Soprintendenza Speciale per il Patrimonio Storico, Artistico ed Etnoantropologico e per il Polo Museale della città di Firenze

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«As if Made with the Brush»

Italian Chiaroscuro Woodcuts from the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Century

12-06-2011 | 03-11-2012 - extended until 04-22-2012

In parallel with the quest for an increasingly faithful reproduction of the drawings of the great Renaissance masters, at the dawn of the sixteenth century the introduction of colour in the production of prints already seemed an essential requisite. The chiaroscuro xylograph, or woodcut, that was capable of evoking the chromatic and material effects of the drawing, immediately became popular in Italy as a result of the experiments of Ugo da Carpi, already identified as the inventor of the technique by Vasari, who – in view of their exceptional imitative potential – defined these prints as “looking as if they had been made with the brush”. This felicitous season of colour xylography was therefore the consequence of the attempts of engraving techniques to aspire to the most elevated examples of contemporary painting.

A selection of fifty drawings from the collections of the Prints and Drawings Department invites us to trace the development of what was at once a phenomenon of taste and of collecting, but also of intelligent interpretation of the specific aesthetic values of the drawing. The activity of Ugo da Carpi was connected first with Titian in Venice and then in Rome with Raphael, and afterwards with the post-Raphael artistic developments, and in particular the works of Parmigianino. Later, the new technique spread to the contemporary engraving production of Antonio da Trento and Niccolò Vicentino, the specific experiments of Domenico Beccafumi in the middle of the century and the revival of these graphic approaches in the woodcuts of Bartolomeo Coriolano taken from models by Reni in seventeenth-century Bologna, and in those of Count Anton Maria Zanetti in Venice in the eighteenth century.

In this respect too, the graphic collections of the Uffizi – which are exceptional in terms of the unique history that roots them in the collecting activities of the Medici dynasty – are able to exhaustively document a singular phenomenon among the engraving techniques, which is also linked to the special attitude that the Tuscan figurative culture had towards the graphic arts. In some cases, it is actually possible to view alongside the drawings of Parmigianino, of Medici provenance, and the reproductions using sixteenth-century chiaroscuro techniques taken from these same drawings. The collection boasts over half the colour woodcuts currently known in academic circles, and it is no coincidence that it was here that the very first exhibition devoted to the Italian chiaroscuro from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century was organised in 1956.


  • Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali
  • Soprintendenza Speciale per il Patrimonio Storico, Artistico ed Etnoantropologico e per il Polo museale della città di Firenze
  • Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi

Curated by

Giorgio Marini


Maria Elena De Luca, Antonia Adamo Gulizia, Elisabetta Bandinelli Fossi

Ticket prices

Entrance with ticket to the Uffizi Gallery


Uffizi Gallery hours, Tuesday – Sunday 8.15 - 18.50
Closed on Monday