Ugo da Carpi

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Ugo da Carpi
Ugo da Carpi - Diogenes.jpg
Born c. 1480
Carpi, Italy
Died c. 1532
Nationality Italian
Known for print making; chiaroscuro

Ugo da Carpi (c. 1480 – c. 1532) was an Italian printmaker, active between 1520 and 1532 in the cities of Venice, Rome and Bologna.[1] He is renowned for his stylistic contributions to chiacoscuro, a wood cutting technique involving the use of several wood blocks to make one print, each block cut to produce a different tone of the same color.[2] Despite his claims, however, he was not the first to use or create this technique. His most notable work is a striking carving of Diogensis based on a painting by Parmigianino. In addition to his numerous artistic prints, he produced a writing book. He is also known to have produced at least one painting.


Personal Life[edit]

Ugo da Carpi’s exact birth date is unknown. Some scholars estimate it to be as early as 1450, although others estimate it to be closer to 1480.[3] He was the son of Count Astolfo da Panico and Elisabetta da Dallo, the tenth child of thirteen.[3] He was born in the town of Carpi, a town in the province of Modena. He was known as Ugo Panico early in his life, only becoming Ugo da Carpi, which literally translates to Ugo of Carpi, later in his life.[4] The first mention of Ugo da Carpi is in the last will and testament of his father in 1490. In 1495, 1496, and 1503 there are multiple records of Ugo selling and buying land in Carpi. In 1509, a record cites that his older brother carried out a land transaction for him, leading scholars to believe that he left Carpi between 1503 and 1509. He left his wife, Cassandra Solieri, and two daughters behind in Carpi.[3]

Artistic Career[edit]

There is no record that Ugo received any formal training, instead he most likely either self-taught or possible taught by local painters.[1] His first work as a carver was in 1502, when he signed a contract with the Modenese typographers Benedetto Dolcibelli and Niccolo Bissoli to carve characters and punches. In 1503 Ugo is referenced as having pupils and is referred to as “maestro” for the first time. There is also some evidence that before he left Carpi he may have also been commissioned to complete paintings, since he hired Saccacino as his assistant.[3]Although Carpi went through a period of cultural and urban development in the late 1400s and early 1500s, there are no records of Ugo's involvement, although it is a possibility.[5]

Ugo Da Carpi's Request for a Patent for the Chiaoscuro Technique, 1516

Ugo worked in Venice from 1509 to 1517, mostly working with woodcutting for book illustrations. Venice was one of the centers where printing took off, particularly the printing of illustrated books. In 1511, a number of woodcut book illustrations bearing the signature “Ugo” are published in Venice.[3] In July of 1516, Ugo requested a patent for what he claimed to be his unique chiaroscuro technique from the Venetian senate. In his request he described the process as a "new manner of printing light and dark."[6] He requested the copyright for an undefined period of time, for all designs and woodcuts he had made and would make.[3] Despite the evidence of this method in previous German and Venetian prints, Ugo did use the technique in a unique way. Instead of relying as much on key blocks, blocks consisting solely of the images' outlines, to define the prints' composition, Ugo built his images using multiple blocks with different variations on one tone.[7] Ugo was eventually granted a copyright by the Vatican in 1518.[4]

Ugo moved to Rome in around 1