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Ugo Da Carpi
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Carpi, Italy
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
The first Italian artist to create colored chiaroscuro woodcuts using multiple blocks, Ugo di Carpi is best known for his prints made after designs by Raphael (1483-1520) and Parmigianino (1503-1540). He was born in Carpi (near Modena in northern Italy) around 1480. Some scholars believe he may have been Ugo da Panico, the son of Count Astolfo da Panico. Ugo apparently received training as a painter and in cutting blocks for type, but little more is known about his artistic training. By 1501 he was employed to cut wood-block illustrations and type-faces for book publishers in Carpi. He went to Venice around 1509 and was employed by the printer and publisher Bernardino Benalio (ca. 1458-after 1543) to cut woodblocks for book illustrations; several illustrations are dated 1511. In 1515 Benalio commissioned Ugo to cut four large blocks for a free-standing print, Sacrifice of Isaac (Passavant, VI, p. 223, no. 3), based on a design by Titian (ca. 1488-1576). Ugo’s first chiaroscuro woodblock, St. Jerome (B. vol. XII, IV, 31), printed with one block outlining the figure and a second “tone” block, was created in 1516, also after Titian. In a petition to the Venetian Senate that year requesting a “privilege” for printing chiaroscuro woodblock prints, to prevent others from copying the process, he claimed to have invented the process. In fact, Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553) in Wittenberg and Hans Burgkmair the Elder (1473-1531) in Augsburg had created chiaroscuro prints in 1507, and Ugo probably saw copies in Venice. He moved to Rome before 1518 and joined Marcantonio Raimondi (ca. 1480-1527/1534) and the other printmakers in Raphael’s studio. The first dated woodcut after a design by Raphael is from 1518. Ugo received a copyright for his prints from the Vatican that year. Ugo’s technique became more sophisticated as he began using as many as five woodblocks to create his prints, and apparently did his own printing as well as cutting the blocks. Ugo wrote, cut the type for and published a treatise on writing, Thesauro de’scrittori, in 1525. He began working with Parmigianino by 1524. His print The Surprise (B. vol. XII, X, 10), after a Parmigianino drawing now in the Louve, Paris, is probably from 1526-1527. Ugo’s only surviving painting, the Saint Veronica Altarpiece, (ca. 1524-1527), was also based on a drawing by Parmigianino (Florence; Uffizi). The work was done for old St. Peter’s in Rome, and now is in the Archivio della Fabbrica de San Pietro of the Vatican. His masterpiece of chiaroscuro printmaking, Diogenes (ca. 1527, B. vol. XII, VI, 10), is after a now-lost design by Parmigianino, although some scholars think it was modeled on an engraving by Giovanni Jacopo Caraglio (ca. 1500/1505-1565), presumably after the same Parmigianino design. After the Sack of Rome in 1527 by the troops of Charles V (1550-1556), the Holy Roman Emperor, Ugo probably left Rome for Bologna, where Parmigianino had gone, and may have continued to collaborate with him. Sources differ regarding where Ugo died; some suggest Rome and others specify Bologna. Documents found in Carpi suggest he died in 1532. (TNB 6/2014) Selected bibliography: Gnann, Achim, with David Ekserdjian and Michael Foster. Chiaroscuro: Renaissance Woodcuts from the Collections of Georg Baselitz and The Albertina, Vienna. Exhibition catalog. London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2014. Landau, David and Peter Parshall. The Renaissance Print, 1470–1550. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1994. Lincoln, Evelyn. The Invention of the Italian Renassance Printmaker. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2000.