|Chiaroscuro woodcuts of the sixteenth century are the subject of an Autumn 2013 exhibition at the Albertina in Vienna. Some 220 works are on view from the collection of the painter Georg Baselitz and from the Albertina with the intention of providing a complete account of the genesis and artistic development of this new printing technique, which involved supplementing the black line block with one or several colour tone blocks.
The first known examples of the procedure come from Lucas Cranach and Hans Burgkmair, the latter of whom worked together in some prints with the block-cutter Jost de Negker. Attractive for colour effects otherwise unattainable in printed media, the method was soon adopted by two artists from the Dürer circle, Baldung Grien and Hans Wechtlin, along with masters such as Albrecht Altdorfer.
Only a few years after its invention in Germany, the first Italian masterpieces in chiaroscuro woodcut were made by Ugo da Carpi. Although he falsely claimed to have invented the technique himself, he was undoubtedly a key figure in its further development: he increasingly avoided use of the black line block working exclusively with tone blocks; the unevenly cut colour fields endowed his work with a painterly character, as if it had been modelled in colour and light. His successors, Antonio da Trento and Niccolò Vicentino, took these innovations further and influenced other block-cutters
right down to Andrea Andreani, who set new standards partly by adopting unusually large formats.
Another exceptional figure was the Sienese artist Beccafumi, who combined copper engraving with colour woodcut in some of his fascinating leaves.
Alongside France, the technical potential of the colour woodcut was also explored in the Netherlands, particularly in the highly sophisticated work of Hendrik Goltzius, the medium’s most important proponent there. The exhibition focuses especially on beautiful and rare prints, some of which are preserved only in a single copy.