The shop is full of students. They put their roles and their easels. Draw the drawing material, first the pencil to make a sketch, then the charcoal to the final. Erased the mistakes with a rag with which to shake the role. Look at the sculpture you have to copy: the Discóbolo at rest. It is surrounded by other so many copies of classical Greek: Hermes Landsdowne, Ganymede, Venus… in addition, it has cast a madonna by michelangelo, the original of which is in the church of Our Lady Bruges (Belgium). The artist and the teacher of the workshop gives information to the learners, reminds them that measure, they lock the figure in space, set in the gaps.

This is a scene from the SEVENTEENTH century, the EIGHTEENTH may or may the NINETEENTH?

Could be the scene of the workshop that he represents in 1608 Odoardo Fialetti in Il vero mode et’ordine per dissegnar tutte le parti et membra del corpo humano (“The true form and order of draw all the parties and members of the human body”) and that can be seen in the exhibition The master role. Primers for learning to draw from the SEVENTEENTH to NINETEENTH centuries, was inaugurated this Monday in the Prado Museum. But it is the class of Fundamentals of Drawing that receive the students of 1º of Fine Arts of the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM). There are two factors that make a difference and show that it is a present moment: the teacher workshop is a teacher –Rachel Monk, who is also an artist as they were yesteryear– and that a woman is at the helm was not what was usual in earlier centuries. The other is that the motive seems to be an extension of the body of the students. Release less that the pen. Many use it to listen to music while measuring the sculpture that occupies and bring to paper what they see. In silence, with their helmets, some were note on the face of the concentration and the difficulties encountered. Just starting out, are trainees of the workshop, who knows if it will get the mastery?

‘Il vero mode et’ordine per dissegnartutte le parti et membra del corpo humano (first edition, 1608) of Odoardo Fialetti is juxtaposed to the image of the students of Fine Arts taking notes. Prado Museum / Victor Sainz

Measure and bring it to the paper, this is what John Berger says in the first sentences of his book On drawing: “For the artist drawing is to discover (…) Is the act of drawing that forces the artist to look at the object in front of you, to dissect it (…) In the teaching of drawing, it is a common place to say that the fundamental lies in the specific process of looking.” Similar to the nulla dies sine linea (not a day without a line”), which according to Pliny was the motto of Apelles, one of the painters most famous of the Old, and which appeared in the first pages or on the covers of many books drawing.

But, what are the primers of drawing? Didactic Material for learning to draw. Who makes or uses? Teachers gather illustrations of prints that the students have to copy. Since when? From the SEVENTEENTH century until the NINETEENTH. And, where is it? Spread throughout Europe although his home was in Italy. One deals with The master paper, which shows approximately 110 pieces. The Prado saved under the roof of his library about 182 books, the most recent acquisition, as this number grew substantially after the purchase in 2012 of the 160 of the collection Edges. Part of the documentary fund old library and have the same consideration that any part of the museum. They are, as the name of the exhibition indicates, a kind of masters of paper notebooks with the learners copied and they rehearsed the engravings, even though the teacher is absent.

To the left, models of eye primer José García Hidalgo (between 1691 and 1702). To the right, a student takes the proportions of a sculpture. Prado museum / Victor Sainz

Another similarity: a Monk uses the virtual classroom to upload material that their students are able to consult from any place and so take the time to shop for what’s fundamental: the practice, learn to look. Are many centuries this idea always the same: drawing is the foundation of everything. In her match until the generation Z, the postmillennials that are starting now. One of the primers is shown the plasma on its front page with an allegory: a midwife takes the hand of a child who is just beginning to draw, she carries a compass in the head, which symbolizes that the drawing is not in the hand, is in the brain

Teachers paper makes a tour through the three centuries in which most use has been given to these primers, functional elements of the workshop. “More visual than textual,” says María Luisa Cuenca, curator of the exhibition together with José Manuel Matilla. Began with details of the face: eyes, noses, mouths, ears… the particular went to the general to end forming a face or a body. This methodology has changed: Monk prefers that students begin in general, to know how to give the correct proportions to one complete picture, that fit the space and then go to the detail.

