Silverpoint Stylus: Artista


Our Hand-Forged Silverpoint Stylus and Hand Prepared Silverpoint Ground are historically authentic Renaissance materials which would be recognisable to an artist of the quattrocento. Silverpoint drawing is drawing with a silver point which leaves a metallic trace on a pigmented ground. Every stylus of ours is unique and made by hand in London in the craft tradition of Medieval and Renaissance Europe. When drawing with a silverpoint stylus from Renaissance Workshop Materials the artist brings the artistic legacy and culture of the Renaissance into their own creative process and forms a personal connection to the past. The design of the Maestro and the Artista stylus is based on the silverpoint depicted in Jan Gossart’s St Luke Drawing the Virgin c. 1515. The Artista is a smaller version of the Maestro.

Jan Gossaert St Luke Silverpoint Stylus Detail
This is the depiction of a Renaissance Silverpoint Stylus Renaissance Workshop Materials’ Maestro and Artista Silverpoint Styli is modelled on.

The silverpoint stylus was once one of the primary drawing tools of a Renaissance artist. Not only used by great masters like Leonardo throughout his life, it was the primary drawing tool used by apprentices in artists workshops. Our earliest written source which provides us with an account of the use of silverpoint for learning to draw as an apprentice is in Cennino Cennini’s Il Libro dell’ Arte. Here Cennini outlined that a fine silver style should be used by an apprentice to draw on a wooden panel prepared with a ground of bone white and begin to learn the manner of their master by copying simple designs.[1] Silverpoint is a good drawing medium for learning to draw in the approach of the Renaissance Masters because their approach relied on the dynamic linear range afforded by the stylus and its capacity to leave fine, delicate strokes. Silverpoint drawings can be built up in subtle yet directly and cursively drawn lines which enable the artist to alter the form of the image in subsequent layers using more pressure to create bolder, darker strokes. This approach enables drawing to be a process of illuminating a subject through the act of drawing itself, in which it can be carried out like an enquiry without hesitation – where mistakes do not matter – and there is no need to erase.

Each stylus is made with individual care and attention alongside the deeply felt belief in reviving a connection to the great heritage of the Renaissance and in the importance of historical authenticity. The handmade character of the range makes every stylus unique and makes each one feel as though it came from the past. The stylus is designed and intended for drawing freely, spontaneously, and in the spirit of the Renaissance. While each stylus is made from the same amount of silver bullion, the exact length of each stylus can vary slightly because they are all forged, shaped, pointed and polished by hand.

In the Renaissance a silverpoint stylus would have been made from silver alloyed with other metals to increase its hardness because pure silver is too soft to be forged into a point for drawing. Technical examination and analysis of samples of silverpoint taken from extant Renaissance drawings shows that silverpoint styli were alloyed with metals such as copper, tin, mercury and zinc.[1] One famous silverpoint Madonna study by Raphael in the British Museum shows that the silverpoint used by Raphael was silver-based and alloyed with copper and mercury.[2] Our Silverpoint range is forged from Sterling Silver Bullion which is 92.5% pure silver and is alloyed with other metals like copper, just as a silverpoint stylus in the Renaissance would have been. Once forged, pointed, and polished, our styli are then hallmarked by hand at The Goldsmiths’ Company Assay Office in London where hallmarking began in 1300. We have our silverpoint styli marked in accordance with the legalities of selling products made of precious metals and to guarantee you of the metallurgic quality of your stylus.

Drawing with Silverpoint requires a pigmented ground in order for your stylus to leave a line. Particles of silver get deposited in the ground as you draw your stylus over it. The ground used to prepare paper for drawing in the Renaissance consisted predominantly of bone white pigment often mixed with lead white pigment. These pigments were then bound in an animal hide glue. This white ground was frequently tinted with other pigments such as indigo, terre verte, ochre, as well as other organic, mineral and metallic pigments from the earth. A traditional ground for silverpoint prepared in a manner which would be familiar to an artist of the Renaissance offers a smooth surface which facilitates the fluid and gliding movement of the stylus. Deposits of silver are fixed into the ground and are very enduring but can be disturbed by very hard rubbing as fingertips often transfer oil and moisture to the ground. The historical ground enables the drawing to be built up in the manner of a Renaissance artists’ approach and when various degrees of pressure are applied with the stylus, an infinite variety of linear qualities of depth, darkness and subtlety are achievable.

[1] J. Bescoby, J Rayner, and S. Tanimoto, Dry Drawing Media, in Italian Renaissance Drawings: Technical Examination and Analysis, ed. J. Ambers, C. Higitt and d. Saunders, (Archetype and The British Museu, 2010), p. 48-54

[2] Ibid, p. 53

[1] Cennino d’Andrea Cennini, Il Libro dell’Arte, trans. D. Thompson JR, (Dover, 1960), p. 4-5

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