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Gian Giacomo Caraglio

(1505 Verona – 1565 Cracow)

Portrait of Pietro Aretino. Engraving, after Titian? 19.2 x 15.2 cm. B. XV, 98, 64. Watermark: Crown with half moon.

The engraver, goldsmith and gem cutter Gian Giacomo Caraglio was one of the most important engravers in Marcantonio Raimondi’s circle in Rome in the 1520s. The artist probably settled there in 1524, after having previously worked in Parma, where he had evidently been in close contact with Francesco Parmigianino. As a reproductive engraver, Caraglio possessed considerable technical skill and versatility and could effortlessly adapt to the preferred style of his models. For Marcantonio’s publisher Baviera he produced numerous engravings after drawings by Rosso Fiorentino, which brilliantly translate the mannerist refinement and highly individual expressiveness of Rosso’s art into the medium of engraving. After the traumatic experience of the Sack of Rome in 1527 Caraglio, unlike many other artists of his time, did not leave the city, although the exact duration of his sojourn in Rome is unknown. At all events he was demonstrably active in Venice in 1533–34, where he belonged to the circle of Titian and Pietro Aretino.

The present portrait of Aretino is an impressive example of Caraglio’s powers as an artist. He uses a highly sophisticated engraving technique, which betrays his training as a goldsmith. Worthy of note is the minutely designed acanthus ornamentation of the elaborate oval frame. The portrait itself, on the other hand, is executed with a remarkable economy of means. Using a relatively simple, broad system of cross- and parallel-hatching the artist achieves very pronounced textural and three-dimensional effects. The very limitations imposed on the means used reveal the refinement of his engraving style. In psychological terms, too, this little portrait is a veritable gem. Given the high quality of the draughtsmanship, Adam von Bartsch supposed Titian to be the author of the original. The character traits of Pietro Aretino, the “scourge of princes”, are captured in masterly fashion. Even though it is only a bust-length portrait, the impression of a massive, powerful figure is convincingly conveyed. The strong head with the long flowing beard, the prominent nose and short neck betray physical strength, belligerence and virility. Below the portrait, reproduced in abbreviated form, is a motto from Terence (Andria 68) which fits the poet and polemicist perfectly: (Obsequium amicos)/Veritas odium parit – (Obsequiousness creates friends/truth hatred).

A superb, strong impression with margins around the inky platemark. Minor hinging residues on the verso, otherwise in excellent condition. With a collector’s monogram not listed in Lugt on the verso.

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