Chiaroscuro woodcut from 4 blocks, light blue/green-blue/green/gray, i state
Inscription: “FRANCISCVS/ PARMEN./ PER/ VGO. CARP” in the light tone block
State i/iii: with the shading in the thigh in the third darkest block intact
State ii/iii: with the shading in the high removed; the shading in the darkest block to the left of Diogenes's shoulder intact
State iii/iii: the shading to the left of Diogenes's shoulder removed (in posthumous printings, the blocks wear further, including breaks in the darkest block in Diogenes's stick, in the book, etc.)
Ugo da Carpi's Diogenes, executed in collaboration with Parmigianino, is an unparalleled achievement in the history of the chiaroscuro technique for its sophistication of block design and refinement of cutting and printing. Vasari described Diogenes twice in the Lives, both in the life of Marcantonio Raimondi and in the life of Parmigianino, praising this superlative work as "più bella stampa" (most beautiful print; Vasari-Bettarini and Barocchi 1966–87, vol. 4, p. 539, vol. 5, p. 15). The dynamic twisting figure of Diogenes of Sinope dominates the composition. The Cynic philosopher sits in front of the barrel he made his home, his eyes cast down at an open book propped on the ground before him. He firmly grips a stick in his right hand, directing our attention to the names of the designer and printmaker inscribed on a page of a second open book. A plucked chicken to the right alludes to the philosopher's sarcastic rejection of Plato's description of man as a species of featherless biped (Wind 1938, Janson 1955). The iconographic accuracy of Parmigianino's portrayal of the erudite philosopher absorbed in study suggests his knowledge of Laertius's life of the Greek philosopher (Laertius's biography from around the third century was first translated from Greek into Latin by Ambrogio Traversari around 1433. On Parmigianino's interpretation of the text in his design for Caraglio's engraving, see Gabbarelli 2017, pp. 235–37).
The chiaroscuro Diogenes is the only signed and unanimously accepted print by Ugo after Parmigianino, though the date and circumstances of its production have been debated. Some scholars have questioned Ugo's activity in Bologna and dated the woodcut to Parmigianino's Roman years to coincide with the timing of the related drawings (Popham 1969; Rossi in Ugo da Carpi. L'opera incisa 2009; Gnann 2013). However, there is substantial material evidence to support Vasari's claim that the woodcut was issued from Parmigianino's Bolognese workshop, where the painter also worked closely with Antonio da Trento (Vasari-Bettarini and Barocchi 1966–87, vol. 4, p. 538). The earliest impressions of Diogenes and prints by Antonio share common watermarks and inks. First state impressions of Diogenes, including the Blanton impression, are printed on paper with a Letter N in a Circle watermark also found on early impressions of Antonio's Martyrdom of Two Saints (other first state impressions with this watermark include Ashmolean WA 1863.1692; BNE INVENT/41162; SLAM 23:1984; and V&A 16323. See also Rijksmuseum RP-P-OB-31.276). Similar inks were used in the LACMA sheet and Antonio's Virgin and Child with Saint John the Baptist. Moreover, Diogenes and Martyrdom of Two Saints are also united in their posthumous block publishing histories (for a more detailed discussion of the proposed dating of the Diogenes to 1527–30, see Takahatake 2015).
Diogenes exemplifies a technical advancement and stylistic change in Ugo's production, undoubtedly the consequence of Parmigianino's close involvement. In this ambitiously conceived four-block print, Ugo articulates Diogenes's strained musculature, captures the fluid movement of drapery, and renders the distinctive texture of the fowl's exposed skin. The image is constructed from interlocking and overlapping areas of color with no single block dominating the design. Although preliminary sketches record the development of Parmigianino's ideas, a modello for the woodcut is not known. The painter's active role in conceiving the block designs might have made such a finished guide drawing superfluous.
The chiaroscuro design relates to Giovanni Jacopo Caraglio's Diogenes, one of four engravings he executed after Parmigianino in Rome before 1527. In the past, there was some debate as to whether Ugo's chiaroscuro relied on Caraglio's engraving, whether the engraving was based on the woodcut, or whether Parmigianino supplied a different design for each print (Popham followed by Johnson believed the chiaroscuro was made after Caraglio's engraving and thus at a remove from Parmigianino. Franklin agreed that the chiaroscuro was produced after the engraving but posited Parmigianino's involvement in both prints in Rome; Trotter also rejected Popham's proposal on similar grounds. Landau and Parshall also asserted that Ugo worked closely with the artist. Ekserdjian 2006, pp. 216-239, and Gnann have argued that each print required its own preparatory study, and dated both prints to around 1526/27 in Rome). This last hypothesis was borne out by the discovery of a preparatory red chalk drawing that conforms very closely to a first state of Caraglio's engraving (the first state, recorded in only two impressions, like the drawing lacks the dodecahedron in the open book, as well as the cryptic monogram engraved in the rock to the left of the figure. For an interpretation of the changes between the first and second states and the development of the iconographic program, see Gabbarelli 2017, pp. 231–235, 240–241) and departs in many details from the woodcut (Ekserdjian 2008). For example, two details shared in the drawing and engraving but absent in the woodcut are the lamp Diogenes carried in daylight in search of an honest man and the mouse that taught the philosopher the importance of adapting to circumstance. The simplification of the composition and the enlarging of its overall dimensions may well have been to accommodate the relative limitations of the chiaroscuro technique (Ekserdjian 2006, p. 220). It is certainly possible that Parmigianino wished to explore the artistic possibilities of two different mediums, as seems also to have been the case with Martyrdom of Two Saints, executed first in engraving by Caraglio in Rome prior to 1527 (B.XV.71.8) and later in chiaroscuro woodcut by Antonio in Bologna.
