This exhibition has closed

This exhibition has closed

Organised by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, in association with the British Museum.

★★★★★ ‘sensationally beautiful’ The Guardian

‘metalpoint is magic’ The Sunday Times

‘packed with subtle masterpieces’ The Spectator

Explore the development of the artistic technique of metalpoint from the Renaissance to the present, and discover how the technical challenge of the medium has inspired generations of artists.

This exhibition is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see around 100 exceptional drawings created using the exquisite metalpoint technique. It features works by some of the greatest artists working from the late 14th century to the present including Rogier van der Weyden, Petrus Christus, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Albrecht Dürer, Hans Holbein the Elder, Lucas van Leyden, Rembrandt, Edward Burne-Jones, William Holman Hunt, Otto Dix, Jasper Johns and Bruce Nauman. Works drawn from the British Museum’s superb collection of metalpoint drawings sit alongside major loans from European and American museums as well as private collections, including four sheets by Leonardo da Vinci from the Royal Collection.

Metalpoint is a drawing technique where the artist uses a metal stylus, usually made of silver, on an abrasive preparation so that traces of the metal are left on the surface, resulting in a visible drawing. The fine point allows for precise lines so that stunningly detailed drawings can be achieved. Metalpoint lines cannot be easily erased and the artist needs to carefully plan the design or run the risk of having to start all over again. In the hands of the greatest artists metalpoint could also be used more freely for creating rapid sketches.

The exhibition is the first to explore the development of metalpoint through six centuries and showcases the great variety of artistic styles it has encompassed. During the Renaissance metalpoint became popular both north and south of the Alps before cheaper graphite replaced it from around 1550. In northern Europe metalpoint continued to be used in preparation for prints or in travel sketchbooks. From the late 17th century the technique was virtually forgotten until the 19th century when the admiration for Renaissance art sparked its renewed use. The exploration of the medium continues to this day, both in Europe and the USA.

Such a glittering array of metalpoint drawings by the greatest masters of this technique has never been assembled before, and this exhibition presents a unique opportunity to view such a large collection of masterpieces using this intriguing technique.

Susan Schwalb (b. 1944), Strata no. 407. Silverpoint, 2005. Reproduced by permission of the artist.


Rogier van der Weyden (1400-1464), Head of the Virgin. Metalpoint, on prepared paper, mid-15th century.


See the exhibition free as a Member


Adults £8, under 16s free


For the exhibition Drawing in silver and gold: Leonardo to Jasper Johns, students get 2-for-1 tickets at any time on presentation of valid student identification (telephone bookings and walk-up tickets only). Just present your student card on arrival to redeem this offer.


10 September – 6 December 2015

Opening times

Monday–Thursday 10.00–17.30
Friday 10.00–20.30
Saturday–Sunday 10.00–17.30
Last entry 90 minutes before closing.

Getting here

Room 90, British Museum, Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3DG

Group visits

Special group rates available
Bookings +44 (0)20 7323 8181



Highlight objects

Jasper Johns (b. 1930), Untitled. Silverpoint on white prepared paper, 1984, Collection of the artist. © Jasper Johns/VAGA, New York/DACS, London 2015.

Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), Bust of a warrior. silverpoint on cream prepared paper, c. 1475.

Susan Schwalb (b. 1944), Strata no. 407. Silverpoint on white prepared paper, 2005. Reproduced by permission of the artist.

Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528), A dog resting. Silverpoint over traces of charcoal on pale pink prepared paper, c. 1520.

Avigdor Arikha (1929–2010), Anne pregnant. Silverpoint on white prepared paper, 1969. Reproduced by permission of the artist.

Raphael, (1483–1520) The Heads of the Virgin and Child. silverpoint on pink prepared paper, c. 1509.

Rogier van der Weyden (1400–¬1464), Portrait of an unknown young woman, Silverpoint on cream prepared paper, c. 1435. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Hendrik Goltzius (1558–1617), Self-portrait holding a copper plate. Silverpoint on yellow-prepared vellum with grey and blue-grey wash, c. 1589.

Lucas van Leyden, (1489/1494–1533), Two nude allegorical figures. Silverpoint on white prepared paper, c. 1515.

Hans Holbein the Elder (1465–1524), Portrait of the artist’s brother, Sigmund Holbein. Silverpoint with black and red chalk, heightened with white on white prepared paper, 1512.

School visits

Schools can visit the exhibition for free alongside the general public. Please call to book your visit.

Our downloadable visit resources are designed to support the Key Stage 3 and 4 Art and Design curriculum.


Visit guide for teachers

Download visit guide, PDF 363KB 

Image bank for teachers

Download image bank: Silver and Gold, PPT 3.4MB 

Food and drink

Combine your exhibition visit with afternoon tea in the Great Court Restaurant, at the heart of the Museum.

Enjoy a daily selection of handmade pastries and savoury delights, all chosen to perfectly complement the organic loose leaf tea.

Book online