Tuesday, July 31, 2012


This was by far the most complex and time-consuming piece I have ever done. Part of the problem was that I only had less than 2 hours of studio time per day in the past weeks (sometimes no studio time at all), so the whole thing stretched for almost a month and, as I guess is normal in such cases, it lost a bit of momentum. If I had had 10 hours per day to work on it it would not have been more than a week's work.
Isabella in the Kingdom of Love by Lorenzo Costa, 1504-1506
Originally, it was just supposed to be a study of drapery from a drawing featuring Isabella d’Este (a copy from a painting by Lorenzo Costa the Elder called “Isabella d’Este in the Kingdom of Love” - an allegory of Isabella’s coronation. I have never seen the original, although it is in the Louvre - I only had a relatively ugly drawing to work with). I had so much fun drawing that (and modifying the ugly face and hands of the original), that I went on and made another study of a Florentine woman of the same period from the same book (a history of costume). I put the two drawings one beside the other...and suddenly it seemed they belonged together and deserved a background as well. So I joined the sheets, collected reference of arcs, roses, gardens, a bas-relief from a church in Angers, etc... and gave them a context. 

The charcoal under-drawing looked good enough to go on, so I made a digital color study. At this point I wanted a quietly controlled, high renaissance flavor, so I browsed through a book about Raphael and aimed for the same limited color palette and feeling of diffused light. I built the picture in shades and tones of red and yellow only (some shades of green, purple and orange were thrown in as well), starting with the background, then the arch, then the faces. 

Digital color study
Work in progress, with all references laid out

I have a book about wrought iron-work that I collected from a public bookshelf, so I used some reference from that to build a iron gate behind the figures (I used the tracer for that). The figures were built last, so that I could pay attention to all edges.
The finished work with a digitally added background
Although it has cost me much more work that I anticipated, I am very happy with the result, especially if I compare the faces of the original with the ones I painted - without reference! Drapery is a fancy of mine, so I really enjoyed doing that and I think it turned out fine: velvet and linen and gold are quite believable. I also like the composition, although it seems maybe to lack a focus.

The original thoughts about the title were about a “Secret Garden”, “The Garden of the Heart” or something along those lines. Towards the end I realized it could make a perfect cover for a wonderful book by Maria Bellonci that I read a while ago: “Rinascimento Privato” - literally “Private Renaissance”. It is half historical novel, half documentary book and is written in the first person by the voice of ...Isabella d’Este! It could not be more fitting...just dreaming up a bit. This piece will definitely make it into my budding portfolio.
It is about time it was finished: I now have only five days left for my second GLA assignment  - for which I could secure the perfect model!

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