Ugo da Carpi, Diogenes, a woodcut after Parmigianino

Italy
Signed by designer and block cutter; around AD 1525

A chiaroscuro woodcut printed from three blocks

The ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes (about 400-325 BC) rejected conventions and comforts in favour of a simple life of virtue. He reportedly lived in a barrel, shown behind him in this woodcut, which depicts him naked 'shameless as a dog' or as a Cynic (from the Greek word for dog). The plucked bird in the background is his mocking response to Plato's reported definition of man as a ‘featherless biped'.

Vasari, the sixteenth-century biographer of Italian artists, claimed that Ugo (about 1450-1525) invented the chiaroscuro (light and shade) woodcut. In 1516 Ugo was granted the exclusive privilege of employing this 'invention' in Venice. However, in Germany Cranach had published a colour woodcut with highlights in 1507, Burgkmair had published a fully tonal print in 1510, and Baldung's Witches' Sabbath of 1510 had been copied in Venice by 1516.

Nonetheless, under Parmigianino's guidance, Ugo's skilful block cutting has produced a masterpiece. Diogenes himself points out their names with his stick. The print captures the exuberance of a chalk and wash drawing on coloured paper, with the heroic figure style of the High Renaissance style in Rome. Each block printed alone would be meaningless, but together the four colours suggest powerful masses in space, with light blazing from the unprinted white paper.

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More information

Bibliography

D. Landau and P. Parshall, The Renaissance print 1470-155 (New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1994)

Dimensions

Height: 490.000 mm
Width: 354.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1859-7-9-2376 (B.XII.100.10)

PPA61727

Location

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