definition: stampa


identification: CIRCE CHE BEVE
: Circe Drinking (Circella)
title: Circella


Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Bequest of W. G. Russell Allen, Europe, Prints and Drawings


type of acquisition: donazione
first name: W.G. Russell Allen
Boston, 1964


data uscita: 1964


sec. XVI, secondo quarto
1540 ca. - 1549 ca.



Niccolò Vicentino, 1510 ca./ post 1566 (bottega)


primo stato (di due)


xilografia; chiaroscuro; mm 215 x 200 ca.
medium material: carta








Chiaroscuro woodcut from 4 blocks, light blue/medium blue/dark blue/ black, i state

state i/ii: before Andreani's monogram in the lightest tone block
state ii/ii: “AA” in the lightest tone block: NB: this lightest tone block is printed by Andreani with the line block to ALU.0976.1

Although traditionally referred to as Circe Transforming the Companions of Ulysses, the drawing by Parmigianino for the present chiaroscuro woodcuts does not accurately illustrate the story recounted in Homer's Odyssey. Claudia Hattendorf proposed that the artist may have taken inspiration from Matteo Boiardo's Orlando innamorato (1483), a reimagining of the ancient tale (Hattendorf 1988, 23–41). The Renaissance epic poem features the sorceress Circella who, unlike her Homeric precursor, transforms her victims into a variety of animals, including a winged griffin, and ultimately falls in love with Ulysses after drinking her own magic potion (book 1, canto 6, stanza 50, lines 1–8). Given the freedom with which Parmigianino frequently interpreted his literary sources, especially when designing prints, the precise identity of the goddess should be left open.

Parmigianino's drawing of Circe drinking from her enchanted cup, executed in brush over black chalk, with brown washes and white heightening (GDSU inv. 1972F; Parmigianino likely conceived the drawing for a print in Bologna. Popham 1971 and Ekserdjian 2006), was the model for two chiaroscuro woodcuts, one from four blocks (this impression, ALU.0977.1) and another from two blocks (ALU.0976.1). The four-block Circe Drinking captures the painterly subtleties of Parmigianino's drawing, carefully translating its highlights and washes into a new medium. Notably, it utilizes two mid-tone blocks to approximate the different tonalities of Parmigianino's brown washes. In the two-block version of Circe Drinking, by contrast, a dominant, autonomous line block uses parallel and cross hatching of different densities to describe the two darker washes, while a single tone block establishes a middle ground and highlights. While the two-block chiaroscuro coincides precisely in its size and contours with the four-block version, it also reveals knowledge of Parmigianino's modello: its line block clearly articulates details of the drawing that are only broadly rendered in the four-block print, such as the owing drapery folds in the protagonist's skirt.

Bartsch was unable to identify the hand of the cutter for either print. Later writers have alternately assigned the four-block chiaroscuro to Ugo da Carpi and Niccolò Vicentino—two of the three main interpreters of Parmigianino's designs (a number of writers, following Bartsch, have left the four-block print unassigned. An attribution to Ugo was put forth by Kolloff; Rossi in Ugo da Carpi; and Gnann. Matile p. 148 n. 61, and Hinterding in Chiaroscuro woodcuts 2005 have suggested an attribution to Vicentino). The two-block print is commonly given to Antonio da Trento, although Michael Matile recently put forth a tentative attribution to Vicentino (p. 148 n. 60). Arthur E. Popham posited that neither chiaroscuro woodcut involved Parmigianino directly (Popham 1969). Indeed, printing inks and block publishing histories point to production in Vicentino's workshop rather than Parmigianino's. Whether Vicentino himself or a blockcutter in his shop executed the prints, however, remains unclear. It is tempting to postulate that two blockcutters were responsible for the prints. Perhaps Antonio da Trento and Niccolò Vicentino each offered an interpretation of Parmigianino's work in order to display the distinct aesthetic possibilities of different technical approaches.

The four-block Circe Drinking was printed in different inks that bear the characteristics of Vicentino's shop, including lead white, ochre, pale blue, and blue (see list below). MFA 64.1096 is an example of this last palette, which is the most common of the four. As is typical of Vicentino workshop impressions, the thickly printed layers of opaque inks do not visually blend, creating stepped planes of color that fail to evoke the drawing's delicate tones. The results depart from Ugo's markedly more nuanced continuum of hues and colors in such four-block prints as Diogenes. The two-block Circe Drinking is known in at least three Vicentino workshop palettes, including the red palette of NGA 1975.21.1, which is the most prevalent, as well as verdigris and orange.

