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Travel Tip: Art and Archaeology in Germany

Ugo da Carpi (um 1480 - 1532),  • after Parmigianino  • Diogenes, undated  • Coloured Woodcut  47,6 cm x 35,2 cm • Weimar Art Collections • Photo courtesy of Haus der Kunst, Munich
Ugo da Carpi (um 1480 - 1532),
after Parmigianino
Diogenes, undated
Coloured Woodcut 47,6 cm x 35,2 cm
Weimar Art Collections
Photo courtesy of Haus der Kunst, Munich
Chiaroscuro: Chiaroscuro Italian Coloured Woodcuts of the Renaissance and the Baroque
MUNICH  •  Haus der Kunst  •  Ongoing
The exhibition Chiaroscuro - Italian Coloured Woodcuts of the Renaissance and the Baroque originated in cooperation with the Weimar Art Collections and the Casa di Goethe, Rome. It presents an outstanding selection of Italian woodcuts of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries and further documents an important area of collecting activity in Weimar around 1800: the Italian chiaroscuro woodcut, also called clay-plate woodcut. All exhibits are from the inventory of the graphics collection of the Weimar art collections.

Italy was at the center of interest of Weimar in Goethe's times. Goethe himself, who was responsible for supervising the ducal art collections, intensified the acquisition policy, which was continued into the second half of the 19th century to such an extent that Weimar today has a well-rounded ensemble of international rank. As some of the Weimar chiaroscuro works are particularly rare, the exhibition brings a hidden, top-flight treasure to light.

In the Italian Renaissance, the chiaroscuro woodcut played a special and independent role. Probably ever since the invention of the woodcut technique, the oldest method of graphic reproduction, there had been a strong desire to add more expressive design features to the traditional monochrome print. The early woodcuts of the late Middle Age were therefore often coloured using watercolours. Producing multicoloured prints, however, was possible only by means of a corresponding number of different plates, which meant that the technique was very complicated. A milestone in the development of this technique is a multicoloured print of six printing plates, produced by Albrecht Altdorfer around 1519/20.

With the chiaroscuro woodcut, however, the aim was not so much to achieve an increasingly multicoloured result with as many plates as possible. Rather, it was inspired by a form of sketch used in Venice since 1495. A drawing technique in which a brush or pen were used on coloured paper became increasingly popular. Shadow areas were filled in with watercolour, and light reflections were produced using white highlighting.

The expressive light-dark modulation, which arises from the interplay between the black sketch and the white cutouts, as well as from the delicate colourfulness of the clay plates, produces a subtle play of light and shade, which makes the chiaroscuro prints particularly charming. As with hand-drawn sketches, an interesting balance between sensual and spiritual impulses, between colourful mellowness and the precision of the line can result. The contrasts are used as a differentiated design method, and the sensitive, subdued, sometimes twilight-like character of the illumination is often heightened to a magical effect. There is an interplay of clarity and a dreamlike crossing of frontiers.

In 1516, the renowned wood engraver Ugo da Carpi was awarded a patent by the Signoria of the Republic of Venice for the invention of the chiaroscuro technique. The main works of this Venetian master form the heart of the exhibition alongside works of Niccolò Vicentino, Antonio da Trento, Niccolò Boldrini, Giovanni Gallo, Alessandro Gandini, Andrea Andreani, Bartolomeo Coriolano and Antonio Maria Zanetti. As a general rule, the wood engravers were not the creators of the pictures in their artistic prints - they artistically reproduced sketches of outstanding painters such as Raphael, Parmigianino or Guido Reni, in their own medium. An impressive example is the main work of Andrea Andreani, the woodcut version of the nine-part picture epos The Triumph of Caesar (1486-1506) by Andrea Mantegna. And it was this version which inspired Goethe to write his essay Julius Caesar's Triumph, painted by Mantegna.

The exhibition catalogue is published by G + H Verlag Berlin; the museum edition costs Euro 24.00, and the bound bookshop edition Euro 27.50. It contains 70 coloured illustrations of the exhibits, a scientific article by Hermann Mildenberger, as well as a complete list of all Italian chiaroscuro woodcuts from the Weimar art collections.

Haus der Kunst Web Site

Contact: Tel: (49) 89 211 270

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