Chiaroscuro woodcut from 2 blocks, green/black; only state (trimmed)
Inscription: “M” in tone block
This two-block chiaroscuro woodcut of Martha leading Mary Magdalene to Christ in the temple closely follows a Marcantonio Raimondi engraving from around 1520–25 (B.XIV.51.45, g. 1; Shoemaker and Broun 1981; A. Lindsell in Marcantonio Raimondi, Raphael and the image multiplied). The design relates to a lost Giulio Romano fresco, painted above an entrance in the Massimi chapel of Santissima Trinità dei Monti in Rome. The fresco's high placement accounts for the di sotto in su perspective adopted in the print, which situates the viewer looking upward from the bottom of the temple steps (Vasari mentions Marcantonio's engraving of the frescoes in this chapel: see Vasari-Bettarini and Barocchi 1966–87; the placement of the fresco is recorded by Pierre Jean Mariette). The model for Marcantonio's engraving may have been Giulio's preparatory heightened pen and wash drawing now at Chatsworth (Chatsworth inv. 63).
Martha Leading Mary Magdalene to Christ is identical in scale to Marcantonio's engraving and the composition is so similar that it seems likely the design was transferred directly to the woodblock from an impression of the engraving. The execution of the woodcut is competent and maintains the narrative clarity of Marcantonio's work. However, the blockcutter was unable to achieve the engraving's range and nuance of tone. The uninflected lines of the woodcut result in hard, static figures and a schematic distribution of lights and darks.
An M, cut from the tone block, can be seen in the temple stairs. Adam Bartsch speculated that the letter designated the printmaker's initial, and on this basis tentatively attributed the woodcut to Georg Matheus (fl. c. 1550–72). A blockcutter from Augsburg, Matheus inscribed his name on two chiaroscuro woodcuts: Diana and Acteon (B.XII.106.1) and The Flight into Egypt (B.IX.426.1), each from three blocks, after designs by Luca Penni. The routine cutting and basic two-block design of Martha Leading Mary Magdalene to Christ approach neither the complexity nor subtlety of these secure works by Matheus. William Trotter has questioned the attribution, as has Achim Gnann, who is leery of ascribing the woodcut on stylistic grounds given its reliance on another print (Trotter 1974; Gnann 2013). More likely, the M refers to a blockcutter yet to be identified, or perhaps to Marcantonio as the source for the print's design.
In several aspects, Martha Leading Mary Magdalene to Christ shows an awareness of Ugo da Carpi's practice. Not only did Ugo rely on engravings by Marcantonio and Agostino Veneziano for four of his chiaroscuro woodcuts, but he also used a framing device in three of his prints that has a parallel in the present work. Although the present sheet is trimmed, it is possible to discern the dark borders at top and left that represent the shadows cast by the illusionistic frame surrounding the composition. In terms of material traits, the translucent, matte tone block ink in this impression resembles ink used by Ugo.
The impression is, moreover, on Italian paper with a Crowned Eagle in a Circle watermark (watermark g. 13; Städel 33945). Another early impression with the same watermark and green palette is conserved in the Escorial album 28-1-19, where it is mounted in a group of twelve chiaroscuro woodcuts by Ugo, Antonio da Trento, and Niccolò Vicentino (I have recorded only one additional early impression from pristine blocks in Marucelliana stampe vol. 3, no. 62). The inclusion of this print in the Escorial album confirms a sixteenth-century dating. Another impression of Martha Leading Mary Magdalene to Christ, this one in a private collection, bears an offset of the darkest block of Antonio da Trento's Martyrdom of Two Saints on its verso (private collection, Belgium). In light of the association between Ugo and Antonio and the common publishing histories of their blocks, this further supports an attribution to an Italian blockcutter, perhaps one working in Ugo's circle.
Whereas early impressions of Martha Leading Mary Magdalene to Christ are rare, later ones, typically in brown inks and showing wormholes and damage, are more common. One late line block impression in Frankfurt appears to have been printed in France, as it is on the verso of Michel Lasne's engraved Portrait of Louis of Bourbon, Duke of Enghien, Age Twelve (Lasne's engraving was executed around 1633, according to the age of the sitter: see Weigert-Préaud 1976, 7:121, no. 282. While it is possible that an impression of Lasne's engraving was repurposed to print the chiaroscuro in Italy, Antonio da Trento's Martyrdom of Two Saints, with which the Martha Leading Mary Magdalene to Christ shares a publishing history, may also have been printed in France; see Takahatake 2018, p. 26). Although evidence remains insufficient to reconstruct the publishing history of Martha Leading Mary Magdalene to Christ, this Frankfurt sheet is valuable testimony that points to an active international trade of chiaroscuro woodblocks into the seventeenth century.
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. 188-190.
-Escorial 28-1-19, fol. 107: green/black (wmk: Crowned eagle in a circle) (early impression) https://rbmecat.patrimonionacional.es/cgi-bin/koha/opac-detail.pl?biblionumber=31873&query_desc=kw%2Cwrdl%3A%20raimondi
-Marucelliana III, 62: light blue/black (early)
-Harvard M9782: brown/black https://hvrd.art/o/255385
-Frankfurt 33944: light brown/black (late; wormholes)
-MFA 1975.422: brown/black (late; wormholes)
-Louvre Rothschild 4401: brown/black
-Windsor: light brown/black (late; wormholes)
-Windsor: brown/black (later than first Windsor impression)
-Blanton 2002/1313: ocher/black
Variant from line block only:
-Frankfurt 33945 (with Lasne intaglio on verso)
, Lawrence, 1981 , p. 172
, Monaco, 2013 , p. 286, n. 139
, Manchester, 2016 , p. 214, n. 78 (Lindsell A.)
, Los Angeles, 2018 , pp. 188-190 (Takahatake N.), p. 189
AUTORE DELLA SCHEDA
Stiber Morenus L./ Takahatake N., 2020
Stiber Morenus L./ Takahatake N., Atlante delle xilografie italiane del Rinascimento, ALU.1035.1, https://archivi.cini.it/storiaarte/detail/50076/stampa-50076.html