silverpoint n : a drawing made with on specially prepared paper with an instrument having a silver tip (15th and 16th centuries)
Silverpoint (or metalpoint) is a method of drawing using a piece of sterling or pure silver wire held in a lead holder or handmade holder. The medium of metalpoint includes the use of gold, copper, brass, platinum and aluminium, as well as silver. Silverpoint pre-dates the use of graphite as a drawing medium and was used by old masters such as Jan Van Eyck, Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Durer and Raphael. The technique is commonly associated with the Renaissance but enjoyed a revival in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Renaissance artists used silver and occasionally leadpoint for underdrawings of their paintings and for separate studies on paper.
Rembrandt's best known silverpoint drawing is a portrait of his wife Saskia dated 1633. However, by the 17th century, use of metalpoint was rare. By the 18th century, silverpoint was completely supplanted by the more versatile and immediate medium of graphite.
The discovery of the manuscript for Cennino Cennini's 1390 "Il Libro dell'Arte" in the Laurentian Archives led to silverpoint's rediscovery. There was a chapter on this drawing medium in "Il Libro", and when the first printed edition appeared in 1821, artists began to experiment.
Alphonse Legros, the Pre-Raphaelites, Thomas Wilmer Dewing and Joseph Stella helped revitalize the medium. Perhaps the best known modern silverpoint portrait is the 1920 portrait of Marcel Duchamp by Joseph Stella (69 by 53cm)in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art New York from the Katherine S. Drier bequest. Silverpoint underwent a second renaissance after a groundbreaking exhibit, "The Fine Line. Drawing with Silver in America" was curated for the Norton Museum of Art, West Palma Beach, FL,in 1985 by Dr. Bruce Weber. Since then, increased interest, both on the part of the public and artists alike, has led to a resurgence in silverpoint's fortunes. There have been several museum exhibitions of silverpoint drawing, with the most recent being "The Luster of Silver" at the Telfair Museum of Art, Savannah, GA, in 2006.
Some artists simply wrap the wire in a spiral around a pencil with enough length extending over the tip of the pencil to make the drawn line visible to the artist's eyes. The gauge of silver wire used is somewhat determined by individual preferences of the artists. The firm paper or lightweight board to draw on needs to be smooth and coated with thin layers of rabbit skin gesso, acrylic gesso or gouache. The slight tooth made by the layer of paint takes a little of the silver as you move the point over the surface to make the drawing. The result is very delicate. The marks need to be built up carefully. Cross-hatching is an effective drawing technique for silverpoint. A kneaded eraser will effectively remove all but the strongest silverpoint lines, however this should be attempted as little as possible as the rubbing of the eraser will disturb the underlying layer of paint. To start with the drawing is silvery but over time the silver will tarnish to a rusty brown for an old master finish. Tarnish to deepen the tones can be hastened with a dilute mixture of delicately brushed-on egg yolk. The yellow yolk bleaches out in natural light within a week while the tarnished lines remain a deeper tone.
- Cleveland Museum of Art site on Metalpoint
- Silverpoint Web Complete silverpoint drawing information
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silverpoint in German: Silberstift