Diogenes, after Parmigianino
47.7 cm x 35 cm (18 3/4 in. x 13 3/4 in.)
Ugo da Carpi
(Carpi (Modena), Italy, circa 1480 - 1532, Bologna)
Medium and Support:
Chiaroscuro woodcut from four blocks, printed in blue-green
Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, Purchase through the generosity of Julia and Stephen Wilkinson, 2005
From the moment of its creation, this has been the most celebrated woodcut of sixteenth-century Italy. Diogenes was the ancient Greek philosopher for whom the pursuit of virtue was the sole good. Here he appears as a heroic figure before the wooden barrel in which he lived, the billowing drape his only clothing and the plucked chicken a reference to his mocking of Plato’s definition of man as “a featherless biped.” Equally striking is the mastery of technique in which separate blocks were printed in successively darker tones to suggest modeling. In no work of the kind was the cutting more virtuoso, the printing better coordinated, or the scale more audacious.
Ugo da Carpi was the first and greatest master of chiaroscuro woodcut in Italy. Active in Venice as an illustrator, he learned the technique from the circulation of early German examples. Going to Rome in 1516, he turned to reproducing Raphael’s drawings in brush and wash with white heightening. With its Michelangelesque form, suave rhythms, and improbable grace, Diogenes depends on a lost drawing of Parmigianino’s period in Rome. Surely it was the challenge of interpreting his difficult and utterly personal style that brought da Carpi to the unequaled heights of this print.
Diogenes was reprinted through the sixteenth century in various colors and with increasing coarseness. Extremely rare, the blue-green scheme and clarity of this impression correspond to the earliest printings.