There’s more to Marcantonio Raimondi than just porn!

‘[…] Giulio Romano caused Marc’ Antonio to engrave twenty plates showing all the various ways, attitudes, and positions in which licentious men have intercourse with women; and, what was worse, for each plate Messer Pietro Aretino wrote a most indecent sonnet, insomuch that I know not which was the greater, the offence to the eye from the drawings of Giulio, or the outrage to the ear from the words of Aretino…Of a truth, the gifts of God should not be employed, as they very often are, in things wholly abominable, which are an outrage to the world.’

(Giorgio Vasari, ‘The Lives of Marc’ Antonio Bolognese (Raimondi) and of other Engravers of Prints’, 1568)

We get it. Marcantonio Raimondi created one of the earliest instances of modern, distributable pornography, the scandalous I Modi (c. 1524). He was imprisoned and bailed out, and any surviving impressions were destroyed. Among Vasari’s biographical anecdotes, this is one of the most famous. But is that really all there is to him? Absolutely not.

Installation view

The Whitworth’s exhibition is the first retrospective overview of the artist’s work in the UK. I say ‘overview’ because it is not even close to being comprehensive. Adam von Bartsch’s multi-volume Le peintre-graveur lists 652 individual works under the heading ‘Marcantonio’ which in fact also includes works by his pupils, Agostino Veneziano and Marco Dente da Ravenna. The number of exhibits featured amounts to less than 10% of this number.

Marcantonio Raimondi, Pyramus and Thisbe, 1505. British Museum, London
Marcantonio Raimondi, Saint George, c. 1504. British Museum, London

Very little is known of Raimondi’s early life and training. He is believed to have been born around 1480 in Argini, north-east of Bologna, and died around 1534, somewhere else other than in Rome. Vasari attributes Raimondi’s early training to the Bolognese artist Francesco Raibolini, also known as Francesco Francia. His first dated print is the Pyramus and Thisbe (1505) which features his trademark, tightly-spaced, parallel hatching and occasional use of stippling. This is the work of someone who was not only technically proficient but also compulsively meticulous, in a manner close to Northern European artists. He was clearly very proud of his abilities and it didn’t take long until he began to sign his prints with his monogram ‘MAF’. His earliest engraved signature (and the only example in this form) appears to be ‘MAR ANT’ on his Saint George (c. 1504).

Durer Raimondi
From left to right: Albrecht Dürer, The Visitation, 1503-04. British Museum, London; Marcantonio Raimondi, The Visitation, after Albrecht Dürer, c. 1506. British Museum, London

Raimondi’s career is usually spearheaded by some of the giants of European art: Albrecht Dürer, Michelangelo, and Raphael. He is famous for his engraved copies of Dürer’s woodcuts (complete with Durer’s monogram) and ‘they proved to be so similar in manner, that, no one knowing that they had been executed by Marc’ Antonio, they were ascribed to Albrecht, and were bought and sold as works by his hand.’ When viewing Dürer’s Visitation (1503-04) next to Raimondi’s engraved copy from two years later, thick woodcut lines have been replaced with thinly layered engraved lines. As a result, the tonal contrasts in the engraving are subtler, but Dürer’s original remains superior in terms of overall visual impact. Raimondi’s engravings, however, are never direct ‘copies’. He improved the Northerner’s figures by idealising them, for example, giving them a more Italianate feel with less wrinkles and rounder faces. Despite these differences, Raimondi’s ‘copies’ sparked one of Europe’s earliest lawsuits concerning copyrighted material and intellectual property. This was resolved with permission for Raimondi to continue making his ‘copies’ but at the expense of leaving the signature tablet blank, which usually bore Dürer’s ‘AD’ monogram.

Lucas van Leyden, Mohammed and the Monk Sergius, 1508. British Museum, London
Marcantonio Raimondi, The Climbers, 1510. British Museum, London
Aristotile da Sangallo, Bathers cartoon (section of the Battle of Cascina), after Michelangelo, 1542. Holkham Hall, Norfolk

Dürer prints were not the only images available to Raimondi from Venice. The Climbers (1510), his last dated print, is one of the key examples in his oeuvre where he spliced together three figures from Michelangelo’s awe-inspiring Battle of Cascina (1504-05) with the background landscape of Lucas van Leyden’s Mohammed and the Monk Sergius (1508). Raimondi’s proximity to Venice and to the major artistic centres in Central Italy – Florence and Rome – meant that he was in the perfect location to source the latest in innovative ideas from Northern Europe, as well as his own country. This cut-and-paste approach appears in much of his early work.

