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Pouncing is an art technique used for transferring an image from one surface to another. It is similar to tracing, and is useful for creating copies of a sketch outline to produce finished works. The spolvero is the Italian term (from the word polvere “powder”) which defines the transfer technique of a preparatory drawing on the support of the pictorial composition. This technique is also called a stencil transfer technique. This method was used extensively in the Italian Renaissance in the work of the workshops and especially the difficult one of the frescoes on the vaults of the buildings.

Dust is a pictorial technique that allows you to draw a drawing on different surfaces. In the “dusting” you first draw the full size on a preparatory cardboard and with a needle or other tip you drill the contours of the drawing. Next, the perforated cardboard is supported on the surface to be drawn and the perforated parts are padded with a bag of canvas filled with charcoal, graphite or blood.

After removing the cardboard, a dotted line is returned, which, if not sufficiently detailed, is recalculated by joining the various points and completing the drawing or by means of a charcoal or by a wet brush to dampen the dots. If you use a transparent or glossy sheet, the reproduction of an image is quite accurate.

Ancient technique, used in wall decoration and great Renaissance artists to avoid reflection on the fresco. It was applied in many fields, even for the decoration of ceramics and porcelain for serial production or to facilitate those who do not know how to draw. The drawings of tapestry cartons, duly bored, were put on the warp yarns of a lofty chassis in this way.

Pouncing has been a common technique for centuries, used to create copies of portraits and other works that would be finished as oil paintings, engravings, and so on. The most common method involves laying semi-transparent paper over the original image, then tracing along the lines of the image by creating pricked marks on the top sheet of paper. This pounced drawing made of pricked holes is laid over a new working surface. A powder such as chalk, graphite or pastel is forced through the holes to leave an outline on the working surface below, thus transferring the image. The powder is applied by being placed into a small bag of thin fabric such as cheesecloth, then dabbed onto the pricked holes of the pounced drawing.

The cardboard bearing the definitive figure was pierced, on its characteristic details, with a series of holes made with a point (of bone or metal). A bag containing charcoal powder or sinopia allowed the transfer by stamping from the cardboard to the final support; the traces transferred by the assistants then made it possible to complete the sketch following the drawings of the master, who finished the pictorial work by the traditional methods of fresco or tempera.

This method has also allowed serial transfers of the same pattern in traditional painting but also in porcelain and ceramics.

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Some fresco paintings still retain traces of spolveri.

Examples of pouncing in art:
A calligraphy fragment, artist unknown, Iran, c. 1500-1600
Calligraphy in black nasta’liq script on a beige paper decorated with bird and leaf designs painted in gold. The main text panel is bordered by a number of other verses in both diagonal and vertical registers forming a frame. The entire composition is pasted to a larger sheet of paper decorated with a pounced vegetal motif in green and backed by cardboard.

Head of a Muse by Raphaello Sanzio, Italy, c. 1490.
Black chalk over pounce marks, traces of stylus, watermark of encircled Saint Anthony’s cross.

Lion Hunt, artist unknown, India, c. 1680.
Ink and color on paper, pounced for transfer.

John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, after Hans Holbein the Younger, England, c.1570s.
The original drawing, which has been reinforced in ink and wash by other hands, was used as the pattern for a number of copies, including this example. Pounce marks on the outlines reveal that this copy was traced not from the original but from another copy. It was previously mounted on thin paper, which was cut out and stuck onto thicker paper.

Today, with the introduction of recycled papers and technological innovations such as slides, photographic or photostatic reproductions, the use of this technique is less practiced.