Chiaroscuro woodcut from 2 blocks, i state
State i/iii: with a tone block with linear, hatched and cross hatched reserves
State ii/iii: tone block replaced; line block cut back above John's halo, neck, collarbone, chest, and proper left knee
State iii/iii: two, short vertical strokes in the line block in John's proper left calf removed
Saint John the Baptist and Lute Player are companion prints, both in an identically sized square two-block format. In Saint John the Baptist, the young man sits in a natural setting with a lamb at his side, his figure in three-quarter view with head and chest turned frontward. The figure of the Lute Player sits in profile, also amid vegetation, and appears to tune the instrument in his lap. Unlike other prints by Antonio da Trento that are unsigned, the blockcutter's AT monogram is carved into the tone block in the lower register of the frames in both prints. Though not mentioned by Vasari among the chiaroscuro woodcuts Antonio executed in collaboration with Parmigianino, the two prints are nevertheless consistent with the Bolognese workshop's output and are accepted as such (the four chiaroscuro woodcuts mentioned by Vasari are Martyrdom of Two Saints, Augustus and the Tiburtine Sibyl, Virgin and Child with Saint John the Baptist, and Nude Man Seen from Behind. See also ALU.0961.1). Numerous preparatory sketches by Parmigianino are associated with Saint John the Baptist, but no drawings representing the complete design for either print are known (Popham connects eight drawings with this print, which he lists in Popham 1971, vol. I, p. 45). As Arthur Popham proposed, the artist may have drawn the compositions directly onto the woodblocks (Popham 1969, p. 49; Popham 1971, vol. I, pp. 13, 45–46); or he may have supplied modelli that did not survive beyond their use by the printmaker.
There are three states of Saint John the Baptist. In the first state (Fondation Custodia, Collection Frits Lugt, Paris, inv. 4942) which has been noted in only two chiaroscuro impressions (Custodia inv. 4942 and PMA 1985-52-194. A line-block-only impression of this first state is Budapest 6238. I thank Naoko Takahatake for bringing this impression to my attention and Zoltán Kárpáti for his consultation about the print), the tone block displays fine, linear, hatched and crosshatched highlights similar to the cutting in Antonio's Virgin and Child with Saint John the Baptist and Nude Man Seen from Behind. In the second state, the tone block is replaced and the line block is cut back above John's halo and in his hair, neck, collarbone, chest, and proper left knee, as well as in the lamb (The two known impressions are BM 1920.0512.23 and Marucelliana stampe vol. 25, no. 15). The highlights in this new tone block are handled broadly in form tting pools of light, akin to Antonio's treatment in Lute Player and Martyrdom of Two Saints. MMA 18.17.2-20 is an example of the third state that lacks the two short, vertical curved strokes in the line block printed over the white highlight in John's proper left calf. This distinction between the second and third states was previously unrecorded. The replacement tone block used in both the second and third states was introduced early in the life of the line block. Erik Hinterding proposed that the changes to the tone block design reflect a stylistic progression that informed the cutting of the tone block for the Lute Player, thus establishing a chronology for these two prints (Hinterding in Chiaroscuro woodcuts from the Frits Lugt Collection in Paris).
Impressions of Saint John the Baptist and Lute Player are frequently trimmed to the image, and lack the surrounding tone block borders, In the case of Saint John the Baptist, Adam Bartsch erroneously assumed that the frame was added late in the life of the blocks and, moreover, that it was printed from four separate pieces. However, the frame is integral to the tone block in both Saint John the Baptist and Lute Player (all first state impressions of Saint John the Baptist are trimmed to the image, and it is therefore not possible to ascertain whether the original tone block included these borders around the image). The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, Washington, 21001 Lute Player is a previously undescribed first state of the composition, before Antonio cut his initials into the light tone block. It is notable that the damage to the line block in the area of the sitter's feet is present at this early stage.
In Parmigianino's shop, the two chiaroscuro woodcuts appear to have been printed together using the same materials and following the same procedure. MMA 18.17.2-20 and an impression of the Lute Player, MMA 22.73.3-55, both in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, were printed in the same light brown and black inks in the order of light to dark, on what appears to be the same paper. The inks in both sheets are matte, composed of very finely ground pigments, and printed in thin, uniform films, rendering the light brown ink especially translucent. The embedding of the ink films into the paper surface, the evenness of the ink, and the moderate embossment from the blocks indicate that the paper was moderately dampened for printing. These characteristics typify chiaroscuro woodcuts produced in collaboration with Parmigianino in Bologna.
Two other impressions of Saint John and Lute Player in the Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum correspond so closely in their materials and printing technique that they could well have been printed together on the same sheet of paper and afterward cut into two prints. The two woodcuts are in identical medium brown and black inks on fine lightweight paper with closely spaced laid lines and uniform fiber distribution (Lute Player, WB 3.2, and Saint John the Baptist, WB 3.4; both sheets are in pristine condition and exceptional for the approximately one-inch border of paper surrounding each woodcut). The ink layers appear blended or merged because the black block was printed while the brown ink was still wet. Notably, this characteristic of printing a block onto a layer of wet ink is occasionally encountered in Antonio's prints but never in Ugo's, and thus represents a subtle dfference in their otherwise analogous printing practices (on the interrelation of these printmakers, see Stiber Morenus 2015).
As these examples illustrate, Antonio occasionally printed the blocks to different compositions using the same materials in a single campaign. Such groups of impres- sions are here referred to as multi-composition editions. One such remarkable edition comprised Antonio's Nude Man Seen from Behind and Martyrdom of Two Saints (two- and three-block compositions, respectively), printed in blue and gray inks, with the lighter colors superimposed on the darker ones (Nude Man Seen from Behind, Rijksmuseum RP-P-OB-31.136, and Martyrdom of Two Saints, Rijksmuseum RP-P-OB-31.276). This approach to printing was an efficient way of issuing his chiaroscuro woodcuts in a variety of palettes.
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. 106-108.
See the list of known impressions in ALU.0959.2
, Tokyo, 2005 , nn. 18a–b, p. 43 (Hinterding E.)
, Los Angeles, 2018 , pp. 106-108 (Stiber Morenus L.), p. 108, n. 2