Alexa Mc Carthy

Alexa Mc Carthy, M.A.

University of St Andrews (june 2021)

PhD project : Blue Paper in Amsterdam and the Italian Tradition


Alexa McCarthy is a PhD Candidate in Art History at the University of St Andrews. She is co-organiser of the online conference ‘Venice in Blue: The Use of Carta azzurra in the Artist’s Studio and in the Printer’s Workshop, ca. 1500-50.’ Prior to beginning her PhD, Alexa held positions at The Leiden Collection, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Christie’s. Her publications include considerations of Govert Flinck’s use of blue paper, Carlo Caliari’s head studies, and catalogue entries for the exhibition catalogues, Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection: The Age of Rembrandt (Paris, Musée du Louvre, 2017), Rembrandt and His Time: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection (Beijing, National Museum of China, 2017), and The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection (Moscow, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts; St. Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum). Alexa holds a BA in Art History from Bowdoin College and an MA from The Courtauld Institute of Art.

Research focus

Alexa McCarthy’s doctoral research explores the transcultural use of the material of blue paper for drawings by artists working in sixteenth-century Venice and seventeenth-century Amsterdam. Her 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. In addition to providing a readily available mid-tone, this carta da straccio, or rag paper, varied in texture, such that it 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 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 drawing manuals and art treatises, my research is inherently interdisciplinary in examining the significance of the role of blue paper in Italian and Dutch artistic practice and stylistic development.



Alexa Mc Carthy , M.A.