The University of Texas at Arlington: Disegno

A grant of $20,000.00 over two years, starting in 2011 supported research travel for a project exploring changes in practice of and attitude toward “Disegno” in Renaissance Italy, in preparation for an exhibition project at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth. Mary Vaccaro, Professor of Art History at the University of Texas at Arlington traveled during the summer to visit the rich collections of works on paper in the French regional museums.

The goal of this project is to bring an exhibition to Dallas-Fort Worth, which will explore changes in the practice of and attitude toward disegno in Renaissance Italy.  Mary Vaccaro, Professor of Art History at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) surveyed the rich holdings of French regional museums (FRAME) and selected approximately 100 representative examples of the highest aesthetic and historical interest.  The related catalogue will be scholarly, but the show, attractive and capable of broad appeal.  Given the lack of public collections of Old Master designs in north Texas, such an exhibition should be especially welcome.  The multi-year project will also involve a didactic element:  a related seminar, perhaps co-taught with C. D. Dickerson of the Kimbell Art Museum, for University of Texas (Arlington and Dallas) students.

Disegno--loosely translatable as drawing or design--encompasses the mechanical act of drawing as well as the broader intellectual concept of design.  A traditional part of artistic training and procedure, drawing began to enjoy unprecedented importance during the Renaissance, first on the Italian peninsula and then elsewhere in Europe.  In his Commentaries (ca. 1447), the Florentine sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti described drawing as the origin and basis of the visual arts, a statement that subsequent artist-writers, especially in central Italy, often endorsed.  Giorgio Vasari later declared that disegno was the father of all visual arts and the animating principle of their creative processes.  The "modern" concept of draftsmanship as an original and independent activity took root in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.  Formulaic model-books gave way to more exploratory sketch-books, and all sorts of designs came to be prized and collected outside of the workshop.  The growing availability of affordable paper and a heightened concern with naturalistic representation, together with the rise in the status of the artist as an inventor, made possible and nourished the phenomenon.