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0085 Deanna Petherbridge, Graphic Intersections: Erga, Parerga and Pro-Erga

RIHA Journal 0085 | 27 March 2014 | Special Issue "When Art History Meets Design History"

Graphic Intersections: Erga, Parerga and Pro-Erga

Deanna Petherbridge

Editing and peer review managed by:

Anne Puetz, The Courtauld Institute of Art, London and Glenn Adamson, Museum of Arts and Design (MAD), New York City


Martina Droth, Jules Lubbock


The place where design and art intersect is drawing with its elastic capability of functioning as the whole, the preparatory and the supplementary work. Drawing doesn't only occur at the level of individual practice but can be part of wider "graphic events" where concerted acts of recording, performing, inventing and disseminating link diverse visual practices across time. Two such discursive events are discussed as paradigms: the accidental finding of the Villa Aurea in the 1480s in Rome and Alois Senefelder's lithographic publication of the illustrated Book of Hours of Emperor Maximilian I in 1808. Both were stylistically influential through the popularising of 'grotesque' configurations that unify heterogeneity through linearity.



  1. The place where design and art practice meet and where methodologies become momentarily indistinguishable is that of drawing. It is therefore suggested in this paper – very much a research project in the making – that fruitful meetings between art and design history occur most readily along the shared lines and fissures of graphic events and discourses. I will therefore discuss two selected groups of works from across the historical spectrum of European art history that embrace, encompass and unify difference as key sites for such intersections. The relationship between drawing and printmaking (that is sketch and formalised process) is as much implicated within this argument as the linkages between drawing and works of art or design. Indeed the sequential, organised and logical processes of print production are not unrelated to the graphic practices of design/architecture, if not necessarily reflected in the more haphazard preliminary stages of painting or sculpture.

  2. Within the traditional academic designation of Fine Art from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries (pertaining to painting, architecture and sculpture) a clear distinction is usually made between the finished (whole) work and its auxiliary decoration or embellishment. "The work", in whatever medium, is therefore designated in a hierarchical relation to "the everything else" of its design and decoration, which constitutes the supplement or by-work (parergon). In this context I would like to propose that drawing could be designated pro-ergon, that is, the pre-work that constitutes preparatory research for ergon and parergon alike, outside of traditional hierarchies and constituting an interstitial and linking discourse.

  3. Drawing as pro-ergon that subsumes both making and thinking is common to all forms of visual practice that are generated through sequences of inventive first sketches followed by detailed observational study or developmental drawings, as source and resource material to be combined into new unities. Developmental drawings that elaborate first ideas can follow any trajectory from informal compositional trials to formal technical drawings and are brought to completion via full-scale cartoons, or presentation drawings for clients or patrons, often in colour, before the work is constructed in the final designated medium. Three-dimensional works, like their counterparts in painting, often also have a graphic extension in prints, photographs or other media for a public after-life.

  4. These interwoven processes belong within a multi-dimensional space that is value and period specific, but also leaks beyond the confines of temporality and medium specificity. That is to say, works of visual culture that are undoubtedly specific are united by a communal methodological graphic infrastructure relating to conceptual and developmental processes and the critical judgement that moderates them.

  5. My arguments for "graphic intersections" have been shaped around two significant European graphic events that served to reinforce links between art and design practice of the past, present and future at two different historical periods. My intention is not to relate huge art and design consequences to strategic narratives nor to try to disrupt the complex histories in which they are embedded, but to illustrate the shared importance of drawing by highlighting emblematic events that operate in similar ways. Both these events elevated "grotesque" decorative systems not just as parerga, secondary by-works or the amplifications of "non-essential things", but as significant graphic linkages between different species or taxonomic groupings.

  6. The first of these graphic events dates from the 1480s when the discovery of Nero's villa, the Domus Aurea (hereafter referred to as the Villa Aurea) in Rome inspired an enthusiastic group of artists to descend into the caves or grottos below the baths of Trajan to draw the Roman architectural wall decorations. The wide and speedy dissemination of these drawings and subsequent prints meant that these grottesche had a considerable impact on pan-European art and design over a long period. The second event is datable to 1808 when Alois Senefelder (1771-1834), the inventor of the revolutionary technique of lithography, published a wordless edition of the hand-drawn illustrations by Albrecht Dürer and a number of his contemporaries to the Book of Hours of Emperor Maximilian I (1459-1519) originally published in Augsburg in 1513. The illustrations were redrawn "on stone" by Johann Nepomuk Strixner (1782-1835). These recouped coloured-line illustrations constituted figurative elements interlinked with grotesque border decorations and sparked off a widespread German and pan-European vogue in illustration and the graphic arts, with subsequent impact on many other forms of art and design.


