Chiaroscuro woodcut from 4 blocks, taupe/medium blue-gray/ dark blue-gray/black, i state
state i/iii: with the arms of the scale described by the third-darkest block
state ii/iii: the third darkest block in the arms of the scale cut back; they are now described by white line reserves only
state ii/iii: with Andreani's address, added with a plug at bottom right: “AA in mantoua 1604”
Saturn's composition derives from the celebrated fresco by Pordenone (c. 1483–1539) that once decorated the façade of Palazzo Martino d'Anna on the Grand Canal in Venice, executed around 1535 (Bartsch's erroneous attribution of the design to Parmigianino was corrected by Tietze-Conrat 1939). A drawing of the now lost fresco ensemble indicates Saturn was situated at upper right in the attic story (Cohen 1996, v. 2, p. 713). Saturn, the god of time, is here depicted as a winged figure with a snake biting its own tail encircling his ankles, attributes respectively alluding to the passage of time and eternity. The subject has also been interpreted as an illustration of the proverb Amor vincit Tempus (Love conquers time), due to the inclusion of the young boy, on occasion identified as Cupid, who joins Saturn in holding up scales (Barryte 2016). There is no obvious unifying thread to the façade's iconographic program—composed of seemingly discrete scenes ranging in subject from mythology, ancient history, and allegory—that can further clarify the meaning of this image (Cohen 1996, v. 2, p. 396).
A finished drawing by Pordenone in pen and ink with wash and white heightening has been identified as the model for the four-block Saturn (private collection, formerly Chatsworth n. 234; Cohen 1995, v. 2, p. 710, n. 79). The print, near in size and in the same direction as the drawing, follows its outlines and distribution of lights and darks very closely, and effectively conveys its sculptural quality. Bartsch catalogued the print as the work of Ugo da Carpi, but an attribution to Vicentino is now generally accepted. For one, the dating of the Palazzo d'Anna frescoes precludes Ugo, who died in 1532, as the printmaker responsible for Saturn (for the dating, see Cohen 1995, v. 2, p. 394). The print's cutting technique, material characteristics, and publishing history also provide grounds for an attribution to Vicentino. David Landau discovered crucial evidence in support of this on the verso of BM 1858,0417.1577, which bears a proof impression of the two lighter blocks of Vicentino's signed Virgin and Child with Saints, Mary Magdalene, and an Angel (Landau in The Genius of Venice 1984; the oily, uneven, and ghostlike appearance of the printing resembles a maculature—that is, an impression printed in order to pull off residual ink from a block. However, it is questionable whether a maculature would be printed in register, as is the case here). It is not known, however, whether Vicentino collaborated with Pordenone, or if he worked independently, relying solely on the drawing.
Vicentino's workshop frequently printed different compositions in a single campaign, using the same inks while also following the same printing procedures. MFA 64.1110, BM 1858,0417.1577, and MFA MFA 64.1111, were printed as part of three such editions. By tracking evidence of progressive states and block wear or damage, it is possible to determine the order in which impressions of a given composition were printed and thus to establish a chronology of these editions (for a chronological inventory of six of the fourteen editions, see Stiber Morenus 2015; see also Johnson 2015). MFA 64.1110 in tan and gray, and BM 1858,0417.1577 in taupe and blue-gray, were issued near in time to one another just before the workshop reached its height of activity. 64.1111 in red was printed later (MFA 64.1110 and BM 1858,0417.1577, were preceded by editions in palettes of beige -lead white-, olive and umber, verdigris, and mustard and sienna and followed by an edition in a palette of lime and green, which is the largest multi-composition edition recorded; see Stiber Morenus 2015, pp. 134–139). In point of fact, it represents a previously undescribed second state of Saturn, in which the third-darkest block is cut away in the arms of the scale (the final state was published by Andrea Andreani, who added the plug, “AA in mantoua 1604” in the bottom right corner). It should be noted that the paper evidence is of limited help in establishing the internal chronology of Vicentino's prints, as the watermarks, when discernable, do not vary greatly throughout his oeuvre. A similar watermark type (Anchor in a Circle Surmounted by a Star), recorded in MFA 64.1110, BM 1858,0417.1577, and MFA 64.1111, is prevalent in Vicentino's output generally (Mošin 1973, Mosser et al. n.d., Anchor 486.1, 492.1, 493.1, 461.1, 462.1, and 463.1; Briquet 496; this watermark type is recorded in other impressions of Saturn, including ones in tan and gray, Berlin 175-1891, red, PMA 1985-52-169, and mustard ochre and sienna, Munich 25130D).
The following descriptions of the inks and printing procedures of the present three impressions of Saturn demonstrate the close scrutiny undertaken to identify and characterize impressions that constitute an edition. Furthermore, this examination illustrates the aesthetic consequences of altering the physical properties of inks and printing methods, including their e ects on the articulation of the blocks' designs, the tonal relations between colors, and ultimately the coherence of the composition.
