“OLD IN SUBSTANCE AND NEW IN MANNER”: THE SCULTORI AND GHISI ENGRAVING ENTERPRISE IN SIXTEENTH-CENTURY MANTUA AND BEYOND
Letwin, Hilary Ann
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This dissertation seeks to reframe the way in which the prints of the incisori Mantovani, Giovanni Battista (1503-1575), Adamo (1530?-1587) and Diana Scultori (1547-1612), and Giorgio Ghisi (1520-1582), are examined. Previously, their contributions in the printmaking process, largely engraving prints that are after the designs of other artists, have been dismissed as reproductive. This dissertation examines the ways in which these printmakers worked to elevate their engravings from simply reproductive to creative works of art in their own right. Their engravings, which certainly took inspiration from the designs of Giulio Romano, among others, were not the product of a close collaboration between a master and the engravers. Instead, the engravers appear to have worked fairly autonomously, in Mantua and elsewhere, engaging with and manipulating their source material, experimenting technically and in the design of their prints, and finally questioning the role of engraving within the greater framework of artistic practice in the sixteenth century. Chapter one examines the work of Giovanni Battista, who used printmaking as a creative outlet, seeking a freedom not possible in his other sculptural projects that were carried out according to the specifications of patrons and artistic masters. His engravings can be seen as an attempt to “conquer” these outside influences. Chapter two considers the prints and career of Adamo Scultori, who used his prints to comment on the “enslavement” of reproductive printmakers to their sources. Chapter three focuses on the engravings of Giorgio Ghisi, who explored the artistic power of “re-animation,” creating prints that resulted from a careful interweaving of other artists’ work with his own inventive contributions. Finally, chapter four examines the work of Diana Scultori, who sought to assert her learning through her prints and prove herself as an “initiate” into a literate community. In many of their prints, these four printmakers looked to achieve their ends through the inclusion of specific details that grounded the subjects of their prints, often biblical or historical in nature, within a specific sixteenth-century context. In doing this, they imbued their prints with an enhanced appeal by adding multiple meanings, celebrating the potential that printmaking held as an artistic medium.