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Chiaroscuro woodcut from 3 blocks, blue, first state State ia: before the circular break in the light tone block at upper right State ib: with the circular break Although Apostle at the Base of a Column is one of Beccafumi’s smaller chiaroscuro compositions, it is nonetheless endowed with a monumentality that belies its modest size. Bartsch doubted the attribution of the print, describing it as the work of an anonymous cutter after a drawing by Beccafumi. The figure exemplifies the artist’s distinctive individual style that was at once rooted in Sienese tradition and embraced the aesthetics of modern maniera (manner). The pronounced contrapposto of the figure, exaggerated by the swath of draperies that adhere to his body, is characteristic of Beccafumi’s style, as are the rubbery bend of the figure’s curling arm, strong nose, and tufted beard. What is more, the idiosyncratic cutting technique, along with other material evidence (two watermarks associated with Beccafumi’s large Apostles, the Medici Arms and Crossed Arrows, are found in the Chatsworth, vol. IV, fol. 34, n. 49, and Georg Baselitz collection, Gnann 2013, impressions respectively), point incontrovertibly to Beccafumi as the print’s creator. Apostle at the Base of a Column can be dated close in time to the small Saint Philip on the basis of their similar size and block design strategies (ALU.1009.1). Both compositions are built up from the light tone block with the darker blocks combined to outline forms and render shadows. In each, the figure casts an imposing shadow, which is created with a coarsely crosshatched dark block overlaid onto a mid-block silhouette. The two works depart, however, in the handling of highlights. Beccafumi cut more expansive reserves in the light tone block of Apostle at the Base of a Column, while his approach to highlights in Saint Philip is more in keeping with the scratchy, thinly cut reserves found in the Meditation and Sibyl in a Tondo, his earliest chiaroscuro trials (on the early dating of these two prints, see Saint Philip, ALU.1017.1). The extremely narrow and likely shallow incisions found in his incipient prints were liable to become clogged with ink. For example, whereas the first state Meditation in the Albertina is crisply rendered, a previously unrecorded second state shows ink filling many of the white lines (Budapest 6181). Perhaps this problem is what led Beccafumi to cut the highlights more broadly in Apostle at the Base of a Column. Certainly, his treatment of highlights in the present work anticipates the technique he adopted for the large Apostles. The Apostle at the Base of a Column illustrates well the stylistic continuities between Beccafumi’s drawings and woodcuts. In both mediums, he displays a remarkable facility for moving back and forth between positive and negative, between tone, line, and reserve. Where his drawings feature disorderly, agitated line work over areas of translucent tone in order to create density and compound shadows, Beccafumi’s combined use of darker blocks achieves an equivalent effect in his woodcuts. The character of the artist’s tremulous pen line and his fragile contours that dissipate in the deep shadows is likewise captured in the ragged, splintered edges of his thin and brittle woodcut lines. Not surprisingly for such a fervently experimental printmaker, Beccafumi did not ink and print his blocks in a consistent manner. This caused lines to disappear and reappear from one impression to the next, as seen in a comparison of the present two impressions of Apostle at the Base of a Column. A different pattern of markings appears above the apostle’s raised hand in each impression. These discrepancies do not reflect recutting of the blocks; rather, they result from inconsistencies that arose during printing. In each case, the paper accidentally printed different gouge marks from within the cleared area of the mid-block. Such unintentional chatter occurs more frequently when printing with wet paper, as the dampness weighs down the sheet, making it prone to sag. Unlike the more controlled exploitation of such effects centuries later (for example, in the woodcuts of Paul Gauguin or the German Expressionists), the erratic appearance of these marks in Beccafumi’s chiaroscuros suggests they were not entirely deliberate. Accrued damage to the light tone block helps establish the chronology of Apostle at the Base of a Column impressions. The ones in gray display a filled circular loss in the light tone block at upper right (state ib; impressions in gray are listed below. In the BnF impression, Réserve EA 26 fol., this loss is not filled in). A number of impressions in an orange palette show no such wear or repair, and must therefore have been printed earlier in the life of the blocks (examples are listed below). Similarly, BM 1904,0216.19 was printed before this damage to the light tone block occurred (state ia). This sheet presents a rare use of a blue palette in printing the composition, and signals the artist’s introduction of more brilliant color in his later chiaroscuro production (an impression in a light blue and gray palette is GDSU 75 st. sc. BM 1868,0612.19, in a dark gray, may have been printed by hand).
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. 176-178. Impressions of state ia in orange: -Albertina DG2002/389 https://sammlungenonline.albertina.at/?query=search=/record/objectnumbersearch=[DG2002%2f389]&showtype=record -BnF EA 26 fol -Berlin 135-1927 -BM W,5.13 https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/P_W-5-13 -MFA1975.481 https://collections.mfa.org/objects/173382/study-of-an-old-man?ctx=74861896-178a-4dec-bcf4-28d50c30e092&idx=25 Impressions in gray (state ib): -Library of Congress FP-XVI-B388, no. 45 (A size) https://lccn.loc.gov/2007682528 -Albertina DG2002/390 https://sammlungenonline.albertina.at/?query=search=/record/objectnumbersearch=[DG2002%2f390]&showtype=record -Berlin 528-1895 -Chatsworth vol. IV, fol. 34, no. 49 -V&A 29893d https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O949084/print/ -BnF Réserve EA 26 fol (the loss is filled in) -Baselitz (Gnann, no. 114) Other impressions: -GDSU 75 st. sc: light blue/gray -BM 1868,0612.19:dark gray (possibly printed by hand) https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/P_1868-0612-19 -Baselitz (Gnann, no. 113): blue (possibly printed by hand)
Another impression in grey Bremen Kunsthalle inv. 34195.