Chiaroscuro woodcut from 3 blocks, medium violet/dark violet/black, i state
state i/ii: inscription in the light tone block “IOSEPH NICOLAVS/VICENTINI”
state ii/ii: with Andreani's address added with a plug in the darkest block: “AA in mantoua 1608”
Christ Healing the Lepers portrays Jesus's miraculous cure of lepers encountered on his way to Jerusalem, in the company of the twelve apostles. The three-block chiaroscuro woodcut is signed in the bottom right corner of the light tone block “IOSEPH NICOLAVS / VICENTINI” followed by a vine leaf emblem (Johnson has observed that this emblem was in common use by book publishers, Johnson 2015, p. 142). The composition conforms in its design and direction to an approximately same-sized modello by Parmigianino in pen and brown ink with brown wash, heightened with white, now at Chatsworth (Popham 1971). The monumental scale of the figures and the drawing's meticulous rendering with clear outlines and well-defined applications of washes and highlights strongly suggest Parmigianino conceived it with a print in mind in Bologna. Moreover, the image may be associated with the outbreak of the plague in Northern Italy around 1528 (Franklin 2003; for a different view, see Vaccaro who proposed a connection between this design and Parmigianino's anticipated but unrealized painting commission for the Sala dei Pontefici in the Vatican Palace). A number of Parmigianino drawings of similar execution were taken up as models by Vicentino and Antonio da Trento.
Vicentino printed Christ Healing the Lepers in large numbers and in a variety of palettes, attesting to the popularity of the composition. As with other blocks from Vicentino's shop, Christ Healing the Lepers was later reprinted by the Ladder in a Shield Printer before being published by Andrea Andreani, who added the “AA in mantoua 1608” plug in the bottom right corner of the darkest block (see list in ALU.0992.2). As one of five signed compositions of uncontested attribution, Christ Healing the Lepers serves as an exemplar for establishing Vicentino's workshop practices. PMA 1985-52-42, BM E.288-1890, and BM W,4.51 illustrate different aspects of his typical printmaking materials and techniques. What follows is an examination of two distinguishing characteristics of his production: first, the inks and printing methods and second, the trends in issuing impressions in editions. Crucially, these production traits characterize not only the impressions of Vicentino's five signed prints, but equally those of forty-two unsigned chiaroscuro woodcuts that can be attributed to Vicentino and/or Antonio. Moreover, they are distinct from Ugo da Carpi's prints and the six by Antonio issued in Parmigianino's Bolognese shop. As we shall see, Vicentino's printing practices appear inconsistent and untidy when compared to the controlled and refined production of these earlier workshops.
Vicentino's inks are typically opaque and in saturated hues. As exemplified by PMA 1985-52-42, most of his inks have a reticulated pattern because they were stiff and viscous pastes that were pulled into peaks as the paper was peeled from the block. However, other inks were overly liquid causing the edges of the printed forms to feather or the binding medium to migrate out from the pigment, as in PMA 1985-52-42. The pigments are often so coarsely ground that the ink films are grainy and particles can be discerned with the unaided eye. In BM E.288-1890, for example, lead white particles and sparkly yellow orpiment crystals are readily visible. The darkest block is typically inked heavily in either a black (formulated with carbon black, Stiber Morenus et al. 2015, p. 243) or dark-colored ink, and printed with deep embossment and pronounced channeled squash as evidenced in the present three impressions. The frequent deep embossment of Vicentino's woodcuts results from printing with exceptionally moist paper; this also helps to explain why the blocks are often poorly aligned.
The most straightforward approach to issuing a stock of blocks would be to print multiple impressions of one chiaroscuro woodcut using a single batch of inks. For example, BM W,4.51 is one of six noted impressions of Christ Healing the Lepers in the same violet palette (the other five are MFA 64.1041; Rijksmuseum RP-P-OB-31.147; Georg Baselitz collection; BNF; and private collection). These violet inks contain hematite red, lead white, and organic red pigments, the latter of which are susceptible to both fading and yellowing (analysis by Russell at the British Museum demonstrates that Vicentino printed this and two other compositions in violet inks using the same three pigments, including Christ Healing the Paralytic 1860,0414.84, ALU.0987.1; and Resurrection W,4.13, ALU.0997.1; however, in all three prints, the pigments were combined in different ratios).