By 1510, he appears to have begun working in Rome, around the same time as the creation of The Climbers. His reputation as Raphael’s collaborator begins here and two particular projects outshine the rest: The Massacre of the Innocents (1510) and The Judgement of Paris (1515-16).

Marcantonio Raimondi, The Massacre of the Innocents (with fir tree), 1510. British Museum, London
Marcantonio Raimondi, The Massacre of the Innocents (without fir tree), 1510. British Museum, London

The Massacre of the Innocents is believed to be Raphael’s first major endeavour in printmaking where he has created designs expressly for the purpose of being engraved, creating so-called ‘original prints’, as opposed to ‘reproductive prints’. We can see this in the Whitworth’s display of two of Raphael’s well-known compositional studies from the British Museum and the Royal Collection. Hung immediately next to them are Raimondi’s two versions of the Massacre of the Innocents – with and without the fir tree in the far-right background – and Marco Dente’s version of Raimondi’s print. Scholars are still baffled as to why Raimondi made two autograph versions of basically the same print. According to the Bolognese historian Carlo Cesare Malvasia, Raimondi was supposedly murdered for producing a second plate of the Massacre of the Innocents against his patron’s wishes; this is probably untrue.

Raphael, Study for The Massacre of the Innocents, c. 1510. British Museum, London
Raphael, Study for The Massacre of the Innocents, c. 1510. The Royal Collection, Windsor

Engravers also had a certain amount of creative license. Artists would supply them with drawn designs and these would be interpreted through the medium of print. In the case of the Massacre of the Innocents, Raphael provided the dramatic killing spree in the foreground; the rest was up to Raimondi to invent for himself. Printmaking was as much an interpretive endeavour as it was a collaborative effort.

Marcantonio Raimondi, The Judgement of Paris, 1515-16. British Museum, London
Villa Medici sarcophagus
Roman, Front panel of a sarcophagus, 2nd-3rd century AD. Villa Medici, Rome
Villa Doria Pamphilj sarcophagus
Roman, Sarcophagus relief depicting the Judgement of Paris, 3rd century AD. Villa Doria Pamphilj, Rome

The Judgement of Paris is typically considered a high point in their collaboration and of Renaissance printmaking. Assuming the dating of the print around 1515-16 is correct, Raphael was already the Chief Architect of Saint Peter’s Basilica by now, a position he acquired soon after the death of Donato Bramante in 1514. This role was also facilitated by his appointment as Inspector of Antiquities which, whilst obtaining ancient stones for rebuilding the Basilica, involved preserving ‘ancient pieces of marble and stone that bear inscriptions or other remains which often contain things memorable…to be preserved for the progress of classical studies and the elegance of the Latin tongue’.

The print’s composition was inspired by ancient sources, including relief sculptures depicting the same subject found on two Roman stone sarcophagi now in the Villa Medici and the Villa Doria Pamphilj in Rome. When it was published, Vasari reported that it amazed all of Rome for its display of technical skill and compositional brilliance. Centuries later, Édouard Manet would go on to borrow the right half of the composition when painting his Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (1863).

Raimondi Manet
Left: Marcantonio Raimondi, The Judgement of Paris (detail), 1515-16. British Museum, LondonRight: Édouard Manet, Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, 1863. Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Two other engravings also seem to have been specifically designed by Raphael for the same purpose: the elusive Plague in Crete (The Morbetto) (c. 1514) and the Quos Ego (c. 1516). For the former, the exhibition has presented two versions of the former – an unlettered state and a lettered state – alongside one of the preparatory drawings. A further engraving, The Last Supper (c. 1515) presents a curious case.

Marcantonio Raimondi, The Last Supper, c. 1515. British Museum, London
Attributed to Raphael, Modello for The Last Supper, c. 1514. The Royal Collection, Windsor
Marco Dente da Ravenna, The Last Supper, c. 1515. British Museum, London

This engraving is based on a same-sized modello (preparatory compositional drawing) in the Royal Collection…or is it? Scholarship has often debated whether the modello, usually attributed to Raphael with contributions by Raimondi, was made before or after the engraving. To enter this debate, one also needs to refer to Dente’s version of the same print, which is not included in the exhibition.

