Art: Thick & Thin

Like offhand remarks, artists' sketches sometimes have a persisting value of their own. Last week both Chicago's Art Institute and Manhattan's Metropolitan Museum featured big shows of drawings. Together they provided two backstage glimpses at Europe's art history.

Manhattan's Metropolitan featured 70 drawings from the 15th to the 19th Century. Standouts were six casual masterpieces by the 15th-Century Florentines, who drew mostly in sepia and silverpoint (indelible). Trained to make each stroke right the first time, men like Michelangelo, Filippino Lippi and Verrochio looked long and hard before translating their models' flesh into thin lines. Their looser chalk studies, like Michelangelo's Libyan...

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