Chiaroscuro woodcut from 2 blocks, indigo/black, i state
Inscriptions: “R” and “R.V.I.” in the tone block
States: possibly two states. In second state, the letters “R. V. I.” may have been recut.
Traditionally, Sibyl Reading has been considered Ugo's first print after Raphael and dated among the blockcutter's earliest trials in chiaroscuro woodcut. However, more recent scholarship has questioned the attribution of both the cutting and design. Following Konrad Oberhuber's attribution, Achim Gnann tentatively ascribed this print to Antonio da Trento after Parmigianino (Gnann 2013. Zanetti attributed this print to Antonio da Trento and thought it was a copy after, see Museum of Fine Arts Boston, 64.1077 https://collections.mfa.org/objects/167807/sibyl-reading, then ascribed to Ugo da Carpi). Paul Joannides suggested that Parmigianino acted as Ugo's intermediary draftsman, adapting a design by Raphael of c. 1512 (Joannides 2015). Sibyl Reading indeed departs in style from other two-block prints securely ascribed to Ugo after Raphael or Raphael school designs. The extensive passages of long parallel lines of uniform width, as well as the irregular networks of crosshatched lines, find no equivalents in his other works. The lack of a signature in this print is puzzling since Ugo's blocks consistently carry his name (although Hercules and the Nemean Lion is another such exception).
The appearance of Sibyl Reading in the Ferdinand Columbus collection, however, lends some measure of support to the Ugo attribution. A description of the print was recorded by Scribe A, who ceased work on the collection inventory around 1522: “A seated woman bareheaded reading a book held in her left hand, her right foot is hidden, the scene is illuminated by a candle held by a standing child, his left ngers and right foot are hidden, he has raised the hem, no background.” (McDonald 2004. As Michael Bury observed, it is noteworthy that the initial “R” in the tone block is not mentioned in the description (oral communication). The Columbus impression may therefore have been a line-block-only variant). With the exception of Lucantonio degli Uberti, who was responsible for one chiaroscuro woodcut, Ugo is the only known chiaroscurist active before the appearance of Antonio da Trento in Parmigianino's Bologna shop after 1527. The inventory's early date, albeit approximate, also tends to preclude the involvement of Parmigianino, who arrived in Rome in 1524.
No model for Sibyl Reading is known to survive. Vasari, who was the first to ascribe the print to Ugo, describes its source as “a drawing by Raphael executed in chiaroscuro.” (“un disegno di Raffaello fatto di chiaro scuro”; Vasari-Bettarini and Barocchi 1966–87). According to Jan Johnson, the figures of the seated sibyl and the standing child generally call to mind the painter's preparatory drawings with the Virgin and Christ Child of around 1514/15 (Johnson 1982). William Trotter has pointed to the resemblance between the Sibyl and the figure of Sappho from Raphael's Parnassus fresco in the Stanza della Segnatura, 1509–12 (Trotter 1974). In his stance, the torch-bearing child in the print is similar to the child at upper left from the Chatsworth studies for the “Madonna of the Meadow” by Raphael (Raphael, Studies for the Virgin with the Christ Child “Madonna of the Meadow”), c. 1505/1508, pen and brown ink over stylus, apart from the sketches at top and bottom right, on light beige paper, 9 ×7 in. (25.0×19.4 cm), Chatsworth inv. 723A). We do not know whether the source drawing might have been a preliminary study or finished drawing, be it one made expressly for a print or preparatory for another unrealized work. Nor can we determine the medium of the model drawing. Nevertheless, if we accept the attribution to Ugo, we might speculate that the technique or loose finish of the model drawing was not easily captured in woodcut and contributed to the print's unusual cutting style (Takahatake 2015).
