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Chiaroscuro woodcut from 2 blocks, gray-green/black Inscriptions: “BAL. SEN” and “PER VGO” in the line block
Dressed in a lion skin and raising his club, Hercules strides forward and seizes Avarice by her hair, expelling her from the Temple of the Muses on Parnassus. He acts on the orders of a laurel-crowned Apollo, who is depicted at lower left, his arm draped around a lyre. Athena, goddess of the liberal arts, stands behind Apollo; she is clad in armor and holds both shield and lance. Eight of the nine muses are also pictured, two with their identifying attributes: Euterpe, with her ute, stands next to Athena at left, while the figure holding the mask who looks out at the viewer from the right foreground is either Melpomene or Thalia (The figure’s identity is uncertain, as it is not clear whether the mask is tragic or comic. For an attempt to identify all the depicted Muses, see Reeves 2017). There is no known classical source for this allegorical statement on the antagonism of avarice to the arts (Barryte 2016).
Vasari, who praised the beautiful attitudes of the Muses, correctly identified the subject of the chiaroscuro woodcut. He erred, however, in crediting Baldassare Peruzzi (1481–1536) as the print’s maker rather than its designer (Vasari-Bettarini and Barocchi 1966–87). The inscriptions in the line block feature both Peruzzi’s and Ugo’s names, the latter in the capacity of blockcutter and publisher. Peruzzi, a painter, architect, and prolific draftsman from Siena, was associated with Raphael’s circle in Rome from 1503 until the city’s sack in 1527. No preparatory drawing or painting by Peruzzi relating to Hercules Chasing Avarice is known, but his appreciation of ancient Roman architecture can be seen in the triumphal arch, derived from that of Septimius Severus (Wagner in Drawings and prints of the first Maniera 1973), and in the rotunda with a temple portico at left, which recalls the Pantheon. Additionally, Peruzzi’s work on theater perspectives in the 1510s seems to have informed the architectural backdrop behind the frieze-like arrangement of figures in the shallow foreground (Barryte 2016). It has been observed that Peruzzi’s Hercules recalls the nude hero in Antonio del Pollaiuolo’s Hercules and Hydra (Florence, Uffizi) and the figure of Fury in Albrecht Dürer’s woodcut Hercules (B.VII.143.127, Gnann 2013).
The date of Peruzzi’s design for Hercules Chasing Avarice has been debated. Sydney J. Freedberg placed it as early as 1516–17, while Christophe Frommel argued a date as late as 1522–24 (Freedberg 1961 and Frommel 1968, cited in Johnson 1982, p. 32). The present Version A impression is printed on paper with a Crossbow in a Circle Surmounted by a Star watermark, the type most commonly found in Ugo’s early Roman prints. This watermark information, together with the block cutting style, helps place Ugo’s woodcut around 1517–18, making an earlier date for the design the more plausible.
There are two versions of the Hercules Chasing Avarice composition. While identical in many details, they are clearly distinguishable in their treatment of the figures. In Version B, figural forms are modeled using less cross-hatching in the line block but more highlights in the light tone block. The reduction of dense line work gives the composition greater clarity, as the figures become more individuated and distinct from the background. Bartsch described Version B as a second “state” in which the line block was reused in an altered form and the tone block was replaced with an entirely new design. Studying the Version A impression in the Uffizi, Johnson noted the appearance of filled wormholes in the line block, most evident on Apollo’s proper right leg and on the underside of the arch; she concluded that this wormhole damage led a copyist to execute a completely new set of blocks for Version B (GDSU 63 st. sc. Johnson 1982). Johnson’s proposal has been refuted by some scholars who interpret the filled holes in the Uffizi sheet as clumps of ink, the result of printing with poorly formulated ink or an improperly cleaned block (See Sassi in Ugo da Carpi 2009). At least four other impressions of Version A present the same fills, however. This affirms Johnson’s assessment that the trouble is with the line block’s condition and not with the printing of the Uffizi sheet.
The wider contour lines of many of the figures in Hercules Chasing Avarice (Version B) further support the assertion that a new (rather than altered) line block was used. These widened outlines are evident in Apollo’s raised arm and knee, as well as in Melpomene/Thalia’s neck, shoulder, and extended leg. The skill and time that it would have taken to broaden the original fine lines could have equaled, if not surpassed, that required to cut a fresh block.
