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Italian School

ca. 1540

Petrarch and Laura; Lodovico Ariosto and Jacopo Sannazaro. Four engravings. Each ca. 23.4 x 16.5 cm. Ant. Sal. Exc. Undescribed. Watermark: Arrows crossed under star (Woodward 193 ff, on two sheets).

These interesting portraits belong to a series of famous Italian poets of the trecento and the Renaissance. As the prints are not described in the critical literature, it is impossible to tell with certainty whether the series consisted of just four plates or whether there were others. Two portraits bear the address of Antonio Salamanca, who was a publisher of engravings in Rome from 1517 until his death in 1562. His printing house on the Campo de’ Fiori was known as a meeting place for humanists and collectors, and portraits of poets like these must have coincided exactly with the interests of its learned clientele.

Francesco Petrarch is depicted wearing a laurel wreath in the classical manner – like the ancient Roman emperors he is shown in austere profile and as a bust-length portrait. More remarkable is the wonderful portrayal of his beloved, Laura, the principal character of the Canzoniere. The portrait owes its effect to the amazing subtlety of treatment and the crystal clarity and sharpness of line, which makes full use of the advantages of the burin. The two other portraits show the poets Jacopo Sannazaro and Lodovico Ariosto, who both enjoyed great popularity in the 16th century.

Two impressions of the Laura are kept in the Berlin Kupferstichkabinett. One impression is identical with our copy, while the other impression is printed together with the portrait of Petrarch on a single sheet. Salamanca’s address on the left in the text margin is still faintly discernible, while in the lower margin the same address appears in a new spelling: “Ant. Sal. Esc.” (Italian School Unknown 2, LW 12/9 and 4, LW 12/11). The Portrait of Jacopo Sannazaro corresponds to the copy in the Berlin Kupferstichkabinett, while, in contrast to our impression, the latter’s Portrait of Lodovico Ariosto bears the address “ANT.SAL.EXC.”. The portraits were apparently very popular and were published in several editions. The author of the engravings may have been Nicolas Beatrizet, who began by working as an engraver for Salamanca after his arrival in Rome around 1540. The Portrait of Titus Livius (B. XV, 243, 7) shows a schematic and somewhat laboured treatment similar to that in the portraits of Petrarch and Jacopo Sannazaro, for example. It is possible, however, that this naiveté of conception was due to the quality of the model the engraver had at his disposal. At all events, the portraits of Ariosto and Laura are technically considerably superior and more refined in their execution. The extremely disciplined and varied engraving technique used for Laura, the subtle rendering of the locks of hair as well as the precision and acuteness of the draughtsmanship recall the best works of Beatrizet (cf. for example B. 24, 42).

Very fine, strong and contrasting impressions with narrow margins around the borderline, two sheets with narrow margins around the platemark on three sides. Minimal aging, otherwise in excellent condition.

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