NEW YORK — AN exhibition can hardly do better than encompass works by Michelangelo, Raphael, and Rembrandt, not to mention Claude Lorrain, Jacob van Ruisdael, and Adrian van Ostade. The Pierpont Morgan's current show here - ``From Michelangelo to Rembrandt: Master Drawings From the Teyler Museum'' - does all this and more too.
Not only does it give us a number of the world's greatest drawings, but it also offers Americans the rare opportunity to examine other seldom seen treasures from this major Dutch collection.
The 100 16th- and 17th-century Italian and Dutch drawings, by 46 artists, span the period from the late Renaissance through the Baroque, and they present evidence of the various differences in perceptions of art between those two periods.
According to Carel van Tuyll van Serooskerken, keeper of the Teyler Art Collections, ``It has often been said that the Dutch artists of the Baroque age wished, above all, to mirror the visible world and the Italian tradition aimed at perfecting it; this difference emerges most clearly in their drawings.''
For proof, one need only contrast the monumental, idealized figure studies of Michelangelo and Raphael with the classically inspired landscapes of Lorrain, and then move on to Rembrandt's powerfully direct study ``The Return of the Prodigal Son'' or van Ostade's carefully observed scenes of carousing peasants.
This art-historical exercise, however, represents only one aspect of this important and fascinating show. As is so often the case at the Morgan (witness its recent Holbein, Albertina, and German Romantic shows here), simply assembling so much evidence of artistic genius and creative diversity in a fairly small room and a nearby hallway boggles the mind. Here, indeed, greatness comes in tiny packages, and extraordinary vision and skill often manifest themselves in a dozen or so quickly dashed-off lines and a wash or two.
Within a few square feet, one encounters Michelangelo's magnificent ``Striding Male Nude,'' executed in 1504 when the artist was only 29 years old. It was a study for his never-completed fresco ``Battle of Cascina.'' One also finds the same artist's double-sided sheet of studies for the Sistine Ceiling; Raphael's beautiful and elegant ``Standing Putto with the Medici Ring and Feathers''; a black chalk sketch from life of Michelangelo by Daniele da Volterra, the great muralist's friend and collaborator; and Guido Reni's sensitive study, ``Sleeping Child.''
But that's only the beginning. No matter where one looks, great, important, or ``merely'' enchanting images catch the eye. There's a stunning monumental head of Saint Peter by Domenichino, as well as a delightful sketch of ``A Cat Being Fed,'' by Guercino; an expansive, broadly sketched ink-and-wash landscape by Rembrandt; and an odd depiction of a ``Stranded Whale'' by Hendrick Golzius. On one wall hangs Lorrain's delicate ``Study of Trees,'' on another, Pierfrancesco Mola's extravagantly rendered ``A Couple Making Music.''
THE Dutch, of course, were in love with landscape, and several of their finest ink-and-chalk depictions of their homeland are included here. In addition to works by Rembrandt and van Ruisdael, there are outstanding pieces in this genre by Philips Koninck, Jan van Goyen, Pieter Saenredam, and Aelbert Cuyp. For pure outdoor liveliness and charm, however, nothing else on view can quite match Hendrick Avercamp's ``Figures on a Frozen River.''
This is, without doubt, a major exhibition, and even a hasty look should convince all but the most indifferent of viewers that drawing, in the hands of a master, can be a supreme art form.
This show also pinpoints one of the major differences between the Renaissance and the Northern Baroque artists. For Michelangelo, Raphael, and most of their Italian contemporaries, drawing was a means to an end: preparation for a painting or a way of solving a difficult formal or technical problem.
For Rembrandt and most of the other Northern artists, on the other hand, drawing was a medium to be appreciated on its own terms.
One last word about Haarlem's Teyler Museum. It was founded in 1778 in accordance with the wishes of Pieter Teyler van der Hulst (1702-78), and as a reflection of the Enlightenment ideal of the harmonious pairing of the arts and sciences. It was is divided into five departments: paleontology and mineralogy, physics, numismatics, fine arts, and the library.
It is especially rich in Old-Master works on paper - hence the extraordinary range and quality of the Italian and Dutch drawings in this show.
After its closing at the Morgan Library, 29 East 36th Street, on April 30, this superb exhibition travels to the Art Institute of Chicago, where it will be on view May 13-July 30.