Institute of Art History / Atlante delle Xilografie italiane del Rinascimento


definition: stampa


: Augustus and the Tiburtine Sibyl


Londra, British Museum, Department of Prints and Drawings


type of acquisition: donazione


data ingresso: 1786
data uscita: 1799

data uscita: 1786


sec. XVI, secondo quarto
1527 ca. - 1530 ca.



primo stato (di tre)


xilografia; chiaroscuro; mm 349 x 263 ca.
medium material: carta
watermark: presente: two dolphins








Chiaroscuro woodcut from 2 blocks, light brown/black, i state

state i/iii: before the addition of hatchings to the cheek of the attendant at left
state ii/iii: with the addition of the hatchings to the cheek of the attendant at left
state iii/iii (late)

The Tiburtine Sibyl draws the attention of Emperor Augustus to a vision of the Virgin Mary and Christ Child in the sky in these chiaroscuro woodcuts after Parmigianino. The scene is based on Jacobus da Varagine's account in the Golden Legend. According to Jacobus, Augustus, the first Roman emperor, was encouraged by the Senate to declare himself a god. He summoned the Sibyl for counsel in response. The two met on the Capitoline Hill, where the Virgin in glory appeared to them, revealing the child who was destined to surpass Augustus as the king of Heaven. The emperor built an altar, the Aracoeli, upon the site of the vision, where later the church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli was erected. Architectural elements within Parmigianino's design allude to the construction of the altar (See Gnann 2013, p. 130, nn. 87-88). The subject sustained the notion that the ancients had anticipated the birth of Christ, and for this reason appealed to artists and their audiences in the Renaissance (Franklin 2003).

In his two-block chiaroscuro woodcut, Antonio da Trento admirably transmits the calligraphic tendencies of Parmigianino's drawing. The print demonstrates the attenuated elegance of the gracefully choreographed figures, rendered with long, confident strokes. Parmigianino's delicate touch is approximated especially well in the Courtauld impression, which is printed clearly in light blue and gray. The printing of the tone block over the line block softens the visual weight of the line, giving it a silvery gray appearance akin to a metalpoint, and further unifies the composition tonally. Such overprinting can only be successful if the tone block ink is translucent and applied in a uniformly thin layer, as is the case here—a hallmark of the Parmigianino shop in Bologna.

Three extant preliminary studies, as well as a lost compositional drawing recorded in a print, reveal Parmigianino's development of his design (Biblioteca Reale, Turin, n. 16178; Louvre, inv. 6419; and private collection; a now-lost fourth drawing was recorded in a print by F. Rosaspina. Popham 1971 vol. 1, p. 184, n. 595recto; p. 142, n. 398; p. 229, n. 802; p. 253, n. O.R. 68). A 1558 record in Alessandro Vittoria's diary, which describes a Parmigianino drawing of Augustus with a sibyl on a small pear panel, presumably a woodblock, might also be associated with the print (See Takahatake 2018 and Popham 1969). This report has been taken as evidence that Parmigianino drew directly onto a pearwood block for his chiaroscuro blockcutter. The description, however, does not indicate a drawing that has been cut into the block, raising the question of whether Parmigianino intended to issue an additional version of this composition, which was never realized.

Antonio's Augustus and the Tiburtine Sibyl has been dated late in Parmigianino's Bolognese sojourn, which ended sometime in 1530. The execution of the Turin preparatory drawing on the verso of a study for Madonna of the Rose, a painting completed in Bologna in March 1530, supports this dating, as does a reading of the print's iconography through the lens of contemporary political events. The Peace of Bologna, ratified on December 23, 1529, was followed by the ceremonial coronation of Charles V as Holy Roman emperor, presided over by Pope Clement VII on February 24, 1530. Parmigianino's two paintings from this period, Madonna of the Rose (Gemäldegalerie, Dresden) and Allegorical Portrait of Emperor Charles V (See Ekserdjian 2006), have been recognized as the artist's response to witnessing both these events in Bologna. Marzia Faietti suggests that Parmigianino's interpretation of the legend of Augustus and the Tiburtine Sibyl may be a pro-papal expression, a cautionary reminder of the limits of the emperor's temporal power with respect to the spiritual power of the church (Faietti 2013).

The many sixteenth-century copies of this composition in various print mediums, including two chiaroscuros, attest to the popularity of the subject and the success of Parmigianino's design. LACMA M.88.91.51 and MFA Boston 20.5436 represent two different versions, both using four blocks. Bartsch knew only one of the two versions, which he catalogued as a repetition of Antonio's print, likely executed by Niccolò Vicentino. Although the cutting bears some analogies to Vicentino's technique, the thin and translucent printing inks used in all known impressions of both four-block versions depart from the opaque inks associated with Vicentino's shop. If this attribution is accepted, these two prints must have been executed before Vicentino established his workshop.

There are two four-block versions (ALU.0955.1 and ALU.0956.1).

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, Del Monico Books/Prestel, Munich-London-New York, 2018, p. 15, footnote 26.

