Italian drawings on display at the Frick

Artists use drawings for many different purposes. Some use them as a way to plan for later works, and some intend for the drawing to be the final product. In the exhibition at the Frick Art and Historical Center, From Michelangelo to Annibale Carracci: A Century of Italian Drawings from the Prado, 70 drawings by Italian artists are on display.

The exhibition, which is traveling from its home at the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, will make three stops in the United States before returning to Spain. Pittsburgh’s showing is the first stop and the American premiere, and although the exhibit remains essentially the same throughout its travels, parts of it are customized to tailor to the host city’s audience.

The deputy director of exhibitions for the organization, Doug Shawn, said that the tour had been in the works since shortly after the works appeared at the Prado in 2005.

Part of the reason that the show was able to begin touring was that the catalog, which contains drawings from the exhibition as well as commentary and information about each of the drawings, has been translated from Spanish to English.

The director of curatorial affairs for the Frick, Sarah Hall, related the show to the museum’s usual audience. She explained that the drawings in the collection received very little scholarship until their 2005 premiere at the Prado. The exhibition, she explained, is unable to leave its home location for a very long because it consists of drawings rather than another less delicate medium.

Pittsburgh and the Frick aren’t strangers to exhibitions of drawings, Hall explained. “We have a history of doing drawing shows. We’ve done over 30 in the past 25 years,” she said.

Hall also commented on the span of time covered in the exhibit, saying that it “gives you an immersion in this period and the cultural climate of the society.”

The exhibition showcased 16th-century drawings by such artists as Michelangelo, Federico Barocci, and Annibale Carracci. The kinds of drawings vary greatly, ranging from anatomical sketches to religious scenes to portraits.

One piece by Michelangelo was “Study of a Man’s Right Shoulder, Breast, and Upper Arm.” This sketch depicted a man’s muscular upper arm, and according to the catalog at the exhibit, was probably used as a sort of practice for larger images in which a man’s shoulder was a prominent feature of the piece.

In a different style of drawing, Giulio Benso’s “Beheading of St. John the Baptist” depicts the event using brown ink and black chalk. The image shows John the Baptist kneeling with a cross in his hands and a lamb next to him as a man stands behind him, sword poised for execution. They are surrounded by other people in a public place, and ancient architecture is sketched into the background. He created later versions of this same scene, varying different aspects of the scene to make certain features and people stand out.

“Dead Christ, Surrounded by the Instruments of the Passion, with God the Father and the Holy Spirit,” drawn by an anonymous Tuscan artist in the 16th century, is more of a complete-looking drawing than a sketch, unlike the previous mentioned pieces. The features are all clearly defined and various different levels of shading are used, creating some very dark areas and some very light. Angels and cherubs surround the dead Christ from all angles.

The exhibition is laid out well, with drawings in different rooms to avoid crowding. The exhibition runs through Jan. 4, 2009. For more information, visit the Frick’s website at www.frickart.org.