Three Studies of Trees
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Fra Bartolommeo
Italian, about 1508
Black chalk, brush and brown ink, brown wash
16 1/16 x 10 13/16 in.

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A tall tree with outstretched branches and a broad canopy of leaves fills the full expanse of this sheet. Fra Bartolommeo captured the trunk's gnarled form using small flecks of black chalk, later carefully reworking the branch at the right in brush and brown ink. He constructed two smaller, bushier trees at the left with broad parallel strokes of chalk that simulate the lacy, atmospheric effect of light passing through leaves.

Fra Bartolommeo was clearly fascinated by the contorted and variegated forms of tree trunks and the patterns and texture of leaves. He produced many tree studies, of which this is the largest one to have survived. One of the first artists to draw nature for its own sake, he worked outdoors with a sketchbook so as to observe in minute detail and understand the effects of light. Although similar trees do appear in the backgrounds of the artist's paintings, this work was probably created as an independent study for his own use and enjoyment. Fra Bartolommeo's nature studies would have been kept in the workshop and used as reference material for painting.