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Friedrich Overbeck

(1789 Lübeck – 1869 Rome)

Male Figure Wrapped in a Cloak, Facing Left. Pencil on ivory-coloured wove paper. 29.7 x 22.6 cm. Circa 1811.

This admirably focussed and subtly drawn study of a young man in a long cloak radiates a reverence and statuesque monumentality that raises the drawing well above the level of a mere drapery study. Overbeck considered the drawing of garments and nudes to be a fundamental element of artistic training and undertook such activities with great earnestness. After their arrival in Rome the Brotherhood of St. Luke retreated to the secularised monastery of San Isidoro, where they formed a living and working community in voluntary seclusion from September 1810 to September 1812. Numerous drapery studies executed by Overbeck during this period have been handed down. They testify to the practice of model drawings pursued by the Brotherhood of St. Luke. In the early days, in particular, the young artists would take turns in posing as models for garment figures or else drew Roman youths, since they rejected the use of academic professional models. In these studies Overbeck dispenses with any form of showiness or stylishness in his rendering of the material, professing to draughtsmanship of a radically purist nature that is characterised by a strict linearity. On our sheet the artist has used a sharp pencil to accurately indicate the outlines of the heavy cloak; the subtle differences in the strength of the lines give the study a great sense of vitality and preserve it from excessive rigidity. Overbeck demonstrates equal finesse in his use of a fine linear network of cross and parallel hatchings to bring out the materiality and folds of the heavy material. Here again there is infinite variety in the thickness of the lines; the hatching technique betrays the example set by the old German Masters, especially Dürer, whose work Overbeck had studied in great detail during his time at the Vienna Academy.

Decades later, Wilhelm Schadow praised the “intimacy and fineness” of Overbeck’s model studies, stressing their intrinsic artistic integrity. In self-critical manner Overbeck confided to his diary on 11 December 1811: “When drawing models ... I earn undue praise; – be on your guard, Fritz! Make sure that such praise does not blind you to your true abilities. Always draw with the utmost attention and effort after nature, as she teaches you in every respect. Try to capture the essence of every thing and then render it in a faithful and loving manner.” (quoted from Von Caspar David Friedrich bis Adolph Menzel. Aquarelle und Zeichnungen der Romantik, published by G. Riemann, K. A. Schröder, Munich 1990, p. 121). 

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