Rest on the Flight into Egypt, after Federico Barocci

Chiaroscuro from two blocks inches 13,7 x 11 (mm 348 x 281)

Chiaroscuro in two light sepia-coloured matrices; Naoko Takahatake, The chiaroscuro woodcut in Renaissance Italy', Los Angeles 2018, cat. 91;

The extremely rare, brilliant and homogeneous print is taken from a drawing by Federico Barocci. The British Museum, which owns three exemplars of this subject, has not yet provided a plausible name for the woodcutter, but it is certainly a protagonist of the Maestro's circle known for his inventions. The subject is complete with all the block imprint and with a margin thread all around. In an exceptional state of preservation.

The desire to introduce colour animated the engraving scene from the 16th century onwards throughout Europe, with different methods among artists of the southern and northern schools. The earliest examples can be dated around 1510-16, by a small enclave of Italian artists. The eternal dispute as to whether to credit the origin to the Nordics rather than the Italians seems to confirm that the first chiaroscuro– the woodcutters involving colour– first appeared in Germany. Regardless of the controversy, there is no doubt that within a very short period of time, the graphic landscape was enriched with works created with this technique that was as complex as it was effective.

In Italy, painter-engravers such as Titian, Raphael and Parmigianino, and their respective schools, were able to create a method that, however difficult and articulated, achieved the desired result: colour and plastic volume. The name of the technique derives precisely from the possibility of giving effective chiaroscuro effects. Unfortunately, its complexitỳ of execution explains why chiaroscuro had few followers, including Ugo da Carpi, Antonio da Trento and Domenico Beccafumi.

The subject of the work is the rest on the Flight into Egypt, taken from the Gospel according to Matthew. After the arrival of the Magi before the Infant Jesus, Joseph receives the apparition of an angel who warns him of the danger in which his son would find himself by remaining in Judea. The Holy Family then decides to flee to Egypt, which is a few days' walk away. Federico Barocci shows us a moment of rest. Joseph, with a protective air, offers a curious Jesus an olive branch, a symbol of regeneration as a wish for the new beginning that lies before them. Mary, on the other hand, serenely hands the little one some food.