Chiaroscuro woodcut from 2 blocks, green/black; red-brown/black
Inscription: “ANTONIVS/ CREMONENSIS/ 1547” in the tone block
Antonio Campi was responsible for a group of seven chiaroscuro woodcuts that is at once remarkably ambitious and highly individual (for a summary of the preceding literature, see Buonincontri, in I Campi e la cultura artistica cremonese del Cinquecento; on Antonio's chiaroscuros, see Gnann 2013). His ambition, toward both the sophistication of Parmigianino and a type of work in a place with no tradition of artistic printmaking, carried on that of his older brother, Giulio, and Camillo Boccaccino, who had jointly established Cremona as a center of advanced style. At the same time, the individualism of these chiaroscuros, by turns studied and delightful, points toward Antonio's later activity: its broad cultural awareness, self-conscious experimentation, and the importance first expressed by Roberto Longhi, as the foundation of the revolutionary naturalism of Caravaggio.
The internal documentation of the group is exceptional in fact and consistency. Antonio's name appears with minimal orthographic variation and in practically identical majuscule upon all seven—in the tone block of four, in the line block of the other three—and no fewer than five bear a date: 1547 (two), 1550 (one), and 1553 (two). Even absent any documentation, the prints' enthusiastic and slightly cumbersome embrace of Parmigianino's stylization would locate them as part of Antonio's earliest activity, following his first public work, the Holy Family with Saint Jerome and a Donor (1546), today in Cremona's church of Sant'Ilario, and during his collaboration with Giulio on a series of ancient Roman subjects for Brescia's Palazzo della Loggia (commissioned 1548/49, executed over the course of the 1550s). Moreover, a number of Antonio's very early drawings correlate with them exactly: a recently identified modello for the Sant'Ilario altarpiece anticipates the principal figural group and the chiaroscuro of the Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine (private collection, pen and brown ink with brown wash and white heightening over traces of black chalk on ochre prepared paper, 31.0 × 18.8 cm; see Bora 2011); a study in the Uffizi for part of an illusionistic ceiling decoration corresponds to the same print in handling and again technique, including a brown ground like that of the Marriage's usual tone block (Uffizi inv. 1782 Orn, pen and brown ink with gray wash and white heightening on brown prepared paper, 17.4 × 12.7 cm, see Tanzi 1999); and a pen study in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, elaborate and reversed in orientation, is preparatory for the Judgment of Solomon (Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan, inv. Cod. F 266 INF. n. 14, pen and black ink over traces of black chalk, 14.2 × 13.7 cm; see Bora 1971). For the emergent Antonio, chiaroscuro woodcut was a brief and intense campaign, underscoring his grasp of current style while also advertising his independent artistic identity.
If there is no question about responsibility for the design of these chiaroscuros, and little about their intended purpose, one must reexamine the matter of their execution. The seven prints are of three obviously related but distinct styles. The earliest of the group,
the Mystical Marriage consists of just two blocks, with the line work completely articulate like that of a conventional woodcut. Also dated 1547, the Rest on the Flight into Egypt is markedly advanced, with a second tone block suddenly fluent and the line block, though its syntax and mark are the same, reduced in proportion. In the Holy Family, dated 1550, along with the Woman with a Lute, the cutting of the tone blocks is refined, smoothed, and the conventional line block eliminated, resulting in a breadth of description and a flow of composition that extend the approach of Niccolò Vicentino. The Judgment of Solomon and Saint John the Baptist, both from 1553, as well as Mucius Scaevola, not only follow Antonio's advancing draftsmanship, but return to a fully developed and now finely elaborated line block with a single, minimally carved tone block. Only these last three exist as impressions of the line block, including much later printings, and the Mucius Scaevola is the only print of the seven that is encountered with some frequency. It is implausible that the same hand could be responsible for what are three quite diffrent approaches, let alone within so short a span.
