A sheet of greaseproof paper and a fine pencil – that is all it takes to trace an interesting motif. And yet the oldest method of copying known to humanity has been consigned to the margins of art practice on account of its humble character. But despite or indeed precisely because of this, the Wallraf is dedicating a special exhibition to the topic.

With The Art of Tracing , the museum places this fragile medium at the centre of interest. By means of over twenty exhibits, it will explore the history of tracing and present the full range of tasks it fulfils in the artistic process. Already around 1400, the Italian painter Cennino Cennini gave a detailed account in his celebrated manual of late mediaeval painting techniques (Libro dell'arte) of how to manufacture transparent paper – either by soaking paper in oil, or by boiling fish size and brushing it onto a stone slab in a transparent layer.

For many centuries the sole purpose of tracing was to transfer an artistic composition from one picture carrier to another. But since the tracing is normally destroyed during this process, very few examples have survived from the period. Not until the end of the eighteenth century did tracing become an important aid for artists in further developing their compositions or preparing engraved reproductions of celebrated paintings. From then on, tracings were preserved as testimonies to drawn interventions, and had their own claims to being art.