Metalpoint was a major part of artistic
practice across northern Europe by about 1400. The fame of Netherlandish
artists such as Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden and Gerard David spread
quickly, and many young German artists travelled down the Rhine to learn in
their workshops. Metalpoint was used for recording facial types, figure
compositions and ornament designs until the mid-16th century. Albrecht Dürer’s
delicate silverpoints, made when he travelled in the Netherlands from 1520 to
1521, are among the most sensational ever produced.

The ultimate draughtsman of the German
Renaissance, Dürer experimented throughout his career with every type of
technique. His earliest recorded drawing is in metalpoint – a self-portrait
made at the age of 13 (now in the Albertina,
Vienna). Inspired by the Italian ideal of classical beauty from his visit
to Italy between 1505 and 1507, this sheet demonstrates a highly colouristic
use of the technique, achieved with white bodycolour brushed over silverpoint
to emphasise the sculptural quality of the face. The strong tone of the
prepared paper is reminiscent of the Florentine artist Filippino Lippi. In
later life, Dürer employed the sensitive restraint of metalpoint to make
portrait drawings, especially of his brothers Hanns and Endres, his wife Agnes,
and his close friend Willibald Pirckheimer.

Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528). Head of a
. Silverpoint, with brush and grey wash heightened with lead white, on
pink prepared paper, over blind stylus underdrawing,
about 1505–1507.

See this magnificent work in the exhibition Drawing in silver and gold:
Leonardo to Jasper Johns
 (10 September – 6
December 2015).