Chiaroscuro woodcut from 4 blocks, gray, i state
state i/ii: inscribed “Taglio d'Alex.ro Ghandinj” in the light tone block
state ii/ii: slashes cut through Gandini's signature; plug with “RAPHAEL VRB/INVEN/ AA/ In Mantoua/ 1609” inserted.
Jan Johnson recently shed important new light on Alessandro Gandini, the mysterious printmaker whose name appears on three chiaroscuro woodcuts: Christ in the House of Simon the Pharisee (ALU.1050.1),Virgin and Child with Angels, Saints, and a Donor (ALU.1051.1), and David and Goliath (ALU.1052.1). In addition to expanding Gandini's corpus to six chiaroscuro woodcuts, Johnson identified him as a mathematician who appears in archival documents from 1555 and 1564 as a resident of Bologna (Johnson 2013, pp. 3–13). Prior to Johnson's discovery, the only evidence of Gandini's activity in the Emilian city was circumstantial. Specifically, his Virgin and Child with Angels, Saints, and a Donor was based on Girolamo da Treviso's c. 1529–31 altarpiece executed for the Boccaferri family chapel in Bologna's San Domenico (National Gallery, London, NG623). Gandini does not appear to have emerged from a tradition of woodcut craftsmen and, to judge from the extreme rarity of his prints, his production did not assume a commercial scope. Given the seemingly avocational nature of his practice, the quality and complexity of his cuts are indeed remarkable.
Christ in the House of Simon the Pharisee, although recorded in only four impressions, is the most commonly found of his prints. It depicts an episode recounted in the Gospel of Luke (7:36–50) of a penitent woman washing Christ's feet with her tears and drying them with her long hair. Although unnamed in the Gospel, the woman is often associated with Mary Magdalene. The design relates to one of the four lunette frescoes dedicated to the Magdalene in the Massimi Chapel of Santissima Trinità dei Monti in Rome. Giulio Romano and Gianfrancesco Penni, Vasari reports, executed the frescoes in the early 1520s following designs by Raphael (Vasari-Bettarini and Barocchi 1966–87). Marcantonio Raimondi made engravings after two of the compositions: Martha Leading Mary Magdalene to Christ and Christ in the House of Simon the Pharisee (B.XIV.29.23). Gandini, however, did not use Marcantonio's engraved Christ in the House of Simon the Pharisee as a direct source. His chiaroscuro differs in a number of its details from the engraving, and is arguably closer to Parmigianino's drawing in pen and brown ink and brown wash with white heightening, likely made after a preparatory sheet for the fresco by Raphael or his workshop (the drawing, now in a private collection, is dated to c. 1524–27 and measures 18.7 × 32.3 cm; see Popham 1971 and Ekserdjian 2006).
Gandini's Christ in the House of Simon the Pharisee exists in two states. MFA 1975.520 inscribed “Taglio d'Alex.ro Ghandinj” at the base of Christ's chair in the lightest tone block, represents the first state. Andrea Andreani issued a second state in which he cut slashes through Gandini's signature and used a plug to add the date 1609 and his publisher's address (as observed by Trotter, followed by Johnson, p. 5, and Gnann; see list below). Bartsch knew both Gandini's first state and the Andreani reprint, but mistook them for two entirely different works (they are described in B.XII.141.18 and B.XII.141.17, respectively). He postulated that Ugo da Carpi executed the prime version that Andreani reprinted; and, he considered Gandini's first state to be a copy after an early impression of Ugo's print. (Bartsch also stated that he had never seen an impression of Ugo's print before Andreani's address). Andreani's impressions, printed from aged and damaged blocks using liquid inks, feature broadened lines and diminished highlights. Given how difficult they are to reconcile with Gandini's crisp first state impressions, Bartsch's error is understandable.
Although commonly described as a print from three blocks, Gandini's first state of Christ in the House of Simon the Pharisee, in fact, comprises four. Because he used shades of gray with little contrast, it is hard to distin- guish between blocks. On the other hand, in Andreani's impressions printed in four distinct colors, the block designs are readily individuated. With these reprints as a guide, we can discern the design of each block in Gandini's original printings. The lightest produces the illuminated square windows, while the second tone block renders the wall behind the seated gures. The third block prints the cloud-shaped shadow cast on the wall behind Christ's raised hand, while the darkest prints the vertical lines that define the edges of the pilasters flanking the windows.