Golden grotesques

  1. When, by chance, the Villa Aurea was discovered below the often-visited ruins on the Oppian hill, Filippino Lippi, Bernardino Pinturicchio, Raffaellino del Garbo Giovanni da Udine, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Martin van Heemskerk – Vasari even puts Raphael at the scene – hurried to draw the room decorations by candle or rush-light, descending into the "grottos" or primal caves. (Grotesque designs inspired by antiquity were already known to artists before the much-published act of discovery of Nero's villa.) There is no doubt that artists actually drew within the underground chambers, as evidenced from names such as that of Nicoletto da Modena, scratched into the stuccowork and from recognisable motifs that can be traced in extant sketches by various artists, including Filippino Lippi, discussed below. The speed with which the "new" grotesque decorations were drawn, named, disseminated through graphic means and incorporated into new schemes was truly remarkable.

  2. The most iconic of the early projects stemming directly from this event were Raphael's decorative schemata for the various unfinished Vatican loggie designed by Donato Bramante on which he worked with his pupils. Of these assistants, Perino del Vaga (Pietro Bonaccorsi) would successfully go on to decorate the Castel Palazzo Doria in Genoa with grotesque designs between 1528 and about 1533 and Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome in 1545. The main Vatican loggia, often referred to as "Raphael's Bible", with fifty-two narrative scenes in the vaults was completed by Raphael's assistants in 1519; the grotesque decorations on the architectural members were mainly supplied by Giovanni da Udine. The loggie were praised and valued in succeeding years above the Vatican Stanze, although they have been out-of-bounds for visitors for most of the past two centuries. A "replica" of the project was even commissioned by Catherine II for the Hermitage in the eighteenth century, with fifty-two biblical scenes painted on canvas and a rich assemblage of neo-grotesque decorations in a series of enclosed galleries. Giovanni Battista Armenini writes in De' veri precetti della pittura, 1586 that everything in Raphael's "Old Testament" loggia in the Vatican "was drawn and colored on paper with red lead [sic] in the proper way by the most skilful young men who were in Rome in my time, and I was one of them." He notes that commissioned drawn copies were sent to the banking family of Fuggers (who bankrolled, a.o., the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I) and to Philip II in Spain (who would be involved with the construction of the Escorial between the 1560s and 1580s).1

1 Perino del Vaga, Design for an ornament panel, c.1546, pen and brown ink and grey wash, 25.6 x 15.4cm. © The Trustees of the British Museum, London

  1. Perino del Vaga's decorative frescoes in Castel Sant-Angelo on which he worked with his pupils (favourably commented upon by Armenini as "grotesques with partitions and backgrounds of several colors and bases simulated in bronze"), are referenced in a small body of drawings in the British Museum.2 A pen and ink drawing in brown ink by Perino del Vaga dating from about 1546 with the arms of Mario Ruffini, Bishop of Samo who became Castellan of Castel Sant'Angelo in 1544 (fig. 1) is understood to be a study for the panel on the door to the Corridoio della Cagliostra, although the arms appear in various other chambers decorated by his team.3 The drawing is thought to be by Perino because of its typically lively pen work, with a characteristic range of flicked-up curls and knots, delicately elastic lines and the rhythmic emphases of freshly-dipped strokes. It is given depth, volume and plasticity by the addition of a swift grey/brown ink wash. This serves to render the oval centre of the coats of arms as a boldly projecting convex surface, while the negative spaces between the chimeric creatures beneath the coat of arms curve into an enfolded concavity, and the cursory lines of humanoid winged figures and putti of various scales project a lively plasticity. Significantly, the enframing margins on three sides of this drawing are used for colour notes pertaining to the decorative schema ("roso" and "azuro") plus an inscription on the left-hand edge "questo comela[l]tri spazi elavoro camppo" and a similar inscription on the lower edge. The relationship between an enframing border that can easily be elaborated as a faux architectural member rich in sculptural relief, and the containing imagery between such borders is discussed in greater detail below.