oil painting » Painting techniques » Disegno


The Italian word for fine art sketch is 'disegno'. But its meaning extends beyond the factual idea of draftsmanship.Disegno is the standard which underlies and underpins sculpture, fine art painting and architecture. In particular, disegno constitutes the intellectual part of the visual arts, which justifies their elevation from craft to fine art, on a par with literature and music. The theory of disegno as the foundation of the visual arts can be traced back to 1354-60. In these years the Florentine humanist Petrarch wrote his dialogue 'Remedies next to Fortune' in which he states that graphis (latin for disegno or drawing) is the one common source of sculpture and painting.

The idea is elaborated by many later Renaissance writers on art of whom probably the most significant are Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472), Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455), Giorgio Vasari (1511-74), Federico Zuccaro (1542-1609).

Disegno Made Simple

Disegno emphasises the idea of the artists as a God-like inventor. Using his creative genius, the artist conceives of a great composition, which he proceeds to execute in accordance with his beginning. Colorito on the other hand is merely a colouring skill, which a painter uses to replicate what he sees. Even if working in a studio from memory, colorito-driven artists are driven by the visual stress of the composition, which can end up being quite different from what he may have originally intended to paint. So while disegno entails loyalty to an original concept, colorito merely means executing a beautiful picture. In the eyes of revival philosophy, there was a huge gulf between the two approaches: disegno was seen as true art, while colorito was considered more of a craft.

Disegno is the Key Intellectual part in Art

Central to disegno was the use of drawings as the basic building blocks of a finished composition. By contrast, Colorito working the direct application of colour (paint), to the canvas or panel. The difference has a critical philosophical dimension. An artist wedded to disegno after long training in drawing from life and from other artistic sources such as ancient sculpture, devises multipart figure poses which he works into a composition. He does this, not through direct inspection of a model but through invention - the exercise of his imagination. Disegno combines both the capability to draw, which facilitates invention, and the capacity for designing the whole. But it is the later - the imaginative and intellectual core of this process - which gives disegno its characteristic gravitas and which underpins academic painting theories as well as the academic hierarchy of the genres. In the later, History painting the genre most associated with disegno is the highest form of painting.