Chiaroscuro woodcut from 3 blocks, light brown/gray/black
This impression of Apostle with a Tablet is a three-block chiaroscuro woodcut in light brown, gray, and black inks. The light brown functions both tonally and as the local color of the apostle's exposed flesh. The semirobed figure stands in strong contrapposto, with a tablet braced between his forearm and hip. The composition is one of the four chiaroscuro Apostles Beccafumi cut in the later years of his life (Landau and Parshall 1994; Lincoln 2000). A closely related figure to the present Apostle appears in a fifth print, Two Apostles, in the combination technique of engraving over a tonal woodblock (ALU.1016.1). Both works share a similar scale, vertical format, and refined hatched and crosshatched reserves in the tone block, probably cut using a burin (see E. Hinterding in Chiaroscuro woodcuts from the Frits Lugt Collection in Paris). This correspondence suggests that the prints were executed close in time, a notion reinforced by a tone-block-only impression of Two Apostles on paper bearing the Medici Shield watermark, a type associated with Beccafumi's large Apostles (Two Apostles tone block in light blue, Windsor 830799).
Beccafumi achieves a painterly interpretation of the chiaroscuro woodcut in Apostle Holding a Tablet through its interdependent forms unbound by contour lines and its manner of printing. The expressive vocabulary of his blockcutting ranges from sliver-thin crosshatching to fine, vertical gouging of the background in the mid-tone block that asserts the material character of the wood. The mid-tone block texture introduces a rhythmic energy to the diagonal movement of the composition. Beccafumi printed this splintery veil in cool gray ink, through which the underlying layer of warm brown ink radiates, rendering a light-flecked, shaded backdrop for the figure.
The inks in this early impression of Apostle with a Tablet, like most of Beccafumi's pure chiaroscuro woodcuts, are opaque and matte, composed of finely ground pigments, and printed in moderate to thin films of intermediate to liquid viscosity. The layers are discrete rather than merged, indicating that the successive blocks were overprinted onto dry ink. The spare application of ink allowed for the fine cutting to print crisply. The laid texture of the paper shows through all three colored ink films, particularly in the light brown and gray, suggesting the paper was only slightly moist during printing—an aid to good block registration. The minor embossment from the tone blocks supports this conclusion, although the darkest block shows more prominent embossment, probably caused by printing with greater pressure, to ensure more solid shading. These printing characteristics are common throughout impressions of Beccafumi's Apostles.
In this sheet, Beccafumi did not uniformly apply ink to the black block, which allowed him to achieve more tonal nuance within the darkest passages. The greater density of ink, applied here in the recesses of the robe to the left of the thigh and shin as well as between the feet, deepens the shadows around the leg, thrusting it forward from the fabric folds. Beccafumi exploited this design-enhancing method of inking in other impressions of Apostle with a Tablet and in additional compositions (BM 1868,0612.11; MFA 1975.480; Albertina, Italienisch II Sektion, no. 5, fol. 100 and DG2013 /19). Notably, in the Albertina's Meditation, Beccafumi modulated the mid-tone ink layer to soften the clouds, perhaps by using his fingertip (ink appears to have been applied or removed with the fingertips or a twill-fabric dauber in Sibyl in a Tondo, Albertina DG2002/546; Saint Philip, MFA 1975.476; and Saint Peter, LoC FP-XVI-B388, no. 43 (B size).
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. 184-185.
-Albertina Italienisch II Sektion no. 5
-Albertina DG2013/19 https://https://sammlungenonline.albertina.at/m/?query=search=/record/objectnumbersearch=[DG2013%2f19]&showtype=record
-Albertina DG2002/387 https://sammlungenonline.albertina.at/m/?query=search=/record/objectnumbersearch=[DG2002%2f387]&showtype=record
-BM 1868,0612.11: light brown/gray/dark gray https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/P_1868-0612-11
-BM W,5.12: light blue/blue/black https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/P_W-5-12
-BnF Réserve EA 26
-Custodia inv. 2000_P.18
-MFA 1975.480: light brown/gray/dark gray (wmk: medici shield) https://collections.mfa.org/objects/173379/an-apostle?ctx=74861896-178a-4dec-bcf4-28d50c30e092&idx=24
-MMA 22.73.3-28: light brown/gray/black (wmk: Flowering fleur de lys in a circle surmounted by a star) https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/368867?searchField=All&sortBy=Relevance&ft=22.73.3-28&offset=0&rpp=20&pos=1
-Rothschild 4399 LR: light brown/gray/black (wmk: Flowering fleur de lys in a circle surmounted by a star) http://arts-graphiques.louvre.fr/detail/oeuvres/3/519496-Apotre
-GDSU 68 st. sc.: light blue/blue/drk blue
-GDSU 69 st. sc.: light red-brown/red-brown/black
-Private collection, Venice: light brown/gray/dark gray
-PnBO: two blocks, without mid-tone block