Carta azzurra / blauw papier
: drawing on blue paper in Italy and the Netherlands, ca. 1450–ca. 1660

  • Alexa Jaye McCarthy

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


This doctoral dissertation explores the transcultural use of the material of blue paper for figure studies and figural compositions by artists working in sixteenth-century Venice and seventeenth-century Amsterdam. The research focuses on artists’ use of blue paper made with blue fibres, or that which is coloured blue during its production, rather than neutral papers that are prepared with a coloured wash. Blue paper provided a readily available mid-tone and its texture allowed friable drawing implements like chalk and charcoal to be absorbed into the paper at varying degrees. This interplay contributed to the achievement of rilievo, or the ability to model three-dimensional forms in space on a flat surface. Understanding the broader artistic, cultural, and theoretical frameworks that led to the employment of blue paper in these two centres of commercial and artistic exchange is central to our understanding of the material’s role in early modern artistic practice, as well as to our interpretations of the drawings themselves. Through object-based, technical, and archival research, as well as analyses of contemporary texts on art, this research is inherently interdisciplinary in examining the significance of the role of blue paper in Italian and Dutch artistic practice and stylistic development.
Date of Award30 Nov 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorElsje van Kessel (Supervisor) & Laura Moretti (Supervisor)


  • Art history
  • Drawings
  • Blue paper
  • The Netherlands
  • Italy
  • Venice
  • Amsterdam
  • Artist materials
  • Sixteenth century
  • Seventeenth century
  • Early modern

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 15 August 2027

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