The lack of consensus around the issue of a second version is unsurprising, for the degree of coincidence between the line blocks in Version A and Version B, even in the minutest details, is indeed remarkable. To cut the Version B line block, the blockcutter must have followed the design of an impression that had been pulled from Version A and pasted onto a fresh plank. Whereas Johnson attributed the second version to an unidentified copyist, David Landau and Peter Parshall rightly credited Ugo with both versions, positing that the printmaker returned the original set of blocks to Peruzzi and cut the second set for his own continued use (the details of the publishing arrangement made between Peruzzi and Ugo are not known. Landau and Parshall 1994). The skillful cutting of such a near-replica block, while exceptional, would not be unique in Ugo’s oeuvre. He demonstrated his ability to make deceptive copies early in his career with works like the near-facsimile woodcut of Marcantonio’s engraved Lamentation (B.XIV.43.37; Ugo da Carpi, Lamentation, woodcut, 21.4 × 17.0 cm, BM H,1.33 and Marcantonio Raimondi, Lamentation, engraving, 21.2 × 16.7 cm, BM H,1.31).
Ink and watermark evidence confirm that Ugo was responsible for issuing both versions of Hercules Chasing Avarice and that some time elapsed between their making, which could account for the revised design in keeping with Ugo’s more mature chiaroscuro technique (Sassi has posited a one-to-two-year period separated the two versions; Sassi in Ugo da Carpi 2009). As noted, watermark evidence suggests that Version A was a product of Ugo’s early Roman period, c. 1517–18. The watermark most commonly found in Version B impressions, including the LACMA and Huntington sheets, is a Siren in a Circle (the watermark has been noted in twelve of twenty recorded impressions). This type of watermark only appears in prints by Ugo executed after 1518, including first and early second state impressions of David and Goliath (Munich 67022, first state. Ashmolean WA 1863.1691; BM 1858,0417.1572; and Berlin 277-38, second state; ALU.0945.1), and early printings of Antonio da Trento’s Martyrdom of Two Saints issued from Parmigianino’s workshop in Bologna between 1527 and 1530 (Budapest 6240 and LACMA M.2012.137; ALU.0955.1). One impression of Hercules Chasing Avarice (Version B) has been recorded with a Hand and Flower watermark (8.5 cm; BNE INVENT/ 44267), which can be linked to Ugo’s Massacre of the Innocents (on this watermark, see further ALU.0951).
The Huntington impression was made before the damage occurred to the bird at upper left that is visible in the LACMA impression, is printed in an exceptional salmon ink (red ink was used to print the line block of Hercules Chasing Avarice (Version B) on the verso of a chiaroscuro impression of the same print in mouse-gray ink, Museu Nacional de arte Antigua, Lisbon. I thank Peter Fuhring for bringing this sheet to my attention). The latter sheet is one of eight examples of Hercules Chasing Avarice (Version B) printed in a mouse-gray ink that bears an impression of the light tone block from Ugo’s Venus and Cupids on its verso (See Johnson 1982, p. 86, and Takahatake 2010). Ugo evidently rejected a batch of Venus and Cupids light tone block printings and reused the sheets. Venus and Cupids follows a Raphael or Raphael school drawing executed around 1520 for the fresco decoration in the vaults of the Garden Loggia of Villa Madama in Rome, painted under the direction of Giulio Romano and Giovanni da Udine after Raphael’s death (the drawing is in a private collection. The drawing’s attribution is discussed in Takahatake 2018 p. 21. For the attribution of the print to Ugo da Carpi, see Gnann 2013, no. 43, p. 118; and Takahatake 2015). The reuse of waste sheets with tone block impressions of this design thus securely dates Hercules Chasing Avarice (Version B) after 1520.
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. 73-77.
-Brema Kunsthalle inv. 34133;
-BM 1920,0512.22: blue/black: https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/P_1920-0512-22
-Albertina DG2002/913: blue/black https://www.graphikportal.org/document/gpo00080165 https://sammlungenonline.albertina.at/m/?query=search=/record/objectnumbersearch=[DG2002%2f913]&showtype=record
-BNE Madrid: 4165 blue-green/black (with fills) http://catalogo.bne.es/uhtbin/cgisirsi/?ps=bVRY4rvi2M/BNMADRID/164670477/9
-Real Biblioteca del Monasterio de El Escorial 28-II-1, fol. 33: green/black (with fills) https://rbmecat.patrimonionacional.es/cgi-bin/koha/opac-detail.pl?biblionumber=31803
-Munich 6970: light blue/black
-Uffizi st.sc. 63 green-blue/black (with fills)
-V&A E.282-90: blue/black (with fills)
-PMA 1985-52-104 https://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/30043.html
For impressions of Version B, state ia see ALU.0950.1
For impressions of Version B, state ib see ALU.0950.2.