Home » Exhibitions » Exhibition Review : Drawing in silver and gold, Leonardo to Jasper Johns at the British Museum – 10th September to 6th December 2015

Exhibition Review : Drawing in silver and gold, Leonardo to Jasper Johns at the British Museum – 10th September to 6th December 2015


This exhibition is a rare opportunity to see around 100 remarkable drawings created using the metalpoint technique. It features works by some of the greatest artists working from the late 14th century to the present including Rogier van der Weyden, Petrus Christus, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Albrecht Dürer, Hans Holbein the Elder, Lucas van Leyden, Rembrandt, Edward Burne-Jones, William Holman Hunt, Otto Dix, Jasper Johns and Bruce Nauman. Many of the works are drawn from the British Museum’s extensive collection of metalpoint drawings  alongside major loans from European and American museums as well as private collections, including four sheets by Leonardo da Vinci from the Royal Collection.


At the beginning at the exhibition is a video which shows the metalpoint process in detail, metalpoint is a drawing technique which developed from medieval manuscripts where the artist uses a metal stylus, usually made of silver, on a specially prepared sheet  which leaves traces of the metal on the surface, resulting in a visible drawing. The fine point allows for precise lines so that detailed drawings can be achieved. However, the process is time-consuming and leaves little room for error.


The technique was at its most popular during the early Renaissance, In Italy it was used to train artists in preparation of making pictures. Drawings by Filippo Lippi, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci show their mastery of the technique producing work of exquisite refinement.


In northern Europe, early artists used metalpoint mainly for portraits , works by Petrus Christus, Rogier van der Weyden and especially Hans Holbein illustrate a high level of sophistication. Another master of the technique was Albrecht Durer whose drawings are some of the highlights of the exhibition.


By the 16th and 17th century, the technique was in decline but was still used by Dutch artists in preparation for small portrait engravings. Works by Goltzuis and de Gheyn are on display together with drawings by Rembrandt.


The 19th century saw a revival of  interest in Renaissance art techniques in Britain led by William Holman Hunt and Alphonse Legros, metalpoint drawings were produced that encouraged later painters to use the technique. In the 20th century, Otto Dix began to experiment with the process and more recently Jasper Johns and Bruce Nauman have used metalpoint for more abstract drawings.


This fascinating exhibition is one where the close examination of the drawings is necessary to really appreciate the incredible skill of artists to master a difficult, unforgiving technique. The rare bringing together  of  a large number of metalpoint drawings is a unique opportunity to  consider the importance of this particular technique in the history of art.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

For more information or to book  tickets, visit the British Museum website here

Exhibition runs from 10 September to 6 December 2015


Adults £8, under 16s free

Opening times

Monday–Thursday 10.00–17.30
Friday 10.00–20.30
Saturday–Sunday 10.00–17.30

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