The MFA 1975.520 impression of Christ in the House of Simon the Pharisee is a two-block variant using only the lightest blocks. It reveals the essential role these play in the construction of the image, where Gandini gives almost equal importance to broad areas of tone and extensive highlights. This variant also demonstrates Gandini's ability to exploit the planar quality of the blocks with hardly any recourse to contour lines. In its cutting and tonal separations, Christ in the House of Simon the Pharisee is close to the three-block Virgin and Child with Angels, Saints, and a Donor, which is similarly signed “Taglio d'Alend.ro Ghandini” and later reprinted in a second state by Andreani. The absence of an autonomous line block distinguishes these two works from the third signed print, David and Goliath, a rare example of which is in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Johnson acknowledges that without the inscription, it would be nearly impossible to link the linear treatment of David and Goliath with Gandini's two other signed works (Johnson 2013, p. 9). Additionally, it is worth noting that the tone block ink in David and Goliath, both in its color and more opaque formulation, departs from the dark gray palette of Christ in the House of Simon the Pharisee.
Campbell Dodgson, followed by Johnson, considered David and Goliath a companion print to the unsigned Resurrection, known in an apparently unique impression (ALU.1053.1; Dodgson's observation, recorded in a manuscript note, is cited by Johnson, p. 10) Similar in scale, both prints rely on an independent, emphatically linear compositional block, complemented by a single tone block. Both designs can be traced to the circle of Vasari, although the specific source for the Resurrection is not known (Johnson 2013, pp. 11–12). The prints bear similarities in their cutting style and printing inks as well. The lines in the compositional block are uniform in width with soft edges. To render deep shadows, Gandini cut dense passages of long hatchings. The tone block highlights are carved as thin, linear reserve hatchings rather than broad pools. The tone block inks, respectively in lavender and light blue, in the Resurrection and David and Goliath are both opaque and have darkened slightly around the perimeter of each sheet, likely indicating the presence of lead white.
Johnson posits that Gandini's change of style, exemplified by a comparison of Christ in the House of Simon the Pharisee and Resurrection, is consistent with the practice of an amateur. Gandini's stylistic evolution may also reflect the workshop assistance or materials to which he had access during a given period. The possibility that he worked with two different printers, or had made different publishing arrangements to issue his prints, finds some support in the posthumous printings of his blocks. The Mantuan publisher Andrea Andreani only reprinted Virgin and Child with Angels, Saints, and a Donor and Christ in the House of Simon the Pharisee, which may suggest the blocks to Gandini's other prints were not part of the stock he acquired.
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. 196-200.
Other impression of state i/ii:
-Albertina DG2002/285: four blocks in gray https://sammlungenonline.albertina.at/m?queryid=5727111d-fdc6-4bfb-ba45-7785af6998ad
Variant impression from 2 of 4 blocks (state i/ii):
-MFA 1975.520: gray/dark gray (wmk Fleur de Lys in a Circle) https://collections.mfa.org/objects/174506/christ-in-the-house-of-simon-the-pharisee
-BnF EA 39 res: gray/dark gray (wmk Fleur de Lys in a Circle)
Andreani impression (state ii/ii):
-PMA 1985-52-584: https://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/30028.html
, Catalogue of the drawings of Parmigianino
, New Haven, 1971, v. 1, p. 214, n. 746, v. 2, tav. 208
, Chiaroscuro woodcuts of the circles of Raphael and Parmigianino a study in reproductive graphics
, The Univ. of North Carolina, 1974, pp. 120–121
, In Farbe! Clair-obscur-Holzschnitte der Renaissance - Meisterwerke aus der Sammlung Georg Baselitz und der Albertina in Wien
, Monaco, 2013, p. 270, n. 132
, "Alessandro Gandini. Uncovering the identity of a chiaroscuro woodcutter", in Print Quarterly
, 2013, pp. 3-13, pp. 3-13