NMAH 02314 is printed in liquid and thinly applied brown inks on paper with a Ladder in a Shield Surmounted by a Star watermark, a type that corresponds to one Woodward recorded in 1560s maps from Venice.15 Similar brown inks and the same watermark type occur in Nicolò Boldrini's chiaroscuro woodcuts, including his Venus and Cupid dated 1566 (ALU.0187.1). The circumstances that might have led to a cache of Vicentino's blocks being printed with the same materials used by Boldrini are not known. Both printmakers were from Vicenza and in all likelihood active in the Veneto. Without the support of written records, we cannot determine whether the two men shared a press for some time, whether they relied on the same shop for hire, or whether Vicentino contracted out some printing to Boldrini's shop. Boldrini's blocks do not share the same late publishing history as Vicentino's, which indicates their stocks did not merge definitively. As the present sheet demonstrates, the blocks were still in fine condition when this later press, here called the Ladder in a Shield Printer for the paper most commonly used, reissued them almost two decades after they had been cut in the 1540s.

Curiously, Andrea Andreani, who later obtained the blocks to both versions of Circe Drinking, does not appear to have printed either version as initially conceived. There is no Andreani reprint of the two-block Circe Drinking with its original tone block, nor of the four- block Circe Drinking using all of its blocks. Rather, the publisher recombined the blocks to print two different variants. In one, he printed the line block of the two- block Circe Drinking with the lightest block of the four-block version to which he added his monogram at lower left. In a second variant, also bearing Andreani's monogram, he deployed the same line block with the two lightest blocks from the four-block set.

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. 140-143.

Other Vicentino workshop impressions:

-MMA 32.58.3: lead white palette https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/633807
-MMA 1999.308: light blue/medium blue/dark blue/ black https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/338127
-Berlin 49-1882: ocher palette
-Munich 1909:188: ocher palette
-Rothschild 4395 LR: pale blue palette
-BM 1868,0612.16: light blue/medium blue/dark blue/ black https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/P_1868-0612-16
-Albertina DG2002/509: pale blue-gray palette https://sammlungenonline.albertina.at/m?queryid=f83141b8-7179-48c8-a42a-12de113cd07b
-Albertina HB 33 2 301: ocher palette
-Baselitz collection (Gnann 2013, no. 51): very light blue/light blue/medium blue/ dark blue
-Fondation Custodia inv 5508 [check palette]
-Rijksmuseum RP-P-OB-31.130: blues/black

Impressions issued by the Ladder in a Shield Printer in light brown, medium brown, dark brown, and black (state i/ii):
-NMAH GA02314 (wmk: Ladder in a Shield): https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_791093
-BNE 41179: http://catalogo.bne.es/uhtbin/cgisirsi/x/0/0/57/5/3?searchdata1=3642326{CKEY}&searchfield1=GENERAL^SUBJECT^GENERAL^^&user_id=WEBSERVER
-BnF BD 5a
-MFA 64.1097: https://collections.mfa.org/objects/167933/circe-drinking-with-the-companions-of-ulysses

Impressions issued by Andreani with the line block of ALU.0976.1 and the second lightest block of ALU.0977.1:

-Rijksmuseum RP-P-OB-31.131: http://hdl.handle.net/10934/RM0001.COLLECT.51662

Impressions issued by Andreani with the line block of ALU.0976.1 and the 2 lightest block of ALU.0977.1 (state ii/ii):

-LoC FP - XVI - C298, no. 60a (A size) https://lccn.loc.gov/2008678922


type of material: fotografia digitale
ente proprietario: Boston, Museum of Fine Arts ©


Bartsch A., Le peintre graveur, Vienne, 1803-1821, v. XII, p. 111, n. 7
Kolloff E., "Antonio da Trento", Allgemeines Kűnstler-Lexiikon, 1878, v. 2, p. 726,
 n. 25


Popham A.E., "Observations on Parmigianino's designs for Chiaroscuro woodcuts", Miscellanea I. Q. van Regteren Altena, Amsterdam, 1969, pp. 48-51, p. 51
Popham A.E., Catalogue of the drawings of Parmigianino, New Haven, 1971, v. 1, p. 69, n. 411, v. 2, tav. 85
Matile M., Italienische Holzschnitte der Renaissance und des Barock, Basel, 2003, p. 148, nn. 60-61
, Chiaroscuro woodcuts from the Frits Lugt Collection in Paris, Tokyo, 2005, p. 51, n. 31 (Hinterding E.)
Ekserdjian D., Parmigianino, New Haven, 2006, p. 108
, Ugo da Carpi. L'opera incisa. Xilografie e chiaroscuri da Tiziano, Raffaello e Parmigianino, Carpi, 2009, p. 160, n. 36 (Rossi M.)
Gnann A., In Farbe! Clair-obscur-Holzschnitte der Renaissance - Meisterwerke aus der Sammlung Georg Baselitz und der Albertina in Wien, Monaco, 2013, p. 134, n. 51
Takahatake N., The Chiaroscuro Woodcut in Renaissance Italy, Los Angeles, 2018, pp. 140-143 (Takahatake N.), p. 142, n. 49 


Chiaroscuro Woodcut in Renaissance Italy Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA., June - September 2018 National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., October 2018 - January 2019, 2018-2019


Takahatake N., 2020
Takahatake N., Atlante delle xilografie italiane del Rinascimento, ALU.0977.1, https://archivi.cini.it/storiaarte/detail/48361/stampa-48361.html
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