Renaissance to Goya: Spanish Old Master Prints & Drawings #2

November 19, 2013

hendrick goltzius circumcision of christ

Hendrick Goltzius, The Circumcision of Christ, 1594. 475x172mm. A4 Milini 150gsm sketchbook; graphite pencil H.

This is an attempt at copying an engraved print in pencil. This Dutch print was the basis of a brown ink and wash drawing by Eugenio Cajes, The print reminded me a lot of the woodcuts of Albrecht Durer, done a full century before. The Spanish art establishment was flooded with engraved prints from Holland for instruction purposes and many paintings and drawings bear traces of the prints. It’s interesting to compare how Cajes retained and deleted elements from Goltzius’ print. In order to show off their skills, artists would incorporate both front views and back views of their figures and Durer has the knack of using a large figure, often with his back turned to the viewer, as a framing device. It works to bring the viewer’s attention into the action of the painting; we find ourselves looking over the shoulder or around the body of the large foreground figure.

I’ve been working on drawing legs recently, so picking the large figure to the right seemed a natural choice. It turned out to be an exercise in drapery and taking in the detail of the clothing worn at the time. The seam running down the back of the leg cleverly denotes volume.  I ended up including a seated figure, another onlooker with his hands clasped in prayer. Both these figures were omitted by Cajes in his version, replaced by a figure seated behind a table. Cajes gave all of his attention to the officiating rabbi and another witness kneeling in front of him.

As one so often finds in Durer’s woodcuts, the print has a wide range of subject matter: architectural detail, still life objects, drapery and figures. All are eminently worth copying! My copy comes nowhere near the original in terms of detail – the engraving technique is breathtaking. Not immediately obvious to the viewer of the catalog illustration is the figure to the left of this foreground figure, a face next to a pillar – the face looks out directly towards the viewer, creating a parallel with Velazquez, Michelangelo and others.

herrera assumption 2

Sebastian de Herrera Barnuevo, The Assumption of the Virgin, c.1650-1658. 250x198mm. A4 Milini 150gsm sketchbook, graphite pencil and W&N watercolors.

There was a lot to choose from in this drawing, but I focussed on the rendering of the putti and playing with various shades of watercolor paint.  Any original black chalk foundation drawing is obliterated by the distinct contours in brown ink (aged to black). My washes ended up a lot warmer than the catalog reproduction.  The original drawing is much browner than mine; the color scheme is closest to my Winsor & Newton brown, third from the top (far left).


McDonald, Mark P. Renaissance to Goya: Spanish Old Master Prints and Drawings (London, British Museum Press, 2012).


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