Raphael Dente Raimondi
From left to right: Raphael (attributed); Marco Dente; Marcantonio Raimondi

Although the two engravings appear identical to the modello, there are in fact minor differences. On the modello’s far right is a large urn. Its placement past the fold-line which denotes the edge of the would-be print supports its function as a modello, as well as the presence of pin-holes that once held the drawing down so that the design could be traced and transferred using a stylus. But for which version of the print? The clue lies towards the left end of the table where a knife and wine carafe makes an appearance. In the engravings, the carafe has been turned into a jug. The knife, however, exists as very light drypoint lines not gone over with a burin in Dente’s version, and not existing at all in Raimondi’s. This mere trace of detail has thus supported the theory that the modello was made in preparation for Dente’s engraving, which Raimondi is now believed to have later imitated. This presents a rare example in Dente’s oeuvre where he is shown as being antecedent to his reputation as a copyist of his master’s engravings.

Raimondi’s source material for his engravings were not always tailor-made. He did many reproductive prints after existing works of art – as he did with Dürer’s prints – such as figures from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling or Raphael’s Villa Farnesina decorations. Other times, his engravings were developed from abandoned designs for projects. A case in point is the Parnassus (c. 1517).

Marcantonio Raimondi, The Parnassus, c. 1517. British Museum, London
Raphael, The Parnassus, 1511. Stanza della Segnatura, Musei Vaticani, Vatican City

The Parnassus engraving was based on a rejected design by Raphael for his 1511 fresco of the same subject in Pope Julius II’s intended private library, the Stanza della Segnatura in the Vatican. Although Raphael’s original drawing is now lost, a copy exists in the Ashmolean Museum. The engraving omits from the fresco four poets and turns it into a rectangular scene (not arch-topped) with putti fluttering above by the trees. Despite its differences, the presence of the window embrasure remains, alongside the inscription ‘RAPHAEL PINXIT IN VATICANO’, referencing the latter’s location and who painted it. Prints of this kind served the commercial purpose of making accessible images that could not be seen in person by the public.

Displayed nearby is a lesser-known drawing by Raphael depicting Saint John the Baptist as an infant. It is bound within a copy of Luigi Lanzi’s The History of Painting in Italy and is dated around 1507-08, the two years before he left Florence for Rome. The pen-and-ink drawing (with wash and white body-colour) is evidently a fragment of a larger composition, most likely depicting the Virgin and infant Christ as well. Raphael’s Florentine period (1504-08) saw him experimenting with creative, new ways of producing images around the theme of the Virgin and Child and the Holy Family. These were heavily inspired by Leonardo da Vinci, even to the extent that Raphael also began drawing with pen-and-ink instead of his usual metalpoint stylus.

Raphael, Saint John the Baptist, c. 1507-08(?). Liverpool Libraries and Information Services

The drawing serves no real purpose in the exhibition or to the narrative of Raimondi’s career, but it is a delightful example in the history of collecting, having previously entered the illustrious collections of Jonathan Richardson Sr, Earl Spencer, and then William Roscoe. It was then sold in Roscoe’s bankruptcy sale to a ‘Walker’ before being re-acquired by his son Thomas and bound into the present volume. The volume was then passed by descent to Mrs Agnes Muriel Roscoe, who bequeathed it to Liverpool Library in 1950, where it has resided ever since.

First Raphael drawing ever
My first time sketching from a Raphael drawing in person!

It is around this part in the exhibition where the format changes from biography to a more thematic focus in the later sections: ‘Antiquity and mythology’, ‘Virtue: antique and Christian’, ‘Faith and devotion’.

Antiquity and references to it are very much prevalent in Raimondi’s work. Whereas the Apollo Belvedere (after 1511) is a straightforward representation of the famous sculpture and where to see it, his engraving of the Spinario (c. 1512) humanises it, turning it into a living figure who pulls a thorn from his foot under the shade of a tree. His friendship with Jacopo Ripanda – who trained under Francia and well-known for his studies of antiquity – may have helped develop this interest, possibly encountering antiquarians and collectors because of this. A particularly intriguing example is the Caryatid Façade (c. 1520?), an engraving of an architectural façade with four caryatids, four telamones, and a large bust of Aspasia above the doorway.

