Chiaroscuro woodcut from 2 blocks, blue/black
Inscriptions: “VGO” in the line block and “RAPHAEL/VRBINAS” in the tone block
Passing through the land of Libya on his way to the garden of the Hesperides, Hercules was challenged by the giant Antaeus to a wrestling contest. Hercules vanquished Antaeus by lifting him off the ground, thereby separating him from the earth deity Gaia who was both his mother and the source of his strength (Apollodorus, Bibliotheca, 2.5.11; Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca Historica, 4.17.4; and Ovid, Metamorphoses 9.182–83). The two prints depict a bearded Hercules, identified by the lion's pelt and club that rest on a nearby tree, holding Antaeus aloft in an inescapable grasp. This mythological subject gained popularity among Renaissance artists in all mediums as a vehicle for demonstrating a command of the heroic male nude. In the present Raphaelesque interpretation, the vigorous struggle is rendered with elegant restraint.
Based on the competence of the cutting and the conception of the design's distribution over two blocks, Hercules and Antaeus has been placed between Ugo's Saint Jerome of c. 1516 and Aeneas and Anchises and Death of Ananias of 1518. The Crossbow in a Circle Surmounted by a Star watermark in the MMA impression, the type most commonly found in Ugo's Roman chiaroscuro woodcuts of c. 1517–18, supports this dating. Hercules and Antaeus is related in subject and close in size to Ugo's Hercules and the Nemean Lion and Hercules Chasing Avarice, suggesting that the three were conceived at much the same time.
The two-block Hercules and Antaeus counts among Ugo's rarest prints (other recorded impressions are listed below). The line block design describes the majority of the compositional details, while the blue tone and highlights help to model forms. Whereas his earlier Saint Jerome approximates the calligraphy of a pen drawing, here the use of more regular line work approaches the graphic vocabulary of a print (for a different view, see A. Gnann in Oberhuber and Gnann p. 110, n. 49, who has observed a similarity in cutting style between Ugo's Hercules and Antaeus and Saint Jerome, ALU.0179.1). The undulating lines of the key block, as well as the thinly cut highlights dispersed throughout the composition, are akin to the cutting style of Hercules Chasing Avarice (Version A, ALU.0949.1). However, in contrast to that work, Ugo's reduced use of line in Hercules and Antaeus provides greater clarity to the articulation of his figures, an improvement that helps establish a chronology of execution for the two prints.
Hercules and Antaeus is one of five chiaroscuro woodcuts by Ugo to share a design with an engraving by Marcantonio Raimondi or Agostino Veneziano (the others are Descent from the Cross, Death of Ananias, David and Goliath, and Massacre of the Innocents).
While Ugo's reliance on Marcantonio's Massacre of the Innocents is unquestioned, the model-copy relationship between the other engravings, chiaroscuro woodcuts, and their source drawings has been argued in different ways. In the present case, the conformity of detail between the woodcut and engraving precludes the use of a common drawing and instead points to a direct relationship between the two prints (for digitally overlaid details of the two designs illustrating their conformity, see Takahatake 2015). Contrasting the rigidity and flatness of forms in Marcantonio's engraving with the fluidity and supple articulation of Ugo's figures, some authors have argued for the primacy of the chiaroscuro woodcut (T. Previdi in Ugo da Carpi 2009, following Oberhuber and Gnann 1999, pp. 110-111, nn. 49–50; and Gnann 2013). However, the number of details in the engraving that are generalized or omitted in the woodcut suggests an inverse relationship between them. For example, Ugo only selectively repeats the contour lines of the rough foreground terrain that Marcantonio so elaborately describes. While the details of an engraving can be broadly interpreted in woodcut, the reverse is more difficult to achieve (as remarked, for example, by Joannides 2015). Ugo had to adapt Marcantonio's image to conform to the size of his available blocks, thus cropping the composition at the top and extending it slightly to the left.
As with Ugo's woodcuts, few prints by Marcantonio are dated, and the chronology of the engraver's oeuvre has yet to be established fully. No design source, which might shed light on the date, is known for his Hercules and Antaeus engraving. However, the use of ordered arrangements of parallel and crosshatched strokes combined with dots is consistent with the mature technique of Marcantonio's work between 1517 and 1520. This controlled tonal system produces clear surface patterns, which here result in a more static and sculptural handling of the figures.
While Ugo includes Raphael's name in his woodcut, Marcantonio's engraving does not indicate a designer. Scholars including Oberhuber, Trotter, and Innis Shoemaker have credited the design to Giulio Romano (Oberhuber 1966; Trotter 1974; I. Shoemaker in The engravings of Marcantonio Raimondi 1981), thus placing the print as late as 1520–22. More recently, Joannides and Gnann proposed that the design was based on a lost Raphael drawing. Whereas Joannides dates this lost work to c. 1507–8, contemporaneous with four related drawings of Hercules by Raphael (Joannides 2005), Gnann dates the design to around 1514/16 on the basis of affinities with the figural and facial types in the Fire in the Borgo and the tapestry cartoons (Gnann 2013). An attribution to Raphael and an earlier dating of the design allow us to place Marcantonio's engraving closer to 1517 or 1518, just prior to Ugo's chiaroscuro woodcut.
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. 80-82.
-Baselitz collection (Gnann 2013, n. 32)
-BnF Réserve EA 39: light blue/black (non online)
-Windsor 851839: light blue/black (non online)
-BM 1918,0713.52: light blue/black: https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/P_1918-0713-52
-Albertina DG 2002/311: https://www.graphikportal.org/document/gpo00080110
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