Behind the Scenes with Drawings: Renaissance to Rococo

At the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, through July

Reviewed by Beth Taylor-Schott

cambiaso.gifDo you ever get the feeling walking
through an art exhibition that the curator is worried you could be
out looking at other images — bigger, more colorful,
high-definition images? I’ve been in some galleries lately that
were so multimedia and so high-impact that they ought to be on
medication for attention deficit disorder.

This is not a problem for the current drawing exhibition at the
Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Behind the Scenes with Drawings:
Renaissance to Rococo
gives you both your own space and
rewards you for stepping in front of each of its works. In some
cases, such as Luca Cambiaso’s “The Infant Jesus Taking His First
Steps” (pictured), the reward is the charm of a simple family scene
and a sure, light touch with pen and ink. In others, like
Bortoloni’s “Presentation in the Temple,” it’s all about the
sophistication of strangely abstract drapery. Part of the delight
in this show is how varied the selections are, both in technique
and in subject matter. For me, the jewels are Baschiloff’s
“Artist’s Meal,” a work so small one has to lean in to consider the
still life on a table within the larger scene; and Francesco
Salviati’s “Copy of Sebastiano del Piombo’s Dead Christ,” wherein
the head and torso are devotedly rendered in red chalk.

The setting is appropriate for quiet contemplation and
delectation: the drawings hang in a room just off the central
courtyard, the walls painted a darkish beige that sets off the
mostly monochromatic works. And, if you feel like reading rather
than ogling, you can pick up something about the history of
drawing. The introductory essay skillfully describes how these
works would have been used and the role they played in a
pre-photographic culture. Most of the wall labels follow up by
mentioning the specific purpose of each drawing. As the exhibition
makes clear, none of these works were made for display or even for
viewing by anyone beyond the immediate circle of artist,
collaborators, and patrons. Perhaps the resulting lack of
self-consciousness is part of their deep allure.

Although the show accompanies the exhibition of paintings from
the Wadsworth Atheneum also on display in the museum, I didn’t
follow the cross-connections between the two shows that the wall
labels suggested. Maybe you will if you have more time. The only
false notes were the few label comments involving contemporary
references (Orlando Bloom, Isla Vista revelry) or outdated slang
(“tough guys,” “cream puff”). These rang as pandering in a show
otherwise impressive for its understated splendor.


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