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Italian School

circa 1550

Architectural Capriccio with Antique Trophies and Male Torso. Etching. 43 x 52.5 cm. Undescribed. Watermark: Two crossed arrows (cf. Woodward 187 ff, Rome, after 1552).

This fascinating, surreal scene was most likely produced around the mid-16th century by an anonymous Italian artist who probably worked in Rome. The composition of the subject strikes the beholder as odd and strangely incoherent, as though it consisted of a motley collection of compositional props randomly assembled without any logical links. Nevertheless, this anonymous etching owes its peculiar charm precisely to the artist’s determination to combine these disparate elements.

The unknown artist has devoted himself with a certain panache to the detailed rendering of antique trophies, a suit of armour and elaborate helmets, which are executed in a painstaking etching technique faintly reminiscent of comparable ornamental prints by Enea Vico. Similar treatment is given to the capitals, architrave and mouldings of an ancient temple in the right foreground. The inscription stating that these are evidently architectural fragments from the Baths of Diocletian testifies to archaeological scholarship. More perfunctory treatment, on the other hand, has been given to the classical torso on the left, which stands somewhat forlornly like a forgotten prop in the wilderness. In the rendering of the terrain in the middle distance the artist has evidently decided not to make too much of an effort: The texture of the bare ground and shaded areas is indicated with only a few lines and simple parallel hatching. A counterpoint to this sparseness is provided by the architecture in the background, where the artist has used a, precise, filigreed technique to suggest space and perspective. The isolated little trees and the vegetation growing on the ruins are sketched in with a deft and sure hand. Despite its internal incoherence the image achieves a remarkably suggestive effect. It may also be one of the earliest examples of an architectural capriccio.

A very fine, partly tonal impression with plate dirt along the right margin and occasional needle scratches; with thread respectively larger margins around the platemark on the right and left; trimmed on the plate mark at the top and below.

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