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Sketchbooks Research Guide

Model Books, Albums, and Other Bound Volumes of Drawings

Like sketchbooks, model books and albums are bound volumes of drawings. Yet despite their physical similarities, these object types are distinct in their functions. European model books, which date to around 1250-1500, were typically filled with precisely executed drawings of representative “types” (such as animals, buildings, plants, or people) and served as reference images for artists and their workshops. Made to replicate and store ideas, model books were often passed down for generations, their drawings copied in turn for other model books. They were not intended for artists to draw spontaneously or quickly from life.

Albums are volumes into which drawings are pasted down, often several on a single page. Most albums were compiled by collectors at some remove from the artists who executed the drawings. From the later 1500s through the early 1900s, pasting early modern drawings into albums was a preferred method for their organization and storage. Such drawing albums will commonly include works by different artists and schools. Artists themselves made albums, pasting in their own drawings. Like sketchbooks, very few albums remain intact today, but the GRI has several albums that are still bound.

Model Books, Albums, and Other Bound Volumes of Drawings

The engineer Francesco di Giorgio Martini (1439-1502) made a model book (ca. 1474-1482) filled with carefully drawn, precisely rendered designs for machines and solutions for common engineering problems that he presented to the Duke of Urbino (today at the British Museum). This influential volume of drawings was copied at least 28 times. The GRI’s volume is a partial copy, recording roughly half of the original model book, and was made by one of Francesco’s assistants around 1475. (870439)

Jacques Louis David (1748-1825) made two sketchbooks when living in Rome, the first during his Prix de Rome scholarship (1775-1780) and the second during a visit in 1785.  He later rearranged and pasted the drawings of each sketchbook into two large albums. In 1826, his two sons—undoubtedly to maximize profit—decided to break up the two albums into twelve and offered them for sale. “Album 11” contains a cross-section of David’s drawings from his first sketchbook, ranging from studies of ancient sculpture, drawings after paintings, and landscapes. (940049*)





This object began as a sketchbook, which French architect Marie-Joseph Peyre (1730-1785) used for his studies of ancient architecture while in Rome in 1753. Later, drawings from a different source (possibly ones Peyre made in a separate Italian sketchbook) were pasted onto the sketchbook leaves. This transformation, from pure sketchbook into hybrid album, occurred after his death, at the hands of his younger brother and pupil Antoine-François Peyre. (840015) 







French painter Élie-Honoré Montagny (1782-1864) traveled to Naples in 1804-05, where he filled the right-hand folios (or rectos) of a sketchbook with studies of the ancient wall paintings from Herculaneum, Stabiae, and Pompeii that were recently transferred to the royal museum at Portici. At a later date—likely in France following an extended stay in Rome—Montagny pasted in drawings from another sketchbook onto the left-hand folios (or versos) of his Naples sketchbook. This composite object is a rare surviving example of an artist organizing their own drawings, rather than an assemblage compiled after their death. (2004.M.12*)





Jean-Baptiste Plantar (1790-1879), an ornamental sculptor, is known for his many elaborate funerary monuments and his designs for decorative and applied arts. The last artist to hold the title of Sculpteur des Bâtiments du Roi, he restored royal buildings throughout France in the 1830s. Plantar ran a large workshop, so it is not surprising to find designs for decorative objects and architectural embellishment by many different hands in this album. This is one of many surviving albums from the Plantar workshop. (890253)


The artist, educator, and writer Judy Chicago (b. 1939) is known for her performance and installation art projects that shine a light on women's contributions to society. In a binder labeled "Color Book," Chicago collected together preparatory drawings she made for various projects between 1967-1970 and organized them by color. Projects include the Pasadena Lifesavers series (1969-70), the acrylic Domes series (1968), the spray gun paintings produced through the early 1970s, and the colored-smoke and fireworks that were part of the Atmosphere performances at the end of the 1960s. (2012.M.3*)