Yesterday I spent the afternoon in the National Gallery in London and made two drawings. I normally head to Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus and draw the guy on the right with his arms outstretched, but it was very busy so I headed off to see some other favourites. On the way to the room that contains Jan Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Marriage (1434) I stopped to draw Giovanni Bellini’s The Doge, Leonardo Loredan (1501). It’s a captivating painting (and used by the National Gallery on the cover of the official guide), but a little cold. The drawing I made reflects this. The subject is a bit ‘blank’ in my copy. The painting is incredibly subtle. There are some lines the indicate something more than a mask-like indifference but not much more. The result is a portrait of a powerful but calculating figure. He was Doge of Venice from 1501 until his death twenty years later, so I suspect he was a smart politician. There’s a short Wikipedia page about him, should you want read more.
After making this drawing (which I have subsequently worked on as it was a little underdone), I headed to the Van Eyck. It’s always a little congested around the Arnolfini Marriage as every tour group stops there. Hanging next to it is a portrait of a man with a turban that I’ve admired for years. It’s believed to be a self-portrait of Van Eyck, but look like an excuse to paint the turban to me.
I started my drawing by roughing the turban details in and gradually locked down more and more of the cloth. Only when I finished it did I start on the face. I had blocked in some areas of shade but deliberately left it undone as I wanted to focus my efforts on the headgear. As I worked I became aware of Van Eyck looking back at me. It became clearer and clearer that the look in the work was so different from the one by Leonardo Loredan and fixed by Bellini. Van Eyck’s gaze is more quizzical, less relaxed. It is the face of someone working, which would of course make sense if it is a self-portrait. All this led to me tackling the extremely subtle shading of the face. The painting is only 260 mm x 190 mm, a little smaller than A4, which is the size of sheet I worked on.
While I worked (on both drawings but especially on the Van Eyck) small scrums of people gather behind me to watch me. I was listening to a long playlist of punk records on my iPod, so can’t really relate what they may have said. A woman did take some photographs and has said that she’ll send some to me. As and when they appear, I’ll post them here.