The Easel

The Encounter at the National Portrait Gallery: historical figures live in the moment

Before the fine details of the painting comes the sketch. Although a working device, drawings of the Renaissance have long had their own appeal. It’s not just the stellar artists – Holbein, Rembrandt and others – but also the spontaneity of the sketch. “It seems as if his eyes have swiveled in our direction only a split-second earlier. At a stroke … the nearly 500 years since Holbein made this drawing dissolve into nothing. Poof!”