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Psyche Ascends to Olympus with Prosperina’s Vase. Woodcut. 26.7 x 19.0 cm. Watermark: Kneeling saint in a circle (similar to Briquet 7627, Naples 1536).
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Luca Cambiaso ranks among the most unconventional, influential and prolific artistic personalities of the Italian Cinquecento and is considered beyond all doubt to be the outstanding master of the Genoese school in that century. The artist and his workshop executed an apparently inexhaustible number of drawings and preliminary studies for other artists. In his Vite de’ Pittori, Scoltori ed Architetti Genovesi ... (1674) Soprani commends the artist’s astounding drawing skills as well as his incredible workload.
While Cambiaso’s paintings and drawings have been researched in depth thanks to the work of Wilhelm Suida, virtually nothing is known about the artist’s extremely rare prints. François Brulliot was one of the first authors to draw attention to Cambiaso’s printed oeuvre in his Dictionnaire des Monogrammes (1832), recording a group of woodcuts by and after Cambiaso bearing the monograms GG., N.F and P.S.F. respectively (Brulliot, vol. I, 1364). Nagler added to a few more prints to this list in 1860, all of them bearing the monogram LC and considered to be autograph works by the artist. He wrote: “Cambiaso himself appears to have circulated prints of this kind. They imitate either simple pen and ink drawings or outlines in black chalk ... The outlines are executed with considerable vigour and a painterly touch” (Die Monogrammisten, vol. II, 312, pp. 115–116). Finally, Nagler listed a small group of woodcuts, some of them uninscribed, which appear both as pure woodcuts printed in black and white or as impressions reworked in brown wash. In the more recent literature the question of Cambiaso’s activity as a printmaker was hardly given any space at first either. For example, in the monumental monograph Luca Cambiaso. La vita e le opere, published in 1958 by Bertina Suida Manning and William Suida, the issue is only marginally discussed. The authors list nine woodcuts by Cambiaso altogether.
The present woodcut is not included in the list published by Suida Manning / Suida and is of exquisite rarity. A further impression is at the British Museum in London. Looking at our sheet, one cannot but be amazed by Cambiaso’s ability to create a sense of depth and three-dimensionality with just a few lines. His style appears astonishingly modern. Compared to the two woodcuts in Florence there is a much more stringent economy of means. The depiction is rendered in an elementary, purely linear technique. A clear, striking linear framework defines the outlines of the figures and their individual shapes; the artist has dispensed almost completely with any parallel hatching. He thus achieves a high degree of abstraction. Nevertheless, the scene appears visually concise and full of tremendous dynamism.
A superb, strong impression with margins. Minor ageing, otherwise in excellent condition. This almost untraceable work is justifiably considered a precious specimen of 16th century Italian printmaking.