I. The myths
Many theories have arisen about how a work of art comes into existence. They all have in common, however, the assumption that artists are equipped with particular creative abilities which differentiate them from other people. Inspiration, the ability to catch sight of possibilities hidden to ordinary mortals, and finally deprivation and concentration on work to the point of obsession, are the three most frequently identified components in the myths about how art comes into being.
II. Mental images and idea-sketches
Theorising on the making of art began as far back as the fifteenth century. In Florence, Italy, writers, artists and scholars wrote about art, laying down the foundations of the perception of art prevalent in the Western world today. In the early seventeenth century, artist and art theorist Federico Zuccari (1541-1609) distinguished between ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ drawings. To him, the ‘inner drawing’ refers to the archetypal divine ideas that inspire mental images. They can be captured and turned into ‘outer drawings’ – the visual realisation of the inner mental images in the artist’s mind.
III. Determining the composition
When the main characteristics of the artist’s fleeting initial mental image had been set down in the idea-sketch, the artist embarked on a more detailed rendition. This type of drawing is quite naturally more detailed than the idea-sketches. Once the composition has been determined, the picture’s message is more clearly evident – overemphasis in the right places helps get the message clearly across. The nature of this work varied greatly from one artist to the next. The exact composition chosen might arise out of the whole, a scenographic construct, or a single figure.
IV. Detail-studies: Female models
When the artist had settled on a composition, the next step often involved studies of figures and details. Drawings of this kind are more concrete than composition sketches. Here, the artist would usually adjust the concept-based composition sketch by executing studies based on a live model placed in the planned pose or objects arranged as in the sketch. At this point the artist no longer focused on coming up with new ideas or changing the composition, devoting his attention to its individual components instead.
V. The cartoon
Once the conceptual sketches and detail-studies had been made, it was time to fuse them. The fusion of idea-sketch and detail-study was usually carried out in a cartoon. A cartoon is a drawing sharing the same format as the final painting. Asmus Jacob Carstens’s (1754-1798) watercolour Fingal’s battle with the spirit of Loda is an example of a cartoon made specifically to arouse customer interest. It was executed shortly before 1796 in Rome, where the German-Danish poet and art lover Frederikke Brun saw it and ordered a version in oil. Cartoons gradually evolved into detailed drawings with precisely worked-out light and shadow effects. They eventually assumed the status of works of art in their own right, possessed of both aesthetic value and potential for collecting.
VI. The academies: Bendz
Drawings also allow us to see how the artists worked in their workshops and at the academies. Before the eighteenth century, aspiring artists trained as craftsmen under experienced masters. With the introduction of absolute monarchy in the eighteenth century, the state assumed control of the art scene. Royal art academies were established in order to ensure a sufficient supply of artists to decorate the monarchs’ palaces and official buildings. In Denmark, the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen was officially founded in 1754. Draughtsmanship was regarded as the cornerstone of all artistic endeavour. As a result, the academies did not teach painting until far up into the nineteenth century.
VII. Tradition and renewal: Rembrandt
Many artists familiarised themselves with older art by copying it or collected it for inspiration. The most common way of relating to tradition and to the works of the Old Masters was to incorporate them into one’s own works, either as pure quotation of detail, or by using the older works as a basis and subjecting them to critical examination, so that they emerged in a new form. The starting point of Rembrandt van Rijn’s (1606-1669) dry point picture of Christ presented to the people was Lucas van Leyden’s (1489/94-1533) engraving carrying the same title. Rembrandt’s dry point picture exists in seven states, which means that he reworked the motif on the copper plate seven times before he was satisfied.
VIII. Cooperation: Juel and Clemens
Artists have co-operated in countless different ways through the ages. Co-operation could consist in informal collaboration between friends, or could be more formal, involving a master and pupil or two equal but specialised artists. In the spring of 1777, Jens Juel, J. F. Clemens, Simon Malgo and F. L. Brandt set out on an excursion to Monte Salève near Geneva. The drawing depicts the artists in states of slumber, rather the worse for wear after the evening’s celebrations.
Text by Chris Fischer.
Digitized works by SMK Photo.