As noted by Francis Ames-Lewis, drawing styles changed at the end of the 16th century resulting in a sharp decline for metalpoint. Artists required more gestural qualities for which red and black chalk were better suited. In addition, other techniques required less effort. The preparation of silverpoint supports, usually with hide glue with bone ash, was labor intensive. Natural chalks and charcoal produce immediate results on uncoated papers. (Ames-Lewis, 2000)
Dutch artists Hendrik Goltzius and Rembrandt van Rijn maintained the tradition into the 17th century, as it declined in other parts of Europe. Rembrandt made several silverpoints on prepared vellum, the best-known being the portrait of his wife Saskia, 1633 (KdZ1152, Berlin). However, the fine line qualities of silverpoint came to be completely supplanted by graphite in the 18th century. (Reiche, 2005)
Silverpoint achieved greater recognition after a groundbreaking exhibit, "The Fine Line: Drawing with Silver in America" was curated for the Norton Museum of Art, in 1985 by Bruce Weber. The exhibition featured a wide range of styles including Thomas Wilmer Dewing, John Wilde and Paula Gerard. The most recent museum exhibition was "The Luster of Silver" at the Telfair Museum of Art, Savannah, GA, in 2006.
In Canada, the fine art of silverpoint drawing was introduced by drawing master John Gould, who later became an inspiration to Gerrit Verstraete who began pursuing that ancient of media and yet in many ways a very contemporary medium, in the early 1990's. Gerrit Verstraete has taken silverpoint beyond traditional metal point drawing on ground-coated paper, to include mixed media applications, often taking advantage of the oxidation process of silverpoint and copperpoint. His silverpoint work includes both traditional drawing especially his renowned "Luminata" figurative series, and more recently, a departure into abstract conceptual drawing using this exclusive media. See external links below.
Historically, silverpoint styli ranged widely in composition from pure silver to heavily alloyed with copper (over 20% weight). Similarly, the shapes of the styli are widely varied. Joseph Meder illustrated many traditional expamples in "Das Buchleim von Silbersteft" (1909), while "The craft of Old Master drawing" (1957) by James Watrous also includes contemporary designs. Styli may be cast in metal—such as brass—and tipped with silver. Another option is a wooden holder with silver wire from a jeweler. The gauge of silver wire used is determined by individual preferences of the artists. (Duval, 2004; Reiche, 2004/2005; Watrous, 1957)
In the Middle Ages, metalpoint was used directly on parchment for the underdrawing of illuminated manuscripts. On uncoated parchment and paper, silverpoint is particulary light in value. However, since the 14th Century, silverpoint came to be used with greater effect with prepared supports. A traditional ground may be prepared with a rabbit skin glue solution pigmented with bone ash, chalk and/or lead white. Contemporary grounds include acrylic gesso, gouache and commercially prepared claycoat papers. The slight tooth made by the ground preparation takes a little of the silver as it is drawn across the surface.
Silverpoint has encompassed a wide range of styles from Durer's curvi-linear precison to Rembrandt's gestural sketches. Silverpoint has also proven adaptable to modern styles. Thomas Wilmer Dewing's late 19th Century silverpoint portraits are essentially tonal, as are Paula Gerard's mid-20th Century abstract compositions. Gerard's "Vortex" (Fairweather Hardin Gallery) is an innovative combination of silverpoint, goldpoint and watercolor on casein-coated parchment. (Weber, 1985)
Old Master silverpoints typically have an intimate scale, recalling the technique's roots in manuscript illumination. However, modern artists have also utilized this fine line technique for works on an increasingly large scale. John Wilde's "The Great Autobiographical Silverpoint Drawing" (The Art Institute of Chicago 1986.8) which is 38 x 91", is one notable example of the surprising range of this ancient drawing technique. (Weber, 1985)
Silverpoint artist Gerrit Verstraete, said: "In a contemporary context, the medium is also known as "metalpoint" to allow for drawing in copper, silver, gold, platinum, lead, and brass. Each metal has its own "footprint" of softness and reaction to the oxidation process. Gold and platinum do not oxidize. In my extended drawing with in metalpoint I discovered the following "footprints." Copper / Soft / Yellow-Green oxidation; Silver / soft / Brown oxidation; Gold / hard / no oxidation; Platinum / hard / no oxidation; Lead / soft / black oxidation; Brass / very hard / black (minimal ) oxidation. As a result of these tests over many years I have successfully narrowed my metalpoint technique to copper, silver, and gold." "As an added note: the length of time and the degree to wich oxidation takes place depends on atmospheric conditions or the quality of the air in your studio. I live in the Pacific north west and my experience is that copper oxidizes at the quickest rate - about 1 - 2 months. Silver oxidizes at a slower rate - about 4 - 6 months. Sometimes sulphur in the air speeds up the process. I live near a large pulp & paper mill which can sometimes impregnate the air with small sulphur particles (non-harmful levels ). So, if the wind is in the right direction, it might be a good time for me to work on silverpoint drawings." (Verstraete 2008 )
Ames-Lewis, Francis. Drawing in Early Renaissance Italy. Yale University Press, 2000.
Cennini, Cennino. The Craftsman's Handbook. Translated by Daniel V. Thompson, Jr. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. 1933, by Yale University Press.
Duval, Alain et al. "Particle induced X-ray emission: a valuable tool for the analysis of metalpoint," Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research B 226 (2004), 60-74.
Haskell, Barbara. Joseph Stella. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, distributed by Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1994.
Meder, Joseph. Das Buchleim von Silbersteft: Ein Trachtatlein fur Moler. Vienna: Gerlach and Wielding, 1909.
Reiche, Ina et al. "Spatially resolved synchroton radiation induced X-ray fluorescence analyses of rare Rembrandt silverpoint drawings," Applied Physics A 83 (2006), 163-173.
Reiche, Ina et al. "Spatially resolved sychroton-induced X-ray fluorescence analyses of metal point drawings and their mysterious inscription," Spectrochimica Acta Part B 59 (2004), 1657-1662.
Watrous, James. The craft of Old Master drawings. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1957.
Weber, Bruce et al. The Fine Line. Drawing with Silver in America. Exhibition catalogue. West Palm Beach, FL: Norton Gallery and School of Art, 1985.