II. Assembling the Figures

The interactions between the figures in a work of art is an essential element of the quality of the narrative unfolding within it. Artists would make any number of drawings as they sought to express, in two dimensions, the relation­ship that was developing in real space. Thanks to the spontaneity of the drawings, they could twist and turn the figures, bring them closer together, rearrange or observe them from different angles, in order to evoke the dynamics and diversity of their reactions within a group, or the almost abstract multitude of a crowd.
The iconography of the Virgin and Child, widely illus­trated in Italian art of the period, favoured the examina­tion of the physical or intellectual contact that linked the two figures. In these studies, the expressive gestures and glances were the draughtsman’s means of exploring the intimate or devotional character of the relationship be­tween the Virgin Mary and her child, which would lend the work the appropriate spiritual atmosphere.

E da cio’ nasce l’invenzione, la quale fa mettere insieme in istoria le figure a quattro, a sei, a dieci, a venti, talmente ch’e’ si viene a formare le battagle e l’altre cose grandi dell’arte.

Thence was born invention, which determines that in a history painting (istoria) the figures are put together in four, six, ten, or twenty, to form battles and the other grand things of the art.

Giorgio Vasari, Le Vite de’ più eccellenti pittori, scultori, e architettori, Florence, 1550