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Naval Battle between Greeks and Trojans. Engraving. 40.9 x 58 cm. 1538. Bartsch XV, 383, 20; Massari 6 II (of V). Watermark: Tree in Shield (similar to Woodward 134, after 1545).
The Great Naval Battle is unquestionably the principal work of the Mantua-based sculptor and engraver, Giovanni Battista Scultori (“cette estampe est la plus considérable et la plus belle de toutes celles gravées par ce maître”, Adam von Bartsch). Moreover, it is one of the most significant and influential printed works in Italian art of the Cinquecento.
In this meticulous, technically sophisticated engraving Scultori has portrayed the violent scene with its innumerable protagonists in a large format. One can only marvel at the host of brilliantly observed details, which make the gruesome carnage very vivid and all but tangible. Pictorial motifs going back to antiquity and the art of Raphael and Giulio Romano – Scultori assisted the latter in decorating the Palazzo del Te in Mantua – are accompanied by an interest in archaeological detail that borders on the academic. Such historical fastidiousness must have made a tremendous impression on the artist’s contemporaries and it continues to do so today. The very disciplined and concentrated engraving technique is a further contributory factor in transforming this work into a true spectacle with an exhilarating visual impact. The frenzied actions of the rearing hippocampi on the left of the picture, for example, are wonderfully observed, every detail of their anatomy being rendered with metallic sharpness. On a small strip of land in the foreground a merciless life-or-death battle is depicted in gory detail; an ancient river god resting on a rock ledge with a seemingly detached air has turned his back on the events. While Giulio Romano was traditionally regarded as the author of the composition, it is in fact Scultori’s own invention. The artist has succeeded here in achieving a perfect synthesis between ancient pictorial traditions and stylistic elements from the Italian High Renaissance and merging them to form a magnificent new pictorial creation.
A superb, inky and contrasting early impression with even margins around the crisp and inky platemark , before the address of Nicolas van Aelst. Minimal creasing along the margins, minor ageing, otherwise in mint condition.