There are three recorded copies of Sibyl Reading, two in reverse and one in the same direction, making it the most repeated Italian chiaroscuro woodcut design. While Adam Bartsch erred in describing the left-facing version as Ugo's original (The identity of the copyist who cut the copy with the Sibyl facing left, see MFA 64.1077) is unknown, but watermark evidence raises the possibility that it was printed in France. A Jug Surmounted by an Elaborate Crown watermark (6.0 cm) recurs. While unrecorded by Briquet, it is similar to those he describes in 4:626, which are sixteenth-century French. Narrow chainlines further indicate the French origin of the paper. I am grateful to Catherine Jenkins for her guidance), Johnson correctly identified the prototype as the right-facing version, noting in particular the overly schematized, mechanical line work of the copy in reverse. Johnson expressed some uncertainty as to whether the R.V.I. inscription found in later impressions of the print attributed to Ugo was actually added in a second state or if it was present from the beginning, but hidden by oily inks or careless printing (Johnson 1982). While these letters are hardly visible in early impressions, both carefully printed in refined inks typical of Ugo, close examination confirms their presence (I thank Linda Stiber Morenus for examining this impression). The letters may have been shallowly incised and subsequently recut to print more distinctly.
A blue tone block ink, formulated in a manner typical of Ugo's shop, is the most common among the earliest of the first state impressions. One such example is this impression, which is printed with a well-preserved indigo-containing blue ink (The presence of indigo was confirmed by instrumental analysis; Stiber Morenus et al. 2015, table 1, no. 2, p. 244. Indigo was also found in a British Museum impression (W,4.18); Russell 2013. The faded condition of the blue ink in the London sheet when compared to this impression is described in Stiber Morenus et al. 2015, 258). Alongside this rich blue, the less common vivid red seen in Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Bequest of W. G. Russell Allen, 64.1073 testifies to an appreciation of the different aesthetic possibilities offered by changing palettes, even at this early stage in the development of the chiaroscuro woodcut technique. The dark interior illuminated by a flame in Sibyl Reading lent itself perfectly to the exploration of tenebrist possibilities in print.
Compared to Ugo's early Roman works, few of which have survived, Sibyl Reading is recorded in substantial numbers. This is due in part to the fact that the printmaker took the blocks for this print to Bologna, where he produced his chiaroscuro masterpiece, Diogenes. Some impressions of Sibyl Reading in a sage green tone block and gray line block (Harvard M9807, https://hvrd.art/o/253946 and Didier Martinez, Paris. The use of a gray ink to print the line block is also a characteristic feature of prints by Ugo and Antonio issued from Parmigianino's shop) were printed on paper with a Heart-Shaped Crossbow, a watermark type that also appears on an early second state impression of Diogenes (Graphische Sammlung ETH Zürich, D.8, Matile 2003, no. 53, p. 132; watermark no. 24). As with other works that were printed in this Bolognese workshop, Sibyl Reading was issued by later publishers in impressions that show extensive wear and a profusion of wormholes to both matrices (For the joint publishing history with the anonymous copy after Ugo da Carpi, Raphael and his Mistress, see ALU.0952.1). That publishers issued impressions from such severely compromised blocks attests to the continued interest not only in the technique but also in designs associated with Raphael.
Naoko Takahatake, 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, pp.69-72.
See the list of known impressions in ALU.0941.2.
, Chiaroscuro woodcuts of the circles of Raphael and Parmigianino a study in reproductive graphics
, The Univ. of North Carolina, 1974, p. 68
, "I chiaroscuri di Ugo da Carpi", in Print Collector - Il conoscitore di stampe
, Milano, 1982, pp. 23–24, n. 4
, Italienische Holzschnitte der Renaissance und des Barock
, Basel, 2003, p. 23, n. 53
McDonald M. P.
, The Print Collection of Ferdinand Columbus (1488-1539). A Renaissance Collector in Seville
, London, 2004, v. 1, p. 154; v. 2, p. 339, n. 1896
, In Farbe! Clair-obscur-Holzschnitte der Renaissance - Meisterwerke aus der Sammlung Georg Baselitz und der Albertina in Wien
, Monaco, 2013, p. 162, n. 72
, "The Analysis of Inks on Seven Italian Chiaroscuro Woodcut Prints", Department of Conservation and Scientific Research, 2013, unpublished
, "Drawings by Raphael and his immediate followers made for or employed for engravings and chiaroscuro woodcuts", Raffael als Zeichner. Die Beiträge des Frankfurter Kolloquiums
, 2015, pp. 149-166, pp. 165–66, n. 45
, "Raphael and the chiaroscuro woodcut", Raffael als Zeichner. Die Beiträge des Frankfurter Kolloquiums
, 2015, pp. 167-186, pp. 170-171