Marcantonio Raimondi, The Caryatid Façade, c. 1520(?). British Museum, London

In the exhibition catalogue, a specialist essay by Kathleen W. Christian has been dedicated to the Caryatid Façade because of its lack of scholarly interest and reluctance to fit within the usual Vasarian narrative of Raimondi’s career in Rome as simply a figure publicising Raphael’s work. This curious engraving, which sets a Caryatid portico in the Ionic order on top of a Persian portico in the Doric order, is argued by the author as bringing together ‘architectural fantasia, archaeology and Vitruvian studies, reflecting on the origins of the orders and the nature of architectural ornament.’ She continues by suggesting that it is ‘an indirect trace of Raphael’s unfinished projects to reconstruct Rome and to collaborate with humanist Fabio Calvo and others on a new edition of Vitruvius.’

The essay concludes with a revealing statement about Raimondi’s intellectual awareness of the issues and debates concerning the display of antique sculpture in Rome and ‘the question of how sculpture can be harmoniously integrated with architectural settings.’ The Caryatid Façade is not a thing that would genuinely exist. Rather, it is a visualisation of a cultural desire to imagine oneself living as the ancients did, surrounded by monumental sculpture. With antique sculpture being constantly dug up from time to time, how were the citizens of Rome to approach and effectively re-home these curiosities of old?

The intrusion of antiquity into contemporary society also served as a device for the shaping of social values, for example Raimondi’s engraved group of portraits of the most recent popes which recall antique medallions associated with imperial power. Another group of prints, the Seven Virtues (1524-27), demonstrates a conscious attempt to combine Humanist teachings (derived from the antique) with Christian values. The Seven Virtues represents the four Cardinal Virtues mentioned by Cicero and Plato – Fortitude, Prudence, Temperance, and Justice – and the three Christian virtues in the New Testament – Faith, Hope, and Charity. They are represented as a seamless group classicising sculptures in niches, without hierarchy, as if they have always been a coherent moral group.

Marcantonio Raimondi, The Reconciliation of Minerva and Cupid (Allegory of Peace) (recto), c. 1515. Proof state. Stanford University, Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts

One of the exhibition’s most wonderful exhibits is a proof state of the Reconciliation of Minerva and Cupid (Allegory of Peace) (c. 1515), on loan from the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University. This is accompanied by a finished state and a folio from the Prince Consort Raphael Collection which compiles various versions and copies of the same print. The Stanford print is unique. Not only is it unfinished, depicting the outlines of the figures and some tonal hatching, but the missing sections have been filled in with pen and ink, a rare example of Raimondi’s working process. The verso also has a quick drawing of a man with a spear.

Marcantonio Raimondi, Striding Man with a Spear (verso). Stanford University, Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts

Raimondi’s reliance on designs by Raphael is very prevalent, specifically those relating to Christian imagery. This was aided by the large number of copper plates in the possession of Baviera, Raphael’s publisher and close collaborator with Raimondi. It is believed that these copperplates were bequeathed to Baviera after the artist’s sudden death in April 1520, unlike Vasari’s romanticised story that Raphael finally gifted the to him for taking ‘charge of a mistress whom Raffaello loved to the day of his death.’

Marcantonio Raimondi and assistants(?), Fragments of I Modi (The Positions), c. 1524. British Museum, London

Raimondi clearly sought inspiration from members of Raphael’s circle as well, such as Giulio Romano and Perino del Vaga. One of the most obvious examples are the I Modi, designed by the former and eventually accompanied by sonnets – Sonnetti lussuriosi – written by Pietro Aretino. As soon as Pope Clement VII ordered for the destruction of all surviving impressions of the pornographic prints, Giulio Romano was quick to flee to Mantua in October 1524 avoiding persecution, unlike Raimondi who was imprisoned. The British Museum fragments are believed to be the only surviving impressions in the world. Vasari recounts that Raimondi was released after the intercession of Cardinal Ippolito de’ Medici and the sculptor Baccio Bandinelli. We are told that immediately after his release, he finished engraving The Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence (c. 1525), designed by Bandinelli and becoming the largest print Raimondi ever made.