Although no major state changes were made to the chiaroscuro woodcut, gradual wear to the blocks resulted in the loss and removal of some details, as illustrated in the present three impressions. The Blanton impression, which features a small area of shading on the philosopher's proper right thigh printed from the third darkest block, represents one of the earliest printings (in addition to the four listed above are Grunwald 1962.19.79 and MFA 64.1085. An impression at Chatsworth, vol. IV, fol. 91, no. 119, shows this detail partially damaged, and therefore represents state ia/iii). In the LACMA and NGA sheets, not only has this shading in the philosopher's thigh been removed, but the large shadow to the left of Diogenes's proper right shoulder has also been reduced, whether intentionally or otherwise. In subsequent printings, the darkest block also suffered breaks in the stick, the book cover at lower right, and the shadow below the philosopher's left shin (for the first state, see Takahatake 2010. The subsequent ones are described in Johnson 1982, p. 77, n. 15).
Early printings, like the Blanton and LACMA sheets, exemplify Ugo's successful use of sheer inks in a narrow chromatic range to achieve nuanced graduated tones. Notably, Ugo printed the darkest block in a gray rather than black to further the tonal unification (the gray ink in the LACMA impression was produced by mixing the yellow pigment orpiment with carbon black, as identified by LACMA conservation scientists Charlotte Eng and Diana Rambaldi; see Stiber Morenus et al. 2015). What is more, the optical blending of Ugo's superimposed translucent inks helps to create intermediate values, enhancing the fluid transitions between the four block designs. In the NGA impression, which is printed in less analogous shades of green and brown, the individual block designs read more distinctly, thereby disrupting the subtle modeling.
The blocks underwent multiple printing campaigns in the hands of different publishers throughout the sixteenth century and likely beyond. As a result, a major share of surviving impressions was printed at a remove from the original Bolognese shop. Later printings can be identified both by the degradation of the blocks as well as the application of poorly formulated inks in less harmonious colors and values. Although these late impressions cannot be said to represent Ugo and Parmigianino's artistic intention, they provide powerful testimony to an enduring appreciation of and market for this virtuoso print.
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.100-103.
See the list of known impressions in ALU.0962.2
, "Homo Platonis", Journal of the Warburg Institute
, 1938, 261, p. 261
, "The case of the naked chicken", College art journal
, 1955, 124-127, pp. 124–127
, "Observations on Parmigianino's designs for Chiaroscuro woodcuts", Miscellanea I. Q. van Regteren Altena
, Amsterdam, 1969, pp. 48-51, p. 50
, Chiaroscuro woodcuts of the circles of Raphael and Parmigianino a study in reproductive graphics
, The Univ. of North Carolina, 1974, p. 164
, "I chiaroscuri di Ugo da Carpi", in Print Collector - Il conoscitore di stampe
, Milano, 1982, pp. 77-82, n. 15
, The art of Parmigianino
, New Haven, 2003, p. 143, nn. 32–33
, "Two drawings by Parmigianino for prints", Master drawings
, 2008, pp. 367-373, pp. 369–272
, Ugo da Carpi. L'opera incisa. Xilografie e chiaroscuri da Tiziano, Raffaello e Parmigianino, Carpi, 2009, p. 166 (Rossi M.)
, "Ugo da Carpi. Review of Ugo da Carpi, l'opera incisa: Xilografie e chiarsocuri da Tiziano, Raffaello e Parmigianino, edited by M. Rossi", in Print Quarterly
, London, 2010, XVII, 2010, 3, pp. 317-321, p. 321
, In Farbe! Clair-obscur-Holzschnitte der Renaissance - Meisterwerke aus der Sammlung Georg Baselitz und der Albertina in Wien
, Monaco, 2013, pp. 139–40, nn. 53-55
, "Ugo da Carpi's "Diogenes"", Printing colour 1400 - 1700
, Leiden, 2015, pp. 116-122, pp. 116–122
, "A solid mistake. An early state of Caraglio's Diogenes after Parmigianino", Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institute
, 2017, 231-241, pp. 231–235, 240–241