Left, models from the noses and mouths of José de Ribera (circa 1622), and, to the right, sketch of a torso made by a student. Prado Museum / Victor Sainz

In the route of the small sample have a fundamental place the three primers earliest that arose in the early years of the SEVENTEENTH century. Odoardo Fialetti opted for a system based on the line in which, through the succession of the strokes, the apprentice managed to memorize each one. The Carracci introduced a practice according to which the disciple began by drawing only the lines of the contours for that once dominated the profiles, apply the shader to achieve volume. The third, that of Giacomo Franco and Jacopo Palma, the Younger, proposed another method that is most variegated, of the arms and legs in different positions that they overlap. In addition to the didactic function, the primers also had a mission broadcaster, thanks to them is perpetuating the image and the style of their creators.

The primer Spanish more extensive data from the early EIGHTEENTH century, its author was José García Hidalgo, who recorded 152 plates. One of its main features is the representation of the two eyes (typically I would draw each one separately) to emphasize the expression of the look. Charles Le Brun also creates a record to be noted with special care to show feelings through the lines of the face. Silvana Pacheco, one of the students of Fine Arts, dares to reproduce one of the drawings, his wife, Ana Sanchez, still don’t want to hear about “draw faces”.

teacher role

‘Heads of the works of Rafael of Urbino’, picture of the chart María del Carmen Saiz. Real Academiof Fine Arts of San Fernando

María del Carmen Saiz is, until proven otherwise, the only Spanish which was a primer of drawing in the NINETEENTH century. Although he came from a family of engravers, the merit for being able to dedicate himself to the teaching of this technique being a woman is unquestioned, even though I did not have a good end, or precisely for that, since he died in absolute poverty.

The primer that was comprised of 12 heads copied in 1722, which were based on the prints drawn by Nicolas Dorigny in 1719 by playing the boards for tapestries of Raphael. It could be summarized in that it is a distant copy of Rafael or Rafael who has gone through the telephone game escacharrado.

Fernando Villaamil Abati smiles shy when it asks you if you think your class has anything to do with a workshop of the SEVENTEENTH century or with the apprentice artists of the time: “to Me it sounds old-fashioned”. Is one of the few of the class is clear what it wants to do: “To the animation”. As a reference, and appoints Pixar, to mention it seems that you see more clearly the importance of proportion, knowing how to measure and look at to reach your goal. Pixar is already a classic, not as much as Nina Simone who is the owner of the voice that comes out of the hooves of this young man. Villaamil is still fighting with his sketch. In another stand nearby, Raúl González Sosa listens to K-pop. You don’t know what will –“call Me all”, he assures– but chose Fine Arts because “it opens the mind and gives you a number of options”. When you see a copy of the engraving from the workshop that represents Fialetti, no doubt: “We are equal”.

One of the sheets in which Charles Le Brun shows the effect of the passions in the face (to 1740), on the image of a student copying Le Brun. Prado Museum / Victor Sainz

This is one of those exhibitions that should be a compulsory subject in museums such as the Prado, with various and numerous funds, even with objects with little-known features as the primers. These, in their time, they had a value purely practical, hence its bad preservation for their use, but today have gained in artistic and historical value. Perhaps not to call attention to, if they existed, the primers Rubio with which García Márquez will improve your calligraphy or primers Micho with that Lorca could have learned to read.

teacher role

Primers for learning how to draw
from the SEVENTEENTH to NINETEENTH centuries

October 15, 2019 February 2, 2023


Monday to Saturday from 10.00 to 20.00 h
Sundays and holidays from 10.00 to 19.00 h


General: 15 euros
Concessions: 7,50 eur
Buy in


With the collaboration of:

Script and coordination

Francis Pasha


TEL. 91 337 8200

‘Two bodies without skin (écorchés) in Petrvs Pavlvs Rvbbens delineavit’, primer based on drawings by Rubens of the engraver Paulus Pontius (between 1640 and 1652), juxtaposed to the copies of ‘Discóbolo at rest’ and ‘Hermes of Landsdowne’, which serve as a model for students of Fine Arts. Prado Museum / Victor Sainz


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