Xilografia in unico blocco. Questa xilografia esiste anche nella versione a chiaroscuro, due legni, ALU.0879.2, B.XII.120.18. In generale, "the line block impressions" di Boldrini sopravvivono in un numero maggiore di esemplari rispetto ai chiaroscuri.
Di seguito la scheda dedicata a Boldrini e in particolare a quest'opera (e a Venere e Cupido ALU.0187.1e a Paesaggio con cacciatore a cavallo ALU.0362.1) da Naoko Takahatake nel catalogo della mostra The Chiaroscuro Woodcut in Renaissance Italy, exhibition catalogue, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, June-September 2018, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C, October 2018-January 2019, DelMonico Books/Prestel, Munich-London-New York, 2018.
The only known biographical record of Nicolò Boldrini, a blockcutter from Vicenza active in Venice, is a marriage contract of June 19, 1547. Four signed prints provide some grounds for establishing his oeuvre: a woodcut Landscape with Saint John the Baptist after Domenico Campagnola and the chiaroscuro woodcuts Christ as the Man of Sorrows after Albrecht Dürer, Leaping Horseman after Pordenone (B.XII.145.9), and Venus and Cupid (B.XII.126.29). Boldrini's output appears to divide roughly into two distinct periods. In his early career, starting in the 1530s, Boldrini produced conventional woodcuts. Among those attributed to him is Six Saints, dated around 1535, for which Titian, Vasari writes, drew directly on the woodblock. If Six Saints indeed testifies to Boldrini's close working relationship with Titian in the mid-1530s, his woodcuts through the following decade suggest an increasing independence from the painter whose interest in the technique was waning. In the 1560s, Boldrini emerged as a chiaroscurist. In addition to the three signed chiaroscuro woodcuts mentioned, at least five more can be attributed to him on the basis of cutting technique and physical evidence, such as inks and watermarks, including Hercules and the Nemean Lion and Hunter on Horseback. Although Boldrini's Venus and Cupid credits Titian for the design, the painter's involvement with the chiaroscuro woodcut is unlikely. By 1566, when it was made, Titian was deeply invested in having his painted compositions recorded as engravings. His application for a publishing privilege in January 1567 (granted on February 4 of that year) makes no mention of woodcuts, and his closest interpreter in the years 1565–71 was the engraver Cornelis Cort. While Venus and Cupid does not relate to an extant painting by Titian, the figural style of Venus reaching to embrace the winged Cupid can be associated with the painter's work of the 1530s or earlier. The wooded setting, however, must have derived from a different (likely later) source, or may represent Boldrini's own invention. Boldrini combined design sources in a number of his chiaroscuro woodcuts. For example, he used printed models—Vicentino's Hercules and the Nemean Lion and Lucas Cranach the Elder's 1506 Couple on Horseback, respectively—for his figural compositions in Hercules and the Nemean Lion and the Hunter on Horseback. Notably, in both prints Boldrini situates the figural groups within Venetian landscapes that recall the stylistic example of woodcuts after Titian. Another striking example of Boldrini's composite approach to design is Christ as the Man of Sorrows, in which the figure of Christ, faithfully translated from Dürer's Passion Series woodcut, has been transposed into a landscape. Such recourse to printed models is typical of an independent printmaker working without the direct participation of a designer, as was similarly the case for Ugo da Carpi. Boldrini's Venus and Cupid displays disciplined cutting of crisp and uniform lines with sharply tapered ends. The highlight reserves, especially in the figure of Venus, are equally fine and neatly arranged. The cutting here contrasts with the greater individuality and vitality of line in Boldrini's Six Saints after Titian, which was the product of a close collaboration between painter and cutter, as already noted. While the self-sufficient line block fully delineates the design in Venus and Cupid, the tone block gives depth to the composition. Finely hatched highlights model Venus's and Cupid's rounded forms, while broad swathes of reserves depict light streaming through clouds. The controlled cutting technique and autonomous line block design unite Venus and Cupid with the unsigned Hercules and the Nemean Lion and Hunter on Horseback. In all three prints, Boldrini deployed the same graphic vocabulary to distribute the tone block highlights: fine reserve hatchings heighten the figures in contrast with more expansive pools of light that flow across the sky and dapple the landscape. Among them, Venus and Cupid integrates the highlights into the design most successfully. Especially telling of Boldrini's hand in the block design is the analogous way in which the tone blocks silhouette forms against the illuminated sky in Hercules and the Nemean Lion and Hunter on Horseback. In addition to their similar cutting styles, the three prints feature closely related printing characteristics. All recorded impressions of the works use a well-formulated, semi-translucent tone-block ink printed in cool to warm tonalities of brown. The MFA Boston impression of Venus and Cupids is on paper with a Ladder in a Shield Surmounted by a Star watermark. This watermark type, as well as a Tree on Three Mounts in a Shield, occurs throughout Boldrini's chiaroscuro impressions. Although only Venus and Cupid and Hunter on Horseback are dated 1566, the similar materials and watermarks suggest that most of Boldrini's chiaroscuros were issued in a relatively narrow time span. The inks and paper Boldrini used for his chiaroscuro woodcuts recur in a group of Niccolò Vicentino's prints, suggesting that one press issued both printmakers' work. However, unlike Vicentino's blocks, which were subsequently printed by the Printer of Greek Text and Andrea Andreani, Boldrini's appear in no succeeding chiaroscuro editions. Only the line blocks, printed independently of their tone blocks and marked by wormholes and other damage, were republished later. These late line block impressions survive in substantially greater numbers than the early chiaroscuro ones. Boldrini's chiaroscuro impressions are scarce: the most common of his prints, Hercules and the Nemean Lion and Saint John the Baptist, have been recorded in fewer than ten impressions each. Despite this limited production, Boldrini introduced new themes, perhaps with the intention of broadening his audience. The depiction of rural genre subjects in Hunter on Horseback, and the closely related Boy with a Bull, is exceptional in the history of the Italian chiaroscuro woodcut. Similarly, the magnificent Tree with Two Goats is the sole Italian example of pure landscape in the sixteenth-century chiaroscuro woodcut, setting an important precedent for Hendrick Goltzius's exploration of landscape as an independent genre some three decades later.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund, 2014.1.1, in brown and black
Watermark: Ladder in a Shield Surmounted by a Star
Other impressions in brown and black (with Ladder in a Shield Surmounted by a Star watermark)
British Musem, London 1895,0122.1286
British Musem, London 1860,0414.111
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 1975.506
Bibliothéque nationale de France, Paris Réserve EA 39
Metropolitan Museum of Art 28.15.6
Other impression in brown and black (with Tree on Three Mounts watermark)
Staatliche Graphisce Sammlung, München 4470
Line-block only impressions:
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 1975.507
British Musem, London 1895,0122.1287
British Musem, London W,4.5 (on green/blue paper?)
Metropolitan Museum of Art 22.73.3-150
Harvard Art Museum, Cambridge R7757
Philadelphia Museum of Art 1985-52-32064