ca. 1558/59 – Mantua – 1629
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The Triumph of Caesar (after ANDREA MANTEGNA) 1595–99 (detail)
chiaroscuro woodcut printed on ten sheets mounted in two friezes, both with separately detached pilasters between the scenes
each ca. 368 x 372 mm (14 1/2 x 14 5/8 inches); the mounted friezes measuring 383 x 2025 mm and 382 x 2105 mm respectively (15 1/16 x 79 3/4 and 15 1/16 x 82 7/8 inches)
Bartsch, vol. 12, p. 103, no. 11
Dieter Graf/Hermann Mildenberger, Chiaroscuro. Italienische Farbholzschnitte der Renaissance und des Barock, exhibition catalogue, Kunstsammlungen zu Weimar, 2001, nos. 41–50 (describing the set owned by Goethe)
Achim Gnann, In Farbe! Clair-obscur-Holzschnitte der Renaissance. Meisterwerke aus der Sammlung Georg Baselitz und der Albertina in Wien, exhibition catalogue, Albertina, Vienna, 2013–14, nos. 209–219
Naoko Takahatake, The Chiaroscuro Woodcut in Renaissance Italy, exhibition catalogue, Los Angeles County Museum/National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2018–19, no. 108 (entry by Jamie Gabarelli)
Born in Mantua, Andreani was trained as a Formschneider (cutter of woodblocks) and began his career in Rome around 1580. From 1583 to 1586 he worked in Florence followed by eight productive years in Siena. In 1593 he returned to his hometown where he would stay for the rest of his life. In April of that year he received a first payment of 20 scudi from Duke Vincenzo I Gonzaga who also provided him, a few months later, with a loan to set up his print workshop. In 1595 Vincenzo paid the woodcutter 30 scudi to publish Mantegna’s painting cycle “in print.” Andrea Mantegna’s Triumph of Caesar, a series of nine large canvas paintings, were commissioned around 1485 by Francesco II, the great-grandfather of Vincenzo I. The paintings were among the most treasured works of art at the Mantuan court, and a proud reminder of the Gonzaga’s patronage, wealth, and power. Originally shown in the Castello di Corte, they were moved around the time of Mantegna’s death in 1506 to the new Gonzaga palace next to San Sebastiano where they were displayed in a purpose-built gallery on the first floor.
The title- and dedication-page gives 1599 as the publication date. That the project took four years to complete is not surprising. The task was enormous: nine images, each using four blocks, plus five blocks for the title-page, and two blocks to print the sheet with the pilasters that were meant to be cut out and placed between each of the individual scenes. All of this added up to no less than 43 blocks!
The title-page mentions that Andreani based his woodcuts on preparatory drawings provided by the Mantuan painter Bernardo Malpizzi (ca. 1553–1623). Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum owns a group of grisaille tempera paintings that show Mantegna’s compositions in the same size as the woodcuts. What is unclear, though, is if these are the very models by Malpizzi that Andreani could have used. When compared with Mantegna’s canvases, the grisailles show a variety of differences. Andreani’s woodcuts, on the other hand, remain, in many of these instances, more faithful to the paintings. This led Achim Gnann, in his detailed analysis of both the correspondences and differences between paintings, grisailles, and woodcuts, to propose the existence of a now-lost set of preliminary drawings that served as working models for the Vienna grisaille paintings as well as for Andreani’s woodcuts.
The title- and dedication-page shows Gian Marco Cavalli’s bronze bust of Mantegna, which decorates the master’s burial chapel in Sant’Andrea in Mantua. This is worth mentioning because Andreani—in his effort to revive the by-then nearly a-century-old chiaroscuro technique—was the first to employ three-dimensional sculptures as source for his woodcut designs, most famously Giambologna’s Rape of a Sabine that is depicted from three different sides in Andreani’s astonishing woodcuts from 1584 (Bartsch, vol. 12, pp. 93f., nos. 1–3).
Once finished, Andreani’s prints were the first to depict Mantegna’s cycle in its entirety and, thanks to the new modo di stampare, they could show it in color. The woodcut series is Andreani’s most important and most famous work. It is also his last independent work as a printmaker. Around 1600 he acquired around 30 sets of chiaroscuro blocks from the early sixteenth century and changed his practice to become a publisher. He added his own monogram “AA” to those earlier prints and started to reprint them – judging by the large numbers of surviving impressions – in what must have been large editions. After having successfully revived a medium that by the end of the sixteenth century had “bred a sort of boredom” (Antony Griffiths), Andreani could ultimately not escape the fact that the era of the chiaroscuro print had come to an end and he spent the final years of his career looking back at its early masterpieces in “a retrospective gaze” (Jamie Gabarelli).
For Mantegna’s Trionfi, however, Andreani’s woodcuts provided a continuous visual presence that contributed to their everlasting fame—even more so after the canvases themselves were sold to Charles I of England in 1628 where they can still be admired today in Hampton Court Palace.