The Master of the Drapery Studies was an interesting and prolific artist, working in the upper Rhine region, perhaps close to Strasbourg, in the last quarter of the 15th century. He seems to have been active as a painter and designer of glass-paintings, but above all as a draughtsman, leaving some 150 surviving drawings, far more than any other Northern European artist before Albrecht Dürer. His drawings, almost all of them figure or drapery studies, are characterised by a very distinctive approach to the fall and folds of draperies, combined with a highly personal approach to facial features, notably eyes. Around one third of the artist’s known drawings are housed in the Veste Coburg printroom. First dubbed ‘Master of the Coburg Roundels’, after two drawings of roundels, probably glass designs, in the Veste Coburg collection, he was re-christened ‘The Master of the Drapery Studies’ by Friedrich Winkler, author (in 1930) of the first extensive study of the artist and his works. Many of his drawings in fact record paintings, sculpture and engravings by other artists of Netherlandish or German origin, and there are clear links with the Strasbourg area. There are, however, no surviving copies by him of any of Dürer's earliest works, so it seems likely that he was dead by 1497, the year in which Dürer produced his first dated engraving.
This sheet is exceptional not only for the fact that it contains so many different studies, but also for the extensive handwritten notes that accompany these studies. Other drawings by the artist are known that include multiple sketches, but hardly ever with annotations; one exception to this is the single study of drapery, previously in the collection of Dr. Edmund Schilling and acquired by the British Museum in 1997 (inv. 1997,0712.4), which is annotated in a manner very similar to the present sheet, but otherwise such working notes are very rare. It has not so far been possible to decipher or interpret many of these inscriptions, but there can be little doubt that detailed examination by specialists in the handwriting of the late 15th century will unlock the secrets contained in these inscriptions, and there is also little doubt that as a result this sheet will take on ever greater significance, as a vital document of the career of this prolific and gifted, yet still enigmatic artist.
Although there is no other 15th-century artist from North of the Alps by whom we have so many surviving drawings, drawings by the Master of the Drapery Studies hardly ever come to the market. Almost all his drawings are by now in museum collections, mostly in Europe, and this major, heavily annotated sheet is by far the most important work by the artist to be offered for sale in the past half century.
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