Other impressions of state i/iii:

-Courtauld G.1978.PG.32: light blue and gray (sheet trimmed at bottom)
-MFA B4109: light green/gray
-MFA 64.1080: pink/black
-MFA 64.1079:tan/black (wmk two dolphins)
-MMA 22.67.76: light blue (wmk two dolphins)
-BM W,4.86: blue-green/black
-Budapest 6248: light blue/gray
-Chatsworth vol. IV, fol. 42, no. 63: mint green/gray
-ENSBA Est Mas 85: light blue/black
-Fitzwilliam: pink/black
-Harvard M9905: mint green/gray
-Harvard M9904: light blue/black
-Munich 251627: light green/black
-V&A 29470.3: olive/gray
-MMA 22.73.3-47: light green (wmk orb surmounted by a cross)
-Library of Congress: FP - XVI - A635, no. 69 (B size)  green/black (wmk orb surmounted by a cross)
-Albertina DG 2002/526: green[DG2002%2f526]&showtype=record
-Albertina DG 2002/527: green[DG2002%2f527]&showtype=record
-Albertina HB 33 2 287
-Ashmolean WA1863.5603:
-BnF RESERVE EA 26 BOITE FOL: light green/dark gray
-Rijksmuseum RP-P-OB-31.153: light green/black
-Rijksmuseum RP-P-OB-31.154: light blue/black
-Rijksmuseum RP-P-OB-31.156: light browns/black

Impressions of state ii/iii:

-MFA P1706: yellow/black
-V&A E874-85: yellow-beige/black
-V&A 16231: brown/black
-Kirk Edward Long Collection Standford University L.15.847.2007: brown/black http://
-Baselitz collection: olive/black
-Milano, Biblioteca Ambrosiana (inv. 12465): beige/dark gray

Line block only variant (state ii/iii)

-Ashmolean WA1863.5602:
-BM 1904,0226.14:

Impressions printed by the F on Three Mounts printed in green-brown and black (state ii/iii):

-Cleveland 1923.115:
-ENSBA Est Mas 86
-BM 1904,0226.13:
-BM 1873,1213.517:
-Frankfurt 33892
-MMA 1986.1180.250:
-Harvard R672:
-BM 1873,1213.57 (possibly)
-BnF BD 5A (possibly)
-Marucelliana XXV, 7: light green/black
-Blanton P1964.11G:
-Rijksmuseum RP-P-OB-31.155:

Impressions of state iii/iii:

-GDSU 82 St SC: orange-brown/black
-Private collection, Venice: brown/black
-Escorial 28-1-19 fol 104: yellow/black
-BM W,4.85: lavender/black
-BnF BD 5A: light brown/black
-BnF EA 26 boite: lavender/black
-Budapest 6247: brown/black
-Blanton 2002.1315: light blue/black
-Albertina DG 2002/528 orange-brown/black
-LACMA M.88.91.48
-Baselitz Collection (Gnann no. 88): red-brown/black (late)
-Long Collection (Barryte, no. 434): light brown/black
-Kirk Edward Long Collection Standford University L.15.208.2007


type of material: fotografia digitale
ente proprietario: London, British Museum ©
notes: Creative Commons


Bartsch A., Le peintre graveur, Vienne, 1803-1821, v. XII, p. 90, n. 7


Oberhuber K., Parmigianino und sein Kreis: Zeichnungen und Druckgraphik aus eigenem Besitz, Wien, 1963, p. 45, n. 104
Popham A.E., "Observations on Parmigianino's designs for Chiaroscuro woodcuts", Miscellanea I. Q. van Regteren Altena, Amsterdam, 1969, pp. 48-51, p. 49
Popham A.E., Catalogue of the drawings of Parmigianino, New Haven, 1971
Karpinski C., The Illustrated Bartsch 48. Italian chiaroscuro woodcuts, New York, 1983, p. 90, n.8
Franklin D., The art of Parmigianino, New Haven, 2003, p. 214, n. 62
Ekserdjian D., Parmigianino, New Haven, 2006, pp. 142-144
Gnann A., In Farbe! Clair-obscur-Holzschnitte der Renaissance - Meisterwerke aus der Sammlung Georg Baselitz und der Albertina in Wien, Monaco, 2013
Faietti M., "Roma 1527, Bologna 1530 Parmigianino, il Papa e l'Imperatore", Synergies in Visual Culture - Bildkulturen im Dialog, Paderborn/ München, 2013, pp. 447-463, pp. 459–462
Takahatake N., The Chiaroscuro Woodcut in Renaissance Italy, Los Angeles, 2018, pp. 112-116 (Takahatake N.)
Takahatake N., "The Italian chiaroscuro woodcut: history and technique", The Chiaroscuro Woodcut in Renaissance Italy, Los Angeles, 2018, pp. 10-31, p. 15, note 26



Takahatake N., 2020
Takahatake N., Atlante delle xilografie italiane del Rinascimento, ALU.0954.1,