Drawings and the Artistic Process

Three types of surviving material reveal the working methods of medieval artists: sketches, model books, and unfinished manuscripts. The first type, which might appear on scraps of parchment or be compiled into notebooks, suggests that artists refined their techniques, honing their craft as they jotted down motifs and worked out compositions independently from finished products. It was there that these artists recorded their impressions of paintings, monuments, and the natural world for their own enjoyment or to build their visual vocabulary.

Model books provided examples for artists to embellish the texts of other manuscripts. These reference works frequently featured letters, figures, and ornamental motifs, gathered together to provide artists with models that could be employed in manuscripts.

Finally, incomplete manuscripts—though they may have disappointed their original patrons—provide us with glimpses into the process of decorating a medieval book. Underlying drawings served as the foundation for later painted decoration and range from ghostly renderings to fully articulated pen drawings.

Related Images

Model Book of Initials (1) Set of Drawings from a Liber officialis Virgin and Child
Paschal Lamb; Rabban Gamaliel Teaching Students Unfinished Sketches from the Tickhill Psalter Detail from Apocalypse Drawing: Hand of God Blessing
Façade of Strasbourg Cathedral (“Plan A1”) Sketch