Vicentino's shop also routinely issued prints in sizeable editions wherein multiple impressions of two or more different compositions were printed using the same (or a similarly prepared) batch of ink. Because some inks are vulnerable to degradation, which results in color and other changes, it is essential to consider the physical character of the inks when distinguishing editions. The author has thus far noted fourteen different multi-woodcut editions produced by this workshop, each one identified by its inks and printing characteristics. These editions can be arranged chronologically by tracking state changes, wear to the blocks, and insect damage. It appears that the workshop did not return to a palette after finishing an edition. A survey of these multi-composition editions reveals the workshop's evolving use of color and furthermore reflects a gradual increase in its printing output (for a chronological inventory of six editions, see Stiber Morenus 2015, pp. 132–39; for a discussion of Vicentino's publication of “editions” and their chronology, see also Johnson 2015, 153–56).
PMA 1985-52-42 is one of twelve different compositions that were printed together using colored inks that contain verdigris, iron earth (iron oxide and clay), and lead white pigments (the pigment composition of the colored inks is inferred from results of analysis of another print from this edition, Christ Healing the Paralytic LoC FP-XVI-V633, no. 2 [A size]; See Stiber Morenus et al. 2015, 246, 254–55; the twelve compositions are listed in Stiber Morenus 2015, 134–39). Verdigris is an unstable blue-green pigment that eventually degrades to greenish-brown and deteriorates the paper. Consequently, the inks and underlying paper in impressions throughout this edition frequently have a discolored brown appearance, as illustrated here (for the degradation of verdigris-containing ink, see Stiber Morenus et al. 2015, 246, 254–55). Assuming the colors shifted to the same degree, the inks were printed in close tonal values.
The two multi-woodcut editions that are known to precede the verdigris edition similarly utilized tonally related palettes: the first in beige and gray-brown and the second in olive and umber. Following the execution of these early multi-woodcut editions, a shift in workshop aesthetic occurs, marked by the introduction (and subsequent preference for) vibrant and contrasting hues. BM E.288-1890 in lime, green, and black illustrates this development. This lime and green palette was used at the height of the workshop's activity and has been noted in at least seventeen different chiaroscuro woodcut compositions (sixteen chiaroscuro woodcuts in this palette are listed in Stiber Morenus 2015, 130–39; seventeenth print in this lime and green edition is Adoration of the Magi ALU.0999.1, recorded in the following impressions: BM W,4.33; Harvard G7489; and PMA 1985-52-2093). Instrumental analysis of four impressions from this edition, including BM E.288-1890 revealed identical pigments in the respective inks. The lime and green inks were prepared with indigo blue, orpiment yellow, and lead white pigments mixed in different ratios (instrumental analysis of V&A E.288-1890 was undertaken by Price et al.; Stiber Morenus et al. analyzed Saints Peter and John LoC FP-XVI-V633, no. 28 [A size]. The British Museum's Saturn, 1860,0414.113, and Virgin and Child, Saint Sebastian, and Bishop Saint, 1928,0313.50, were analyzed by Russell). Because indigo is susceptible to fading, the color of the inks may vary from one impression to another.
Vicentino's shop may have also printed unique impressions outside of the single- and multiple-composition editions, but this would have been the exception. Printing in editions was expedient and efficient. For one, it allowed the workshop to prepare sizeable batches of ink at one time. Printing multiple-composition editions moreover ensured that the workshop's chiaroscuros would be available in different palettes. The implied speed of execution, combined with the gradual increase in printing output and variety of designs in diverse colorways, all point to the commercial scale of production in Vicentino's workshop.
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. 131-135.
See the list of known impressions in ALU.0992.2