2021 IAS Dissertation Research Grant

Alexa McCarthy (PhD candidate, University of St. Andrews, Scotland)

“Blue Paper in Amsterdam and the Italian Tradition”

My doctoral research explores the transcultural use of the material of blue paper for drawings by artists working in sixteenth-century Venice and seventeenth-century Amsterdam. My focus is on artists’ use of paper made with blue fibers, or that which is dyed blue during its production. In addition to providing a readily available mid-tone, this carta da straccio, or rag paper, varied in texture, allowing friable drawing materials like chalk and charcoal to be absorbed into the paper at varying degrees. This interplay contributed to the sense of three dimensionality of forms drawn on a flat surface, particularly ideal for depictions of the human body. Figure studies on blue paper were part of the fabric of artists’ studios, and the poses depicted found their way into paintings and prints by these artists, their pupils, and their contemporaries. Understanding the artistic, cultural, and theoretical frameworks that led to the employment of blue paper in these two centers of commercial and artistic exchange is central to our understanding of the material’s role in artistic practice, as well as to our interpretations of the drawings themselves. Through object-based, technical, and archival research, as well as analyses of contemporary drawing manuals and texts on art, my research explores the significance of blue paper in Italian and Dutch artistic practice and stylistic development.

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