“The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence”

So does anyone here love historical fiction? I admit I am a bit obsessed. 

Right now I am bing watching a historical fiction drama on the TV network Starz called “The White Princess”. I’m enjoying it as it is filling in some of the details linking the story of King Edward from the house of York to Henry Tudor VII. 

Everyone knows the story of King Henry VIII and his 6 wives, two of which he beheaded. Such drama, I love it!

The other period from history which seems to be popping up on Netflix and in novels is the story of the Medici’s from Florence around the same time period of the 1400’s. This is another period which fascinates me because Lorenzo d’Medici was the patron of so many famous artists such as Leonardo, Michelangelo and Boticelli. 

One day, when we are allowed to travel the world again, I would love to visit Florence. It’s on my bucket list.

A couple of months ago, I finished reading “The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence” by Alyssa Palombo. It is the story of the Simonetta Cattaneo who socializes within the Medici court. 

In this novel, she falls in love with Boticelli who paints his masterpiece of her called “The Birth of Venus”. Although, this romantic myth is merely thought of as fiction by historians, as I am sure, is the story that she loved Lorenzo’s brother Giuliano from the TV show “Medici”. 

Either way, these romantic myths have a way of livening up art history and makes for a fun read or TV watching. I love how the authors and writers weave their own creativity throughout by meshing fact with fiction. 

But the one thing I noticed that these writers have not quite understood is the experience of drawing from a live model. Few people, actually, have had this experience. Drawing from a live model is steeped in the traditional education of artists and is something that I have done for many, many years.

There is nothing more challenging than drawing the human figure. And, there is an entirely new dimension of challenge when you draw from a live model versus drawing from a photograph. 

Photographs don’t move or breath or shift their position. It is actually very difficult for any model to hold their position longer than 20 minutes. The muscles stiffen up to numbness while some models may fall asleep. After an hour of holding the same pose, the model has a hard time releasing and moving their limbs. It takes them a moment to be able to walk again.

I’ve seen models shake with exhaustion trying to hold their arm up in a specific position or cramp up when a twist has made holding the pose impossible. Even holding small props after 10 minutes becomes like holding a weighted sandbag. 

The problems is that a painting or a drawing takes a very long time to complete. The model needs to take breaks to stretch and to relieve the blood flow and circulation. And, it is extremely difficult to put them back into the exact same placement. Many times, the angles are never quite right. You can get it kind of close but not exact. 

This is why many artists relent to creating from photographs. In an instant click, the pose can be captured for a lifetime. Artists can use these as resources for their process but their drawings may seem stiff and lifeless. 

In a way, drawing from a photograph is an easier process. Not that drawing is ever easy, mind you. But the camera has automatically flattened anything dimensional into 2D. Drawing a 3D object requires knowledge of how to translate that dimensionality onto a flat surface so that it looks 3D. Taking a photograph eliminates a bit of that challenge since it has already done the “heavy lifting”.

Just know that when someone on the internet shows a drawing that they have been working on for 20 hours, they are copying a photograph. When you see a painting of dripping liquid down a face, that artist is copying a photograph.

There is something magical that happens during a drawing session with a live model. There is an unseen relationship that ties the model to the artist. The artist finds their flow and quietness of focus. The body no longer is seen as a naked person but an object or a problem that the artist needs to solve.

Each drawing session is a battle, where the artist struggles to find just the right line to capture the emotion that is palpable. When the timer goes, there is a moment of relief when the model moves again and the artist takes a step back to evaluate their progress. 

The next time you watch or read a story about an artist drawing a model always keep this in mind. Appreciate the extra effort it takes for an artist who creates artwork from live sitters. Appreciate the effort of the model.