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Chiaroscuro woodcut from 4 blocks, impression issued by the Vicentino Workshop
Parmigianino illustrated the myth in a group of drawings, comprising six oval compositions closely related in style and technique and two fragmentary or preparatory drawings. Three of the oval drawings served as modelli for the present two chiaroscuro woodcuts (the drawings in this group and their narrative order were identified by Wyss 1996). Apollo and Marsyas combines the designs of two drawings: Marsyas Drawing the Syrinx from the River in the Louvre (Louvre inv. 6413), and Morgan Library IV, 44, which pictures Apollo playing his lira da braccio while the satyr Marsyas, holding his syrinx, listens (Popham 1971, n. 319). The man with outstretched arms in the third drawing, while traditionally referred to as an allegory of surprise, has been identified as Olympus in an attitude of grief, and accordingly associated with the Apollo and Marsyas narrative series (ALU.1001.1; in reference to the chiaroscuro woodcut, Bartsch interpreted this figure as a man expressing surprise; Wiles proposed the drawing represented Achaemenides, a companion of Ulysses who had been left behind in Sicily when he ed Polyphemus, later to be found by Aeneas). Popham postulated that Parmigianino executed these drawings—all gracefully composed in pen and enhanced with washes and highlights lending depth and luminosity—in Bologna with the intention that they be made into prints (for a different view see Bambach who proposes that the pronounced Raphaelesque qualities suggest the series might have been started in Rome). Indeed, the careful preparation and consistent handling of these drawings seem to anticipate their translation into chiaroscuro woodcuts (he drawings were equally successful as models for etchings: in the mid-1540s, Antonio Fantuzzi etched four of Parmigianino’s Apollo and Marsyas compositions at Fontainebleau, where it appears the original drawings had been taken; Jenkins 2017).
Although traditionally attributed to Ugo da Carpi, there are compelling reasons to associate the two chiaroscuro woodcuts with Vicentino’s workshop. Comparing the Contest of Apollo and Marsyas drawing and woodcut demonstrates how the four blocks approximate Parmigianino’s pen, three shades of brown wash, and white heightening. The lightest tone block establishes the ground of the toned paper; the second block imitates the broadly applied washes; the third block outlines forms and renders some darker passages of wash; and the darkest block is limited to a few reinforcing contour lines and the oval frame. The highlights cut from the light tone block echo Parmigianino’s concentration of white heightening in the foreground. Vicentino’s shop repeatedly resorted to this somewhat mechanical formula to match Parmigianino’s fluid drawing in pen and arrangement of washes. By contrast, Ugo’s chiaroscuro woodcuts in three and four blocks are more fully integrated. As exemplified by Diogene, Ugo’s approach not only makes it difficult to parse the function of each block, but also invests his forms with a profound and solid structure lacking in these Vicentino prints.
The prints correspond almost exactly with Parmigianino’s drawings, and maintain their same orientation and dimensions. The fidelity of the prints to their models strongly suggests the drawings were available in Vicentino’s shop. However, Morgan Library IV, 44 bears no incisions or other signs of direct transfer. This is the case for nearly all of the extant drawings used by Vicentino’s workshop, including those by Parmigianino, Raphael, and Pordenone. The printmaker must have worked from tracings, through such means as carta lucida, in order to spare Parmigianino’s valuable drawings from any disfiguring or damaging marks (on carta lucida (transparent sheets of linseed-oil–soaked parchment or paper), rst mentioned in the late fourteenth century by Cennino Cennini in his Libro dell’arte, see Galassi 2013).
Printing inks and publishing histories also help to place Apollo and Marsyas and Olympus in Vicentino’s prolific shop. Olympus was printed in sizeable numbers in a variety of palettes using the shop’s characteristic opaque inks, including olive and umber, verdigris, mustard ochre and sienna, red, blue, and lime and green (see further Stiber Morenus 2015 and Johnson 2016). By contrast, Apollo and Marsyas survives in very few early impressions. Their relative scarcity may indicate a later date of execution or testify to the challenge of accurately registering this complex four-block print. Both Olympus and Apollo and Marsyas were later printed in brown inks on paper with a Ladder in a Shield Surmounted by a Star watermark. These brown impressions can be linked to the printing of Boldrini’s chiaroscuro woodcuts. Andrea Andreani also reissued both prints in the seventeenth century.
