Drawing the Human Figure in Italy 1450-1700

Studi & Schizzi

from 15 February to 6 September 2020

Opening hours: every day except Monday, from 12 to 6 pm


The Fondation Custodia exhibits 86 of the 600 Italian drawings in its collection, executed by artists from the Renaissance to the Baroque period (Filippino Lippi, Andrea del Sarto, Federico Barocci, the Carracci family, Palma Giovane, Guercino, ...).

Before drawings became collectible in their own right, drawing constituted one of the essential elements of the artist’s work in the studio. The sketch drawn on the page was the first step to creation; it was the most immediate and most natural visual translation of the inspiration of the artist’s ideas.

The representation of the human figure was a major preoccupation during the Renaissance period and one of the constant interests of Italian art over the centuries. Striving for a narrative ideal in an image which, by its very nature, is fixed in two dimensions, the artists were keen to represent their figures in eloquent proportions and attitudes.

The exhibition highlights the manner in which artists managed to resolve formal problems thanks to the practice of drawing. How to convey the position of the models and the links uniting them? How to translate the effects of light and shade on bodies and on drapery? How to arrange the figures in a confined space, corresponding to the shape and size of the final work?

Studying the Human Figure

Juxtaposed on the same support or evolving over several sheets, the succession of sketches allows us to understand the way artists progressively developed their figures on the page, before fixing them in the most appropriate attitude, the position that best embodied an action or a narrative.

Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, called Guercino (1591-1666), Five Studies for the Magdalen, c. 1620
Pen and brown ink, brown wash. – 242 × 398 mm
Fondation Custodia, Collection Frits Lugt, Paris, inv. 5076

The immediacy of the drawing, combined with the evolution of graphic techniques and of supports, offered artists the opportunity to fix a movement or an attitude with great rapidity. With his whirlpool pen, Guercino presents us with five versions of a seated Mary Magdalene; the diversity of the poses gives him scope to explore the expressive qualities of the figure and reveals the power of his imagination.

Assembling the Figures

Battista Franco, called Semolei (c. 1498/1510 – 1561), The Virgin and Child
Pen and brown ink. – 125 × 111 mm
Fondation Custodia, Collection Frits Lugt, Paris, inv. 3636

The exhibition also looks at the way artists sought to transcribe, in two dimensions, the relationships between figures in space. The many representations of the Virgin and Child or the Holy Family provide ample scope for the comparison of experiments with form and composition made by draughtsmen such as Girolamo Genga, Domenichino and many others. These artists sought to give a clear account of the changes of position of their figures and the physical contact between the mother and her child.


Bernardino Campi (1522-1591), Two Prisoners
Pen and brown ink, brown wash heightened with white bodycolour. – 276 × 174 mm
Fondation Custodia, Collection Frits Lugt, Paris, inv. 1982-T.36

While making their preliminary studies, Italian artists were guided by the specific requirements of the works they had been commissioned to paint. In studies and sketches, they organised their figures according to the format, dimensions and location they were working towards, be it a small easel painting, an altarpiece or a large fresco decoration.

The sheet by Bernardino Campi can be compared with other drawings in which the artist represents men enclosed in a narrow recess. Constrained by the space in which they are depicted, these figures were originally identified as philosophers but look in fact more like prisoners. They could have been created by Campi for ephemeral trompe-l’œil paintings erected at the entrance to the city on the occasion of a royal visit.


Studying Light

Lorenzo di Credi (c. 1456/60-1537), Study of a Drapery for a Seated Figure, c. 1478-80
Silverpoint, grey-brown wash, heightened with white bodycolour on pink prepared paper. – 219 × 176 mm
Fondation Custodia, Collection Frits Lugt, Paris, inv. 2491

The last phase of the exhibition is devoted to the study of light and shade in figure drawings. As in the case of the works previously described, the draughtsmen’s responses depend on the effects they are seeking, on the techniques at their disposal and, above all, on their personal sensibilities. The remarkable Study of Drapery by Lorenzo di Credi illustrates the sensitivity of his observation of light and his ability to render the plastic qualities of fabric using the demanding technique of dry-point on prepared coloured paper.

Collections Online

The exhibition Studi & Schizzi is organised to mark the launch of the Fondation Custodia’s online database. This offers art lovers the world over access to the entire collection of Italian drawings held within our walls. Developed with the aim of ‘serving art history’, the stated mission of our founder, Frits Lugt, and designed for a wide public, the database in English will make consulting the collection easy, thanks to research fields and filters designed to suit those simply seeking information as well as experts. Following the tradition of the Fondation Custodia catalogues, a generous amount of information is contained in the files and there are also links to other databases, for example Les Marques de collections de dessins & d’estampes.

At the outset, the database is restricted to the publication of the Italian drawings, but it will be progressively enlarged to include the other parts of the collection. During the year 2020 the prints and drawings by Rembrandt and his school will be published. The portrait miniatures, Flemish paintings, sixteenth-century Netherlandish drawings, seventeenth-century Dutch paintings, French drawings and part of the collection of artists’ letters will join the corpus at a later date. The whole collection will be available online in the future.

Join us at the Fondation Custodia on 15 February and on: https://collectiononline.fondationcustodia.fr

The complete catalogue of the exhibition is available here.

Practical Information


Fondation Custodia / Collection Frits Lugt
121, rue de Lille - 75007 Paris
Tel: +33 (0)1 47 05 75 19

Access by public transport

Metro: Assemblée Nationale (line 12) or Invalides (lines 8 and 13)
RER C: Invalides or Musée d’Orsay
Bus: lines 63, 73, 83, 84, 94, Assemblée Nationale
Vélib’: station opposite (n° 7009)

Opening hours

Every day except Monday, from 12 to 6 pm

Admission charges

Admission charges 10 € (full) / 7 € (reduced)
The reduced rate is available to seniors (over 60), unemployed people, groups of at least 10 people

Free admission: students, press card, ICOM card, disabled person’s card

No online reservations

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