The light tan, gray-tan, dark gray-tan, and black inks in MFA 64.1110 are composed of coarsely ground pigments. The pigment particles of the tan inks are unevenly dispersed in the binder producing a film of nonuniform color. The darkest block is printed in a heavy, black ink that causes the deepest shadows to appear dislocated from forms, thus flattening the composition (this is also the case in BM 1858,0417.1577 and MFA 64.1111). The discrete ink layers indicate that each one was dry when the next one was overprinted. The paper was exceptionally moist when printed, causing the inadvertent transfer of ink from the gouged-out regions (or chatter, which here is especially pronounced near Saturn's feet), deep embossment of the sheet, and poor registration of the blocks. Vicentino's shop appears to have printed few impressions in this edition; to date, only one other print has been recorded with the same inks and printing characteristics (Cloelia ALU.0988.1, MFA 64.1133).
BM 1858,0417.1577 is printed in opaque taupe, medium blue-gray, dark blue-gray, and black inks. The ink pigments are coarsely ground, such that individual white and blue-gray particles are readily visible. The taupe and blue-gray inks are matte, while the black has a slight gloss. The thick, viscous ink layers have irregular, reticulated surfaces because they were pulled into peaks as the paper was peeled from the blocks. The printer evidently attempted to smooth out the medium blue-gray layer once it had been printed, leaving brush marks in its surface (evidently some inks were sufficiently wet to be manipulated post-printing; for an exceptionally pronounced example of brush marks, see Vicentino's Resurrection (MFA 64.1044)). Heavy inking, and printing under considerable pressure, produced pronounced channeled squash. The taupe and black blocks are out of register, while the medium and dark blue-gray blocks shifted during printing. Because the black block was printed while the medium blue-gray was still wet, the two ink layers merged, causing the black ink to appear grayed (five other chiaroscuro woodcuts issued in this edition are Christ Healing the Paralytic ALU.0987.1, Berlin 450-38; Adoration of the Magi ALU.0986.1, V&A 16320; Cloelia ALU.0988.1, BM W,4.111 and Berlin 462-38; Nymphs Bathing ALU.0994.1, Munich 12107; and Cardinal and the Doctor BM 1868,0612.28).
In MFA 64.1111, the judiciously inked blocks were competently printed in light red, medium red, red-brown, and black inks. The reds, likely composed of finely ground white calcite, red vermilion, and red-brown ochre pigments, were applied in relatively sheer films that mix optically when superimposed (these were the results of analysis of another impression of the print, PMA 1985-52-169, by Price et al. 2015). For example, the darkest mid-tone block is red-brown when printed alone, but appears dark red when printed over the lighter reds. This optical blending produces more continuous transitional passages from block to block and thus a more compelling sense of volume. The blocks, which were printed on moist paper using moderate pressure, are well registered. Each ink layer was allowed to dry before the following one was printed. Through these careful ink preparations and printing procedures, the printer produced an impression of clarity and refinement— one that could be mistaken for an early impression, despite having been issued later from Vicentino's shop (for the five other chiaroscuro woodcuts issued in this red edition, see Stiber Morenus 2015, 134–39).
As the inventory of chiaroscuro woodblocks in the Vicentino shop expanded, so did the number of compositions featured in the successive multi-woodcut editions. This increase in both the variety of designs and their available palettes on offer implies a steady growth in the market for these prints. Indeed, more chiaroscuro woodcuts issued from Vicentino's shop survive than from any other sixteenth-century source.
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. 150-154.
See the list of known impressions in ALU.0196.2
, "Pordenone - and not Parmiggianino", The Burlington magazine for connoisseurs
, 1939, pp. 87, 91
, Anchor watermarks
, Amsterdam, 1973, p. 25
, "Printmaking in Venice and the Veneto", The Genius of Venice, 1500-1600
, London, 1983, pp. 335-336, n. 35
, The art of Giovanni Antonio da Pordenone between dialect and language
, Cambridge University Press, 1996, v. 2, pp. 394, 396, 710, 713, n. 79
, Italienische Holzschnitte der Renaissance und des Barock
, Basel, 2003, n. 69
, Ugo da Carpi. L'opera incisa. Xilografie e chiaroscuri da Tiziano, Raffaello e Parmigianino, Carpi, 2009, p. 168, n. 39 (Rossi M.)
, "Niccolò Vicentino's Miraculous Draught of Fishes", in Print Quarterly
, London, 2011, XVIII, 2011, 3, pp. 256-260, pp. 256-260
Stiber Morenus L.
, "The chiaroscuro woodcut printmaking of Ugo da Carpi, Antonio da Trento and Niccolò Vicentino: technique in relation to artistic style", Printing colour 1400 - 1700
, Leiden, 2015, 123-139, pp. 130–39
, "Linking chiaroscuro woodcuts through physical features", Myth, Allegory and Faith. The Kirk Edward Long Collection of Mannerist Prints
, Cinisello Balsamo, 2015, pp. 137-159, pp. 153–56
Price, B.A./ Ash, N./ Dine, H.A.
, "A technical study of sixteenth-century Italian chiaroscuro woodcuts", Printing colour 1400 - 1700
, Leiden, 2015, pp. 140-150, pp. 148–149
, Myth, Allegory, and Faith: The Kirk Edward Long Collection of Mannerist Prints
, Stanford University, 2016, p. 498, n. 106