Looking at the Drawings of a Master

A few days ago I was lucky enough to head uptown to The Metropolitan Museum of Art for a preview of their new exhibition, “The Drawings of Bronzino.” The show (which runs through April 28) comprises almost all of the extant drawings by Agnolo Bronzino (1503–1572), one of the masters of Mannerism—the artistic style that flourished in Italy in the wake of the High Renaissance. Incredibly, this is the first-ever exhibition of this size devoted to the artist. “After 500 years, Bronzino is finally getting his solo show,” joked the curator, Carmen Bambach.

It’s not often that you get to see this many drawings by one master on display in the same place, and it’s even rarer when the artist is someone like Bronzino, few of whose drawings survive. Bronzino was likely a prolific draftsman, but he usually drew in preparation for finished paintings, tapestries, or frescoes. Because his drawings weren’t considered finished works, most of them (thousands, probably) were discarded or lost. Only about 60 are known to exist today, and nearly all of them are on view in The Met’s exhibition. Many are on loan from the Uffizi, in Florence, and from other European institutions, so they won’t be together as a group for long.

I was especially excited to see this exhibition because John Parks—an artist, teacher, and one of our veteran writers—recently wrote an informative article for Drawing about Bronzino and the current show. In the article, which will appear in the winter 2010 issue of Drawing, Parks profiles this Old Master and analyzes several elements of his drawing technique.

Parks’ article helped me to see much of what makes Bronzino such a masterful draftsman (one whom aspiring artists would do well to study). Bronzino was an incredibly precise modeler—the subtle tones in some of his early chalk drawings are astounding. The Met displayed pages from the artist’s sketchbook in double-sided frames in the middle of the galleries, allowing viewers to see both sides of the page. Some of the works were done in preparation for paintings and others just for practice, but I could see the expressive, often distorted figures typical of Bronzino’s drawings and the Mannerist style.

Bronzino’s art was greatly influenced by his mentor and friend Jacopo Pontormo (1494–1557), but Bronzino grew to use more precise line work and modeling than his teacher, who drew with a comparatively loose, impressionistic hand. Works by Pontormo are also on view, allowing viewers to see how the teacher and student influenced each other.

To learn more about Bronzino and his drawings, check out the new issue of Drawing. More information about the exhibition is available on The Met’s website.

Austin R. Williams
Associate Editor

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Austin R. Williams

About Austin R. Williams

Austin is an associate editor of American Artist, Drawing, and Watercolor magazines. His interests include a number of artistic subjects, in particular contemporary drawing, and he is also a lover of literature and movies.  His favorite artists include Durer, Guercino, Degas, Menzel, Cezanne, and Blakelock. His favorite book about art is Michael Frayn's Headlong, and his favorite movie about art is Orson Welles' F for Fake.

2 thoughts on “Looking at the Drawings of a Master

  1. Austin, thank-you for posting this article. I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art today via my laptop and the Bronzino exhibit was extremely inspiring. I used to live in upstate NY and have been to the Met several times back in the 1970`s. What a museum. Since I live in California, it`s difficult to travel all the way to NYC to see these incredible drawings of Bronzino in person. I can use my imagination and the enlarged images from their website to experience their extraordinary elegance. I listened to the curator`s audio also, I highly recommend everyone to listen to it. Many thanks again! I will be visiting NY later this year and will go to the Met.