Marcantonio Raimondi, The Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence, c. 1515. British Museum, London

The exhibition also has a small focus on Raimondi’s assistants and followers, specifically Agostino Veneziano and the so-called Master of the Die. Very little is known about the latter. The Sack of Rome in 1527 saw an end to the first generation of engravers making works after Raphael’s designs. The later generations responded with an interest in new subjects, such as ornamentation. This also saw a rise in the existence of close copies after previous prints and compositions, probably reacting to the loss of the original copper plates because of pillaging by Imperial forces loyal to Charles V. For example, Veneziano made a ‘repetition’ (not exhibited) of Raimondi’s Man with a Standard (c. 1510), distinguished only by the number of stones at the soldier’s feet and a signature tablet.

Man with Standard variants
From left to right: Marcantonio Raimondi, Man with a Standard, c. 1510. British Museum, London; Agostino Veneziano, Man with a Standard, after Marcantonio Raimondi, c. 1530. British Museum, London

Another print in this section is captioned as an anonymous copy of Veneziano’s Soldier Fastening his Armour (c. 1517). It is one of his most recognisable prints, based on a figure from the Battle of Cascina. It is believed to be a reverse copy of a version upon which the pilaster bears the date ‘1517’ and the ‘AV’ monogram. And yet, ironically, the signed and dated version has sometimes also been dismissed as a copy, as Bartsch suggested. In other words, both versions have been debated in scholarship as by (or attributed to) Veneziano and not by Veneziano. To complicate matters, as the catalogue has suggested, ‘it is possible that Agostino made this copy after his own work’. The reasons are not entirely clear and are still being debated. Even his most famous engraving, The Witches’ Procession (Lo Stregozzo) (c. 1518-31), has an uncertain attribution to the engraver, possibly even with contributions by Raimondi. Some impressions show Raimondi’s empty tablet; others show an ‘AV’ monogram.

Man Armour variants
From left to right: Attributed to Agostino Veneziano, Soldier Fastening his Armour (Soldier Attaching his Breeches to his Breastplate), after Michelangelo, 1517. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts; Anonymous printmaker, Soldier Fastening his Armour (Soldier Attaching his Breeches to his Breastplate), after Agostino Veneziano, after Michelangelo, c. 1517. The Whitworth, The University of Manchester
Attributed to Agostino Veneziano, possibly with contributions by Marcantonio Raimondi(?), The Witch’s Procession (Lo Stregozzo), c. 1518-31. British Museum, London

This entire exhibition points to an industry which capitalises on the reputation of successful artists like Raphael and Michelangelo. Sometimes this was a conscious, publicity move on the part of the artist; others not so much. Printmaking entailed with it issues of intellectual property, attribution, and even censorship considering printmaking’s wider audience and, therefore, more diverse subject matter.

But it also sheds light on a dynamic and innovative type of picture-making that rivals the existing authority of painting and sculpture. Prints were not merely a reproductive means of disseminating existing works of art; they were original creations in their own right. Their designs even provided inspiration for ceramicists working with Italian tin-glazed pottery called maiolica, some of which are displayed in the exhibition.

Installation view

From an academic’s point of view, this is an extraordinary exhibition which manages to tie in so many core issues characterising the art of sixteenth-century Rome within a single monographic show. It also presented an opportunity for research into the history of collecting prints by Raimondi and his circle. One of the core exhibits is the Spencer album of Marcantonio Raimondi prints – and his ‘followers’ – In the John Rylands Library at the University of Manchester, compiled by an eighteenth-century English aristocrat, and studied and conserved for this occasion. A ‘Turning the Pages’ feature on a screen next to the album allows visitors to flick through the whole album in digital form.

Folio 60 showing Marcantonio Raimondi, Faun and a Tiger, Venus and Cupid, and two impressions of Apollo, one damaged through censorship. The John Rylands Library, Spencer 8050, fol. 60r

To the general public, this exhibition can be seen as an introduction to one of the most important printmakers in the Italian Renaissance, working with the great Raphael, plagiarising Dürer, and giving a nod to Michelangelo. He was even the only printmaker to have his own section within Vasari’s Lives. It addresses issues that are relevant today as they did five centuries ago, mainly plagiarism and censorship, suggesting that some things haven’t changed in the slightest. It also promotes printmaking as an independent art form that is just as exciting as painting or sculpture. Even if visitors walk around confused, it is a testament to the complexity and richness of Renaissance art and culture.

‘Marcantonio Raimondi and Raphael’ is at the Whitworth, Manchester, until 23rd April 2017,

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