed in the painting of  Christ Among the Church Doctors, but remains one of the artist’s most exquisite drawings.

Over the years, Dürer would produce several prints and paintings upon the theme of Saint Jerome:

Saint Jerome in the Wilderness (painting-c.1495):

Saint Jerome in the Wilderness (engraving-c.1496):

Saint Jerome in the Wilderness (drypoint etching-1512)

Saint Jerome in his Study (engraving-1514):

Dürer’s drawing of the Head of an Old Man (c. 1521)… shown leaning on his elbow and looking down was almost certainly a study of Jerome in his study… reading. It is also most certainly one of Dürer’s most exquisite drawings that exhibits his mastery of the calligraphic line and his ability to use line to suggest a broad variety of textures (as already seen in his print Adam and Eve):

The delicious curls and spirals of “Jerome’s” beard call to mind the churning waters as found in Leonardo’s drawings of the Tempest: