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Michele Greco

(or Grecchi, known as Lucchese, active in Rome between 1534 and 1564)

L’Asinaria. Engraving. 26 x 43.3 cm. 1564. Not in Passavant. Watermark: Ladder in a Shield Surmounted by a Cross (Woodward 255–256, Rome, Venice, after 1558).

This fascinating and iconographically complex composition can be seen as an allegory of human folly. Pictured in the foreground against the backdrop of the Eternal City is a herd of donkeys in a state of intense agitation. They are bucking, biting each other, emptying their bowels and trampling disrespectfully on the attributes of the arts and the sciences which lie scattered on the ground as if in a still life. Among these attributes are a celestial sphere, mathematical instruments and a magical numerical table along with musical instruments such as a viola da gamba, a flute and a crummhorn. Hovering over the scene is another donkey disguised as Pegasus. Pictured in the background are the antique remains of the Forum Romanum and another landmark of the city of Rome, the mediaeval Torre delle Milizie just a stone’s throw from the Forum. There is a second version of this very rare print by the Venetian engraver and publisher, Domenico Zenoi, which derives directly from the present prototype.

Our engraving has been executed in the vigorous, disciplined style characteristic of Lucchese which ensures compositional coherence and effectively bonds the individual elements of the composition together. For a more detailed examination of the iconography see Jean Michel Massing, ‘Washing the Ass’s Head: Proverbial and Allegorical Prints of the Sixteenth Century’, Print Quarterly, vol. XXVIII, September 2011, Number 3, pp. 300–301. A superb, inky and contrasting impression with even margins. Minor defects, occasional remains of old hinges along the margins on the verso, otherwise in excellent condition. With an old collector’s signature in pen and brown ink on the recto (not in Lugt).

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