Chiaroscuro woodcut from 2 blocks, i state
state i/ii: line block more extensively cut
state ii/ii: line block cut back; tone block replaced
Although Adam Bartsch catalogued this print as the work of an anonymous printmaker after Beccafumi, the attribution to Beccafumi himself, put forth by Luigi Servolini, has been generally accepted. However, Gnann has questioned the attribution). A line block impression with washes in the collection of the Uffizi was considered a working proof in which the artist laid out the tone block design (GDSU 76 st. sc. described by Dillon in Domenico Beccafumi e il suo tempo 1990). However, there is damage in the line block, indicating that this sheet is instead a late printing to which washes were applied in imitation of the printed tone block (a similarly late line-block-only impression in Berlin 969-301 features the same losses in the shading at the upper right and above the lower back of the upper left figure). Nevertheless, there is no reason to doubt that Beccafumi was responsible for the design and cutting of both blocks. Indeed, the splintered, ragged edges of the lines recall the idiosyncratic cutting of his Alchemy woodcuts and watermark evidence places the print alongside such uncontested works as his large Apostles (see Takahatake and Bialler).
A previously unrecorded and apparently unique first state impression of the Four Doctors is this impression in Chatsworth. The line block in this early state is readily distinguished by a small patch of parallel hatchings on the calf of the foremost figure at right, which does not appear in the second state. Other minor changes to the line block include the reduction of lines on the back of this same figure's head and a shortening of the furrow lines in the forehead of the man behind him. This sheet also features the accidental printing of gouge marks in the cleared areas of the block (for example, in the left shoulder of the standing figure at right and the open book of the seated figure at left). The absence of this chatter in later impressions suggests that Beccafumi carved these areas more deeply into the block between the first and second states.
In addition to altering the line block, Beccafumi replaced the tone block in the second state. The new tone block changes the pattern of parallel lines found in the right page of the book held by the upper left figure. In the second state, we also find that the face of the figure at upper right is more strongly illuminated and the shadow cast below the foot of the seated left figure is shorter. Despite these modifications, the new tone block design does not substantially change the overall disposition of light and shade. Different palette selections have greater visual impact. The dark, opaque mushroom brown ink used for the tone block creates a stark chiaroscuro effect. In contrast, second state impressions are printed with either a more translucent gray or green tone block, as in the present example.
The Four Doctors is Beccafumi's only pure chiaroscuro woodcut from two blocks. He eschewed an overall background color and instead complemented the self-sufficient line block with pools of tone, which create a fractured treatment of light and flatten rather than model the forms. Beccafumi's Reclining Figures (ALU.1021.1), an engraving printed with two tone blocks dated around 1547, offers the only parallel for this block design strategy (the dating of Reclining Figures is based on its affinities with the frieze depicting a Pagan's Sacrifice in the Siena Cathedral pavement). Stylistically, however, the Four Doctors is related to earlier drawings and pavement designs by the artist of around 1544–45 (De Marchi in Domenico Beccafumi e il suo tempo, n. 161, pp. 491–93, and Hinterding in Chiaroscuro woodcuts from the Frits Lugt Collection in Paris considered this Beccafumi's first pure chiaroscuro woodcut). This chronology upsets the argument that Beccafumi first adopted the combination technique used in the Reclining Figures and then abandoned it in favor of pure chiaroscuro. Instead, it seems that Beccafumi worked in both methods concurrently (Landau and Parshall. Gordley, however, postulated that Beccafumi explored engraving and woodcut concurrently).
Bartsch described the subject of this print as the four Doctors of the Church (Saints Gregory the Great, Ambrose, Augustine, and Jerome, who are also known as the Fathers of the Church); however, De Marchi identified the figures as the Four Evangelists, noting their generic dress (De Marchi in Domenico Beccafumi e il suo tempo, nn. 159–60, pp. 490–91). Given the absence of any specific attributes, and the elusive iconography of many of Beccafumi's prints, the question is likely to remain open (for further commentary, see Gnann 2013).
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. 172-173.
See the list of known impressions in ALU.1019.2
, La xilografia a chiaroscuro italiana nei secoli XVI, XVII e XVIII
, Lecco, 1930, p. 77
, The drawings of Beccafumi
, 1988, Princeton, p. 265
, Domenico Beccafumi e il suo tempo, Milano, 1990, pp. 490–493, nn. 159-161 (De Marchi A.)
, Domenico Beccafumi e il suo tempo, Milano, 1990, p. 491, n. 159 (Dillon G.V.)
, Chiaroscuro woodcuts from the Frits Lugt Collection in Paris, Tokyo, 2005, p. 54, n. 36 (Hinterding E.)
, In Farbe! Clair-obscur-Holzschnitte der Renaissance - Meisterwerke aus der Sammlung Georg Baselitz und der Albertina in Wien
, Monaco, 2013, p. 256, n. 125
Takahatake N./ Bialler N.
, "Chiaroscuro in Renaissance, review of In Farbe! Clair-obscur-Holzschnitte der Renaissance by A. Gnann", Print quarterly
, 2015, pp. 454-462, pp. 457–58