Complete impressions of Apollo and Marsyas are rare, and more often the print is found split into two.11 Adam Bartsch described two states of the print, the first without the oval frames encircling the pair of figural compositions and the second with them. However, the blocks themselves were not modified, but were instead merely inked differently. The oval frames that are present in the earliest impressions disappear in Ladder in a Shield Printer impressions and subsequently reappear in later reprints by the Printer of Greek Text and Andreani. The same tell-tale break in the oval at right appears in the Vicentino workshop, Printer of Greek Text, and Andreani printings, thus signaling that the Ladder in a Shield Printer did not alter the block to omit the frames but rather masked or selectively inked them.
Bartsch recorded three states of Olympus: a first state without the oval framing line, a second state with the oval frame added, and a third with Andreani’s monogram. The chronology of Bartsch’s first two states are to be reversed, as the oval was removed rather than inserted (this was noted by Oberhuber 1963). Furthermore, three new states can be added. A rare first state features a horizontal line in the mid-tone block right above the uppermost highlight in the swell of Olympus’s drapery. In state ii, this horizontal line in the drapery is removed. MMA 39.20.6 is an example of the third state in which the oval frame in the darkest block is interrupted in its right half. Notably, in some third state impressions, including MMA 39.20.6, this black framing line appears shorter because it was not fully inked. It is possible to discern the embossment of the uninked portion of the framing line extending along the upper right of the oval. In state iv, the printmaker cut back the mid-tone block along the lower right edge of the oval composition where it previously spilled out beyond the framing line carved in reserve from the light tone block (Gnann 2013). The darkest block along the oval frame is also removed in this state. When reprinting Olympus, Andreani plugged losses in the mid-block oval frame (state v), and printed some impressions in this state before carving his monogram into the lower left corner of the light tone block (state vi). Although the print is usually printed from three blocks, Johnson recently identi ed a four-block variant of state ii/vi in Paris that incorporates a third darkest block (Johnson 2015, p. 156).
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. 136-139.
Impressions issued by the Vicentino Workshop:
Marsyas Drawing the Syrinx from the River (left half of composition only)
-Albertina DG2002/530: orange https://sammlungenonline.albertina.at/m?queryid=c2c41483-4980-4b1e-b2a8-29c51940bcf9
-Rijksmuseum RP-P-OB-31.063: lime and green http://hdl.handle.net/10934/RM0001.COLLECT.51357
-Städel 33932: green
-Albertina HB 33 2 295: green
Contest of Apollo and Marsyas (right half of composition only)
-V&A 29897: orange
-Albertina DG2002/531: lime and green https://sammlungenonline.albertina.at/m?queryid=a86b32a5-7aa4-4117-9e3a-8e96ccaea3d9
Impressions issued by the Ladder in a Shield Printer in brown/medium brown/dark brown/black:
-LOC FP - XVI - V633, no. 21 (C size) (wmk: Ladder in a Shield Surmounted by a Star) https://lccn.loc.gov/2008678913
-Albertina DG2002/535: https://sammlungenonline.albertina.at/m?queryid=3adcfbd4-1930-414b-8489-7f1ad63fee76
-BM 1867,0713.94: https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/P_1867-0713-94-
-MFA 64.1106 [Marsyas Drawing the Syrinx only] https://collections.mfa.org/objects/168002/pan
-BnF BD 5A [Marsyas Drawing the Syrinx only]
-BM 1875,0808.202 [Contest of Apollo and Marsyas only] https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/P_1874-0808-202
-Fitzwilliam [Contest of Apollo and Marsyas only]
-MFA 64.1108 [Contest of Apollo and Marsyas only] https://collections.mfa.org/objects/168015/apollo-and-marsyas
Impressions issued by the Printer of Greek text in orange/brown/black:
-Städel 46244 (complete composition)
-BnF (BD-5 (A) fol. 57) Marsyas Drawing the Syrinx from the River:
-Fitzwilliam (31.k.9-19) Marsyas Drawing the Syrinx from the River
-MMA (49.95.2) Contest of Apollo and Marsyas: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/632889
Impression issued by Andreani:
-Achenbach 1969.35 https://www.famsf.org/artworks/the-god-pan-and-the-dispute-of-marsyas
-Rome, ICG, FN 12917
Impressions to be determined:
- Kirk Edward Long Collection (Marsyas Drawing the Syrinx)
- Kirk Edward Long Collection (Contest of Apollo and Marsya)
For impressions of Olympus (Surprise) see ALU.1001.1