Archive for August 17th, 2010


Stripped of their make-up, the Romans come at us with in-your-face character.  Colorless, and therefore, all the more colorful!  And best of all, no eye-lashes!

In the best of worlds, I would be able to whisk my class off to New York at a whim so that we could draw the Met’s marvelous collection of Roman portrait heads.  While the Greeks inclined toward youthful and athletic idealization, the Romans were interested in depth of character, individuality and the wisdom of age. That’s one reason they make great subjects for drawing.  Another is that the heads are all white, uniform in color, and therefore we see pure shapes without being distracted by topical color.  These ancient sculptures, as well as ancient Greek and Roman buildings, were originally painted in bright colors (a subject for a future post) but after  a couple of millennia of weather and neglect, the color has worn off, leaving us with pure form.  Perfect for drawing!

Because we can’t seem to come up with the funds (millions) to purchase original Roman busts, we make do with photos.  It’s not ideal, but the photo has a number of advantages:  the light never changes and the instructor and the student look at exactly the same form.  The forms that make up the face are always round and rendering a three-dimensional round form in a two-dimensional medium calls for careful observation and a subtle drawing technique.  This is not an easy assignment. These heads are essentially a variation on the old pottery-and-drapery still life, but here we have the added dimension of emotional mystery.  Emotional content acts as fuel in a drawing assignment. It keeps you going as you navigate over the ridges and spheres of the face.  Students find these faces inspiring, it seems, because the work they produce is impressive.

The Met:  http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/12.23

Drawings by Laura F., Spike S.,  Vera C., and  Sarah R. (working from Michelangelo’s Medici portrait).

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