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Francesco Villamena, Street Fight, an engraving


Height: 345.000 mm
Width: 495.000 mm

PD 1926-5-11-44

Prints and Drawings

    Francesco Villamena, Street Fight, an engraving

    Italy, AD 1601

    A street brawl in Rome

    Attempts by the Pope to play off the great powers of France and Spain against one another were the background to considerable street fighting in Rome in the period around AD 1600. This signed engraving records a violent incident in which the defiant bruiser on the left, Bruttobuono ('the ugly good man'), a partisan of the Spanish party, was set upon and stoned to death by his opponents, who supported France. The episode was recorded because of the interest of Ciriaco Mattei, to whom the print is dedicated. According to the inscription, Mattei had been a protector of Bruttobuono, and after his death had erected a statuary group depicting the brawl in his garden. Villamena (1564-1624) admits that it is a low subject to offer a nobleman, but feels sure that Mattei will accept it from one who is always eager to serve him. The dedication of prints was a well-established way of earning money. Mattei would have been expected to reward Villamena with a generous gift.

    Villamena was an innovator in making such an engraving of an ordinary man engaged in a heroic action. At the same time he was also making engravings of street characters. Works such as The Gardener, The Ink Seller, The Roast-Chestnut Seller, stimulated Jacques Callot's (1592-1635) etchings of such figures, and these in turn inspired Rembrandt and Hollar. Villamena's engraving style of open parallel lines which cross in the shadows is derived from Cornelius Cort. It was taken up by Claude Mellan during his visit to Rome, and Mellan's purified version of the technique became widespread in mid-seventeenth century Paris.

    M. Bury, The Print in Italy 1550-1620, exh cat. (London, The British Museum Press, 2001)


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