Carnival of Venice – Un Ballo in Maschera From “The Masked Ball” by Guiseppe Verdi
Colourised goldpoint drawing in 24K gold, silver, and platinum, 24K gold leaf, watercolour, acrylic glaze on 300gsm rag art infinity grade paper by ARC Living Master Gordon Hanley.
“Un Ballo in Maschera” is the second aria in the Operaté collection featuring my model Penny, who was also the model featured in La donna e mobile from Verdi’s Rigoletto. This is another aria by Verdi and as the title suggests, the action is centered around a masked ball.
“Un Ballo in Maschera” represents an important development in colourised metalpoints and is a technical advance on previous coloured, gilded mask artworks to date which can take over 300 hours to complete. For those interested in the creation of these artworks, the techniques used are far from simple and the timings and order of application are critical. Although it was conceived from the outset as a coloured image, it began life as a monochrome drawing in 24K gold and pure silver on paper. At this stage, it would best be described as a metalpoint drawing that looked like a washed-out black and white photograph of the finished artwork.
The colourisation was commenced using a diluted watercolour base. The eyes were completed first: I find that if a mistake is going to be made, it is likely to happen in the most technically challenging parts of the drawing, so if I get a serious error, it is preferable that it happens early in the piece rather than 200 hours of intense work later. The skin tones were next, followed by the feathers. As it turned out, it was the simpler parts that proved the most difficult (Murphy’s Law).
The creation of a vibrantly coloured image is something very difficult to achieve in a metalpoint drawing due to the nature of the drawing ground which has the effect of dramatically dulling down watercolour applied to the surface. It was discovered that watercolour tends to be absorbed by the metalpoint ground, as opposed to the uncoated watercolour paper which is only partially absorbent. Successive washes of colour can overcome this problem, but the extensive use of 24K gold leaf creates technical issues of its own. The solution to this was borrowed from recently discovered techniques of Rembrandt where the gold leaf is overlaid with glazed colour.
I then worked over the entire sheet with another layer of 24K gold metal, carefully avoiding the areas of pure white. The sheets of gold leaf were added next. These were mainly 24K, but 22k gold leaf was also used – about 18 – 20 sheets in total. Most of the gold that you see are the sheets of 24K gold leaf which were toned and shaded in acrylic glaze to render the 3-D effect present in the underlying drawing, using Rembrandt’s technique. This glaze is restricted to the gold leaf. Once applied, it is impossible to apply any gold or silver metal, so it can only be used on the areas of gold leaf. 22k gold leaf is lighter and brighter than 24K gold and was used in places where I wanted to emphasise brighter light, mainly on the right-hand side of the picture. The Papier-mâché mask used for this artwork was created by the artist employing the traditional techniques used in the mask shops in Venice.
It took many weeks to complete with an estimated easel time exceeding 200 hours. Hopefully I have achieved the effect I was striving for: an artwork of startling realism, visually arresting, drawn in precious metals enhanced with intense colour balanced with the rich opulence of pure gold.
Original metalpoint drawing by ARC Living Master Gordon Hanley.