If it is unlikely that Antonio's chiaroscuros were produced by one hand, it is even less likely that the hand was Antonio's. Despite many artistic gifts, evidently high intelligence, and great curiosity—his library held more than six thousand books—there is no evidence of aptitude or skill in woodworking or sufficiently fine carving of any kind. He was occasionally active as a sculptor, in stucco; his principal effort, a series of the Twelve Apostles in Sante Margherita e Pelagia (late 1540s), is stolid but fairly coarse in surface articulation (see Stoppa 2008). Much later, the medallions in the Chapel of John the Baptist in the grand complex of San Sigismondo are graceful but approximative. Antonio's only certain involvement in printmaking was as a designer. In fact, on four of the seven chiaroscuros his name is followed by an abbreviation for invenit (the Holy Family ALU.1039.1 includes the letters I.V., as noted by Le Blanc; the indication on the latest three prints is unambiguous: INV on The Judgment of Solomon and IN on Saint John the Baptist and Mucius Scaevola), and his later direct involvement was limited to providing Agostino Carracci with designs for the engraved frontispiece and illustrations in Cremona Fedelissima (1584), Antonio's history of the city. Meanwhile, Cremona's artistic literature makes no mention of his activity (let alone prowess) as a printmaker.
On the other hand Cremona boasted what could be called an artistic culture of wood. Giovanni Maria Platina's great armadi (wardrobes) for the Duomo (the first commissioned in 1477) offered a brilliant example of figurative intarsia, and in a setting where the Campi worked repeatedly. Especially telling, when Platina, a native of Mantua, was commissioned the second armadio (1485), local intarsiatori filed a protest, revealing a native tradition of fine wood inlay (see Puerari 1976). Certainly, the manufacture of stringed musical instruments for which the city remains renowned could never have developed without the most sophisticated knowledge and specialized skill in woodworking. It is suggestive that Andrea Amati (uncle of famed luthier Nicola Amati) should have opened the first workshop for producing such instruments in 1538, and that musicologists can identify functional ones in the paintings of the Campi. Finally, a number of woodcut frontispieces to books published in Cremona in the mid-sixteenth century (notably Giulio Campi's elegant invention of an allegorical figure of the city that first appeared in humanist-bishop Marco Girolamo Vida's Orationes, 1550), prove that local craftsmen were perfectly capable of the kind and quality of cutting at least in the Mystical Marriage (see Barbisotti 1985; Gnann, p. 258, notes Giulio's involvement in Cremonese book illustration as a possible explanation for what he believes was Antonio's own ability in executing his chiaroscuros). Modern scholarship has been unanimous in believing Antonio responsible for the execution of his chiaroscuros. One should instead return to Bartsch's conclusion, that they are anonymous works, adding that they probably owe to several di erent masters in a fortunate intersection of traditions.
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. 201-204.
-Budapest 6818: http://printsanddrawings.hu/search/prints/6818/
-BM 1860,0414.96: blue/black https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/P_1860-0414-96
-MFA 1986.120: line-block only https://collections.mfa.org/objects/269506/the-mystic-marriage-of-st-catherine
-MMA 22.73.3-124: line-block only https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/631494
-Baselitz (Gnann, n. 126)
, Disegni di manieristi lombardi
, Vicenza, 1971, p. 34, n. 33
, Museo civico "Ala Ponzone" Cremona. Raccolte artistiche
, Cremona, 1976, pp. 99–104
, I Campi e la cultura artistica cremonese del Cinquecento, Milano, 1985, pp. 320–323, nn. 3.2–8 (Buonincontri F.)
, "Libri illustrati, intagliatori e incisori a Cremona nel Cinquecento", I Campi e la cultura artistica cremonese del Cinquecento
, Milano, 1985, pp. 333–338
, Disegni cremonesi del Cinquecento
, Firenze, 1999, pp. 120–122, n. 70, fig. 76
, "I Campi scultori nella chiesa delle Sante Margherita e Pelagia", La chiesa delle Sante Margherita e Pelagia. Storia e restauro
, Cinisello Balsamo, 2008, pp. 138–147
, "Le molte "maniere" del disegno di Antonio Campi", Scritti per Chiara Tellini Perina
, Mantova, 2011, pp. 157-164, 372-380, pp. 157–158, fig. 2
, In Farbe! Clair-obscur-Holzschnitte der Renaissance - Meisterwerke aus der Sammlung Georg Baselitz und der Albertina in Wien
, Monaco, 2013, pp. 258–264