Chiaroscuro woodcut from 4 blocks, grays/black, state i
State i: With privilege printed below the image, possibly from a 5th block
State ii: “RAPHAEL. VRBINAS/ PER VGO DACARPO”
inscribed on the front of the upper platform step.
State iii?: Bartsch described a third state, which has not been traced
Ananias's death is recounted in the Acts of the Apostles (5:1–11; Vasari misidentified the subject when he described it as “la storia di Simon Mago, che già fece Rafaello nei panni d'arazzo della già detta cappella”; Vasari-Bettarini and Barocchi 1966–87). In the foreground of Ugo's chiaroscuro woodcut, Ananias has been struck down for dishonestly holding back some profits from the sale of his land, which were to be shared among Christ's followers. The gathered witnesses respond in various attitudes of alarm and fear. From the left, figures carry in their contributions for the apostles standing at the center on a raised platform, while on the right two apostles distribute money. Agostino Veneziano's engraving, which served as Ugo's model, was adapted from one of Raphael's tapestry designs from the lives of the apostles Peter and Paul for the Sistine Chapel (B.XIV.47.42). Although Agostino's Death of Ananias is not dated, his Blinding of Elymas, also after a Raphael tapestry design, is inscribed with the year 1516—that is, shortly after the preparatory drawings were executed, but before the tapestries themselves had been woven in Flanders.
The outlines of the figures and the architectural details in the woodcut and engraving closely coincide, confirming a direct relationship between the two (rather than to an unidentified common source drawing). As with Hercules and Antaeus, David and Goliath, and Massacre of the Innocents, the engraving must have been the model for the chiaroscuro, and not the reverse (for different views, see Rossi 2009 and Gnann 2013). The chiaroscuro crops the image on all four sides, presumably because Ugo's available blocks were smaller than the engraving. Moreover, Ugo generalizes the finer details, obfuscating expressions and collapsing spatial relationships that are more clearly articulated in the intaglio. The clarity of the narrative stream, essential to Raphael's design and preserved in the engraving, is thus obscured in Ugo's chiaroscuro woodcut.
Ugo obtained papal and Venetian privileges to protect Death of Ananias and Aeneas and Anchises (ALU.0943.1), both published in 1518. In the first state of Death of Ananias, an inscription similar to the one in Aeneas and Anchises declaring Ugo's privileges is printed below the image. These first state impressions are extremely scarce. In the more commonly found second state, “RAPHAEL. VRBINAS/ PER VGO DACARPO” is inscribed on the front of the upper platform step. Small compositional details in the line block design were also modified between these two states (in the second state, small lines have been cut back in the left hand of the kneeling foreground figure, in the hands of the woman to his right, in the face of the man receiving alms, and in Peter's raised hand. Although Bartsch catalogued a third state with a recut light tone block, Johnson was unable to confirm Bartsch's description, Johnson 1982, p. 63, n. 12). Notably, there are no second state impressions of Death of Ananias with the privilege that was printed below the image in the first state. Johnson surmised that Ugo added the signatures within the image in the second state upon realizing that the privilege printed below it was too easily trimmed off (Johnson 1982, p. 66, n. 12). It has been assumed that Ugo cut off the lower part of the darkest block in order to remove the privilege; however, it may be that the privilege was cut on a separate (fifth) block.
For one, the darkest block's borders do not extend below the image to surround the lower text margin. Further, were image and privilege both cut on the same block, this one block would have been a different (larger) size than the other three, rendering the printing registration more arduous. If, on the other hand, the privilege was cut on a fifth block, its “removal” in the second state did not entail an alteration to the darkest block (Andreani similarly printed his long dedicatory inscriptions below the image using a separate block). However this change was managed, it is curious that Ugo ceased to print impressions with the privileges that undoubtedly were diffcult to obtain.
The Library of Congres impression FP-XVI-C298, n. 1a (B size) is a variant from three blocks of the second state, without the darkest block (other variants include a light tone block-only impression, PMA 1985-52-20871, and a late printing of the darkest block only, MMA 18.17.3-122). This impression in gray typifies Ugo's distinctive workshop discipline in its intricate cutting, ink formulation, and exacting printing technique. Like most of Ugo's Roman, three- and four-block compositions, the palette deploys shades and tints of a single hue. The inks are matte, have very finely ground pigments, and are printed in thin, translucent films, which enables the layers of color to mix optically and produce additional, subtly modulated tones. The ink was applied sparingly and transferred from the blocks cleanly without clogging any of the cut-away areas. Each of the three ink films is discrete, not blended, indicating that they were printed wet onto dry ink. Importantly, the minimal embossment of the sheet is indicative of printing under light to intermediate pressure on slightly damp paper. This low moisture content of the paper minimized shrinkage and thus enabled accurate registration. Moreover, the inks appear embedded in the paper surface and cover it continuously. These qualities suggest that Ugo maintained uniform and optimal wetting of the paper during printing. The consistency of these characteristics throughout Ugo's early impressions implies his supervision of the printing (for a thorough characterization of Ugo's printing practices, see Stiber Morenus 2015).
Ugo's Death of Ananias shares a publishing history with his Descent from the Cross and Diogenes, Antonio da Trento's Augustus and the Tiburtine Sibyl and Martyrdom of Two Saints, as well as the tone blocks of Parmigianino's Saints Peter and John Healing the Lame Man at the Beautiful Gate. The blocks to these prints, which likely came together in Parmigianino's shop in Bologna, were printed by a later publisher in substantial numbers in oily brown inks on paper with a Letter F on Three Mounts in a Shield watermark. MFA Boston 21.10824 is one such impression, which may be dated toward the nal quarter of the sixteenth century (Matile 2003 identified the watermark as one recorded by Woodward 1996 in a map of Piacenza of c. 1580, printed in Rome).
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. 86-88.
Other impressions of state i/ii:
-Berlin 280-38: greys/black (inscription below cut off)
-GDSU st. sc. 57: greys/black (inscription below cut off)
-Rijksmuseum RP-P-OB-31.031: greys/black (wmk: Crossbow in a Circle surmounted by a Star) http://hdl.handle.net/10934/RM0001.COLLECT.51252
-Windsor Ruland,V,14: greys/black
-BM 1852,0612.1: greys/black (inscription below cut off; wmk: Crossbow in a Circle surmounted by a Star) https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/P_1852-0612-1
-BM 1874,0808.181: greys/black https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/P_1874-0808-181
For impressions of state ii/ii see ALU.0942.2
, Italienische Holzschnitte der Renaissance und des Barock
, Basel, 2003, p. 132
, Ugo da Carpi. L'opera incisa. Xilografie e chiaroscuri da Tiziano, Raffaello e Parmigianino, Carpi, 2009, p. 128, n. 19 (Rossi M.)
, In Farbe! Clair-obscur-Holzschnitte der Renaissance - Meisterwerke aus der Sammlung Georg Baselitz und der Albertina in Wien
, Monaco, 2013, p. 105, nn. 36–37
Stiber Morenus L.
, "The chiaroscuro woodcut printmaking of Ugo da Carpi, Antonio da Trento and Niccolò Vicentino: technique in relation to artistic style", Printing colour 1400 - 1700
, Leiden, 2015, 123-139, pp. 124-130