Chiaroscuro woodcut from 4 blocks, gray-green/black
Inscription: “RAPH/ AEL./ VRBI/ VGO” in the light tone block
The collaboration between Raphael and Marcantonio Raimondi began in the early 1510s, not long after the two men arrived in Rome. Massacre of the Innocents is one of the earliest and most highly acclaimed products of this partnership between the consummate master of design and the technically accomplished engraver. A group of surviving drawings, including both focused figural and compositional studies, charts the evolution of Raphael's design. From its inception, Raphael conceived Massacre of the Innocents as an engraving that would display his command of complex design and dramatic multi-figural composition (Raphael's composition was informed by such renowned precedents as Michelangelo's Florentine Battle of Cascina; see Emison 1984, 258, and S. Vowles in Marcantonio Raimondi 2016, 174). In this work of great sophistication, Raphael used contemporary Rome, with the Ponte Fabricio in the background, as the setting for the biblical episode in which Herod orders the execution of male infants in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16–18). The dynamic figural presentation of naked Roman soldiers and draped women displays a range of emotional states, and, as Patricia Emison observed, juxtaposes contrasting aesthetic and intellectual concepts, such as female attractiveness (venustas) and male authority (dignitas; Emison 1984, 258–59). Indeed, Raphael rendered this subject of cruel violence with a decorous restraint. Reaching a wider audience than Raphael's paintings, Massacre of the Innocents no doubt fulfilled its ostensible ambition to act as a demonstration piece (Vowles in Marcantonio Raimondi 2016, 173). There are two engraved versions of Massacre of the Innocents attributed to Marcantonio. The two are distinguished primarily by the presence or absence of a fir rising above the cluster of trees in the upper right corner. The authorship of these two prints and the chronology of their making has been much debated; however, a growing consensus supports Marcantonio's responsibility for both and, furthermore, accords primacy to the version with the fir tree (B.XIV.19.18). The version with the fir tree is known in three states that reveal incremental adjustments and corrections in the details. It is the third and final state of the version with the fir tree that comes closest to—and thus must have served as the model for —the version without the tree. The two versions have been dated to around 1511/12 and 1513/15, respectively (Shoemaker and Broun 1981, 108; Landau and Parshall 1994; Pon 2004 and Vowles in Marcantonio Raimondi 2016, 174–75, consider both versions to be autograph. For the description of the states and the proposed dating of the two versions, see Landau and Parshall 1994).
The model for Ugo's Massacre of the Innocents is Marcantonio's engraving without the fir tree. As such, the chiaroscuro woodcut is twice removed from Raphael's hand. The chiaroscuro woodcut confidently declares Ugo's skill by inviting comparison with Marcantonio's acknowledged masterwork. Notably, Ugo replaced Marcantonio's monogram with his own signature below Raphael's name. The woodcut follows the outlines of Marcantonio's engraving with remarkable exactitude and must have been executed by transferring the image from a printed impression. Ugo did, however, crop Marcantonio's composition at top and left, in all likelihood a measure imposed by the size of his available blocks; a similar cropping can be observed in his other translations of intaglio prints (Takahatake 2015). The woodcut is notable for the precision of its cutting and its unusual approach to distributing the design over four blocks. The lightest block, typically used to establish a broad background color, here is cut like a line block, describing much of the fine details of the design, such as the hair of the crouching mother in the foreground. At the same time, it expands into wider areas of tone, as in the inner thigh of the soldier at left. The absence of an overall background tone results in expansive reserves of white paper. The second lightest block is used to create broader areas of color that express the flat architectural surfaces and establish a middle tone in the figures and their draperies. The two darker blocks strengthen contours and deepen the more pronounced shadows, while also articulating some linear details in the architecture.
The atypical function of each block is especially difficult to parse due to the refined selection and preparation of the inks encountered in this print. As exemplified in the BM impression, Ugo deployed inks in close values, predominantly in harmonious grays and beiges (an exception is the Chatsworth impression printed in greens), which were applied in translucent films that optically blend to create additional tones. The fineness of Ugo's cutting required such an unprecedented accuracy of block registration that even a minor misalignment of blocks becomes conspicuous.
The unconventional block design strategy of Massacre of the Innocents finds no parallels elsewhere in Ugo's oeuvre, nor indeed in the development of the chiaroscuro woodcut in general. It is, therefore, difficult to place this unique work in the evolution of Ugo's practice. Whereas Johnson dates the print to 1517 (Johnson 1982), Tania Previdi proposes a much later dating between 1520 and 1523 (Previdi in Ugo da Carpi 2009). The latter seems the more probable for such a bold statement of rivalry with Marcantonio. The watermark evidence, albeit limited, also tends to favor a later date. Notably, no impressions have been recorded with the Crossbow in a Circle Surmounted by a Star watermark commonly found in Ugo's prints around c. 1517–18. Two watermarks, an Anchor in a Circle Surmounted by a Star (the impression described here, Berlin, BnF Réserve EA 39, and Städel impressions) and less commonly a Hand and Flower (MFA and V&A impressions), recur in the Massacre of the Innocents. While a type similar to the Hand and Flower is found in Ugo's Hercules Chasing Avarice (Version B, ALU.0950.2, BNE INVENT/44267), there is none that resembles the Anchor in a Circle. The fourteen recorded impressions are all printed from pristine blocks, and no late printings are known (see complete list below).
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. 95-97
Other impressions in light gray-brown/gray brown/light brown/medium brown:
-Berlin 334-1910 (wmk: anchor in a circle surmounted by a star)
-BnF Réserve (wmk: anchor in a circle surmounted by a star)
-Städel 45406 (wmk: anchor in a circle surmounted by a star)
-MFA 64.1033 (wmk: hand and flower): https://www.mfa.org/collections/object/the-massacre-of-the-innocents-168194
-V&A circ199-1949 (wmk: hand and flower): http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O1037219/the-massacre-of-the-innocents-woodcut-carpi-ugo-da/
-BnF Réserve (second impression)
-Fitzwilliam 34.17-20: http://data.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/id/object/127379
-MMA 28.15.12: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/633758
-Rothschild 4389 LR: http://arts-graphiques.louvre.fr/detail/oeuvres/8/519486-Massacre-des-Innocents-max
-Albertina DG 2013/11: https://www.graphikportal.org/document/gpo00080422
Impression in green inks:
-Chatsworth vol. IV, fol. 11, no. 15
, Lawrence, 1981 , p. 108
, New Haven, 2004 , pp. 120–21
, Carpi, 2009 , p. 137, n. 23 (Previdi T.)
, Manchester, 2016
, Los Angeles, 2018 , pp. 95-97, n. 21 (Takahatake N.), p. 96