Encounter drawings at the National Portrait Gallery review ***


The Encounter: Drawings from Leonardo to Rembrandt

National Portrait Gallery, 7th September 2017

Short, sweet and eclectic. The exhibition of 50 or so portrait drawings at the NPG contains works by some of the greatest draughtsmen revered by art history from the Renaissance and Baroque, but blink and you might miss them.

Now drawings from masters are rare treasures indeed, either being disposed once the work for which they were prepared having been completed or having suffered through the vicissitudes of time. So it is always welcome to get a chance to have a good long peek. We get a quick overview of the process of drawing at the outset and the survey covers a range of media; chalks, charcoal, pastel, ink, metalpoint. There are a series of 8 Holbein sketches from the Queen’s collection, (which were full of life in a way I had not anticipated), a wall of fine drawings from the Carraccis with 4 I think from Annibale, courtesy of the Chatsworth collection, a couple of dashing young men from sculptor Bernini, some exquisite little heads from Rembrandt, a preparatory sketch of a toff from Durer, a Rubens, a van Dyck, a Pisanello, a Pontormo, a Parmigianino, a muscle man from Leonardo and a partridge in a pear tree (I may have made the last bit up).

My highlights were the Head of an Old Woman by Domenico Ghirlandaio, Michelangelo’s teacher, in metal-point with white shading on some sort of orange paper, a curly-haired youth also in metal-point on grey paper from Benozzo Gozzoli, (he of the fancy and perfectly preserved frescos in the Magi Chapel in the Palazzo Medeci-Riccardi in Florence), and the final drawing another Old Woman in a ruff and cap attributed to Jacob Jordaens.

So if this is your bag then well worth a detour but for us generalists I wonder if there may not be quite enough here to make this a must see. Sacrilege for some I suspect but your time might be better spent focussing on a part of the National Gallery next door (not forgetting to hand over a few quid for that privilege).




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