Drawing the human form and anatomy at the Royal Academy

Learn the essentials to drawing the human form and anatomy including the human head and upper and lower body in the Royal Academy’s historic Life Room – a space purpose-built for life drawing, with practising artist Adele Wagstaff.

The representation of the human form has been a key subject of interest for artists since the earliest of times. The representation of the body was of primary concern for Early Cycladic art and culture dating from 3200 BC. The human face and body was portrayed in both symbolic and realistic ways in Egyptian art dating back to 3000 BC. Ancient Greek sculptors championed the idea that the human body was the ideal subject for sculpture, and Roman artists captured the idealised yet remarkably life-like forms in masterpieces like the Motya Charioteer (created between 480 and 470 BC, Museo Giuseppe Whitaker in Sicily) and Aphrodite Crouching at Her Bath (a Roman copy of a Greek original from the 2nd century AD in the British Museum). In art schools across the world, classical works provide inspiration and continue to be copied by students today.During the European Renaissance (from the 14th century) the period of modern anatomical study began in earnest and artists made use of systematic observation of the external and internal body to record and inform science and create works of art. A new art practice defined as anatomical drawing was born.Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) is most closely associated with pioneering anatomical drawing. Through life models, observation and dissection, Da Vinci created a vast collection of detailed sketches of muscles, tendons, and other anatomical features, whose precision and clarity continue to astound both artists and medical practitioners to this day. The Royal Academy of Arts was strongly influenced by theories of Renaissance drawing, which played a crucial role in the formalisation of the practise of anatomical drawing in the UK. Study from life and of the anatomy was an integral part of the teaching in the RA Schools from when they were founded in 1768.

The first Professor of Anatomy, William Hunter, was elected on 17th December 1768. RA students were originally introduced to life drawing classes only after several years of copying anatomical drawings of past masters and drawing from plaster casts of Antiquities. Entry into the Life Room – where students finally had the opportunity to draw from life models both male and female – was considered the pinnacle of their artistic training and proof of professional capacity. Although there is not the same emphasis on a necessary life-like rendition of the human form, there is still a Professor of Anatomy at the Royal Academy to this day and artists continue to be inspired by the plaster casts of masterpieces from the Antiquities usually found in the RA School’s cast corridor and Life Room.

The RA strived to collect for its library examples of all the greatest illustrated books on anatomy, and therefore has a very rich collection of key books on anatomy from Andreas Vesalius’s De humani corporis fabrica libri septem published in 1555 onwards. There are a further 200 anatomical drawings and works on paper from the 18th century to 20th century included in the RA Collection, together with the original anatomical sculptures currently displayed in the Life Room, which are also a testament to the importance placed on this practice by the Academy throughout the years.

About the course

  • Introduction

    This four-week evening class is an exciting opportunity to study in more depth the essential elements of anatomical drawing and the human form. Working from different and varied life models, and using a range of poses and art materials, this course will introduce and explore different parts of the human anatomy in detail under the guidance of practicing artist Adele Wagstaff.

    The course will reference and make use of expertly selected items from the Royal Academy’s own Archives and Collection – a unique and exceptional scholarly reference and teaching tool which has informed artists and their practice since the Royal Academy’s foundation in 1768. As well as learning from carefully chosen archival material, participants will develop skills in observation, representation and rendition. Participants will focus on different parts of the human figure, working under different light conditions, with different materials, in black and white as well as in colour, and using a variety of short as well as long poses. All levels are welcome.

    Each session will be clearly defined by focusing on a different element of the human form:

    Week one – The Torso
    Week two – The Head, Neck and Shoulders
    Week three – The Upper Limbs and Hands
    Week four – The Lower Limbs and Feet

    Participants can attend individual evening sessions or all four. Each session is from 6 – 9pm.

  • 1 June 2016, 6 — 9pm
  • 8 June 2016, 6 — 9pm
  • 15 June 2016, 6 — 9pm
  • 21 June 2016, 6 — 9pm

The Life Room, Royal Academy Schools

£80 per session. £290 for all four sessions. Includes all materials.

For further information please visit Royal Academy: Drawing Essentials

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This entry was posted in Drawing, London, Royal Academy, The Nude and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Drawing the human form and anatomy at the Royal Academy

  1. kestrelart says:

    Looks great but I am too far from London to attend.

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