Monday, 29 March 2010

Erasmus and Holbein: Hands and Metalpoint

Imagine photographing the photographer. Or using a writing instrument to draw a writer. The drawer was Hans Holbein and the writer was Erasmus. The drawing was the Study of the Head and Right Hand of Erasmus, or Two Studies of the Left Hand of Erasmus; Study of the Right Hand Writing. The instrument was a metalpoint.

"Writing" the hands of the writer with metalpoint involves a gesture which "excludes erasure or repetition" - in the way that Roland Barthes' Japanese brush excludes erasure or repetition. Of the artist the metalpoint, the medieval scribe's favourite stylus, requires "consummate control of both mind and hand". Its marks are indelible, erasure imposssible. No loose sketching, no free-flowing stroke. Metalpoint has to tread lightly - an "irreversible and fragile writing".

 A writing instrument becomes a drawing instrument. The hands of an artist are used to draw the hands of a writer. Images that reflect each other in different media. Writing and drawing, pen and metalpoint, hands in life and hands on paper. The insciption on Albert Dürer's engraving of Erasmus evokes for me this play of reflections. The Dutch theologian and humanist Desiderius Erasmus is shown in his study writing a letter with a reed pen and holding an ink pot. The insciption on his left goes:

Image of Erasmus of Rotterdam by Albert Dürer taken from life.
His writings give a better picture

Images are from Hans Holbein the Younger, Two Studies of the Left Hand of Erasmus, Silverpoint, black crayon and red chalk on grey-primed paper, Louvre Paris, in: Christian Müller, Stephan Kemperdick, Maryan Ainsworth, Hans Holbein the Younger: The Basel Years, 1511-1532, Prestel, 2006.
Victoria & Albert Museum, Medieval and Rennaissance Galleries: Print and Medal with Erasmus, Museum no. 4613-1858: detail.
Read all about metal point Beth Antoine, "Metalpoint Drawing: The History and Care of a Forgotten Art";

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