Chiaroscuro woodcut from 3 blocks, grays and black (only recorded impression of state i/ii)
State i/ii: original light tone block (with different window and landscape)
State ii/ii: light tone block replaced
From 1538, when he painted the Four Evangelists panels for the Pisa Cathedral, Beccafumi frequently revisited the subject of the isolated, standing, monumental apostle in his work across mediums. Saint Philip is the first of Beccafumi's apostle subjects executed in a pure chiaroscuro woodcut technique. The three-block composition is primarily expressed in the light tone block with the two darker blocks providing outlines. The darker blocks are also combined and layered to vary the depths of shadow and contribute to the work's textured surface effects. Thinly cut highlights expose Beccafumi's unorthodox use of a burin (a tool familiar to him from engraving copperplates), or an extremely fine gouge to cut his woodblocks.
The Library of Congress impression represents one of two known states of Saint Philip (ALU.1009.2). A state with a different light tone block is this impression in the Rijksmuseum. The two states differ most noticeably in their treatment of the window and its view, as well as in the extent of highlights applied in the drapery. Close study reveals a vertical break through the mid-tone block lines that describe the top right fore-edge of the open book in the present impression. In the Rijksmuseum print, these same lines are intact, indicating that this state was the first (for the opposite chronology of the two states, see Hinterding in Chiaroscuro woodcuts from the Frits Lugt Collection in Paris 2005). The identification of the Rijksmuseum example as the earlier of the two states helps place Saint Philip chronologically within Beccafumi's chiaroscuro oeuvre, further illuminating the evolution of his printmaking.
The gray inks in the Rijksmuseum impression are akin to those Beccafumi used to print his earliest endeavors in the pure chiaroscuro technique, namely Meditation and Sibyl in a Tondo (ALU.1020.1, ALU.1022.1; although De Marchi in Domenico Beccafumi e il suo tempo and Gnann considered these to be Beccafumi's last prints, Landau must be correct in dating them as the artist's earliest pure chiaroscuro woodcuts).The artist's approach to distributing his designs over three blocks is similar across these prints, as is his technique of cutting banks of faceted hatchings for highlights. Based on their material, technical, and stylistic affinities, it seems likely that the three prints were executed within a narrow time span. Compositionally, Saint Philip is especially close to Meditation. In both, Beccafumi situates his figures in an intimate moonlit interior.
He renders their faces in strict profile, with resolute gazes directed beyond the window.
Like the apparently unique first state Saint Philip, impressions of Meditation and Sibyl in a Tondo are extremely rare. By contrast, the second state Saint Philip is recorded in at least seven impressions, printed in subtly varied palettes of muted colors, including light browns, grays, and greens (see list in ALU.1009.2). There is a striking parallel between the pattern of survival of the first and second state impressions of Saint Philip and Four Doctors. In both cases, the first state is known in a single impression while the second state is found in more substantial numbers. Furthermore, the second state impressions of both prints are on paper with Medici Shield and Flowering Fleur de Lys in a Circle watermarks, the same two commonly found in Beccafumi's four large Apostle prints. These large Apostles, Beccafumi's final prints, were issued in more substantial numbers than any other of his chiaroscuro woodcuts. We might conclude that Saint Philip was one of Beccafumi's earliest pure chiaroscuro woodcuts, of which he initially printed very few impressions. Later, when his capacity for printing increased, Beccafumi returned to the composition, cutting a new light tone block for it. Through the course of printing this second state, the light tone block evidently accrued damage. The Library of Congress impression shows dents or insect holes in the surface of the block that were filled in with putty or animal glue (for example, in the two spots above the saint's proper right shoulder).
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. 174-175.
, Milano, 1990 , p. 501, nn. 172–73 (De Marchi A.)
, Tokyo, 2005 , pp. 54–55 (Hinterding E.)
, Monaco, 2013 , p. 252, nn. 123–24
, Los Angeles, 2018 , pp. 174-175 (Takahatake N.), p. 175, n. 5