It might be said a certain fetishizing of the finished drawing has accompanied the recovery of Realist representational techniques in the last couple of decades. Not in and of itself a bad thing, being able to accurately represent what one sees is a necessary (if insufficient) condition for a rebirth of representational art. But if we think drawings that imitate black and white photographs are ìn some way “traditional,” or “classical,” we are misguided. Because drawing was, in the Old Master tradition, almost always a means toward an end. And that end was something more substantive, permanent, and often public. Murals, sculpture, altar paintings are what sponsored drawing as a preparatory art, one involved in both the invention of a composition and the working out of the elements of that composition.
Since drawing was rarely an end in itself, it was calibrated to be an efficient tool in this larger process. It had to be done in a relatively short period of time, it had to distil what was essential about what was being drawn, and it was meant as much to shape the memory of the artist as to add to his portfolio. Morevoer, without the model of photography to measure it against, a drawing was instead prized for its graphic grace, liveliness, andsprezzatura. The fact that it consisted of marks on paper was not contrary to this appreciation, it was in fact essential. Because in the mark the artist revealed his or her genius, intellect, and facility.
Raphael is undoubtedly the paradigm of the classical artist, a model for centuries of aspiring classical painters. And while Raphael’s early drawings are meticulous, delicate, and refined, it was only after he experienced Michelangelo’s bravura draftsmanship that he developed that drawing style, mostly in sanguine, that would define the aspirational model of classical drawing.
These sanguines of Raphael's–bold and delicate, economical and informative, composed of both a lively contour and descriptive hatching–are what we at the Tuscan Renaissance Academy hold up as ideals. Almost none of the great drawings of Raphael’s Roman period took more than an hour to produce. All are essential tools for the realization of powerful paintings or tapestries. And they require a different approach than what is often held up as academic drawing today. They are what informed the Carracci reform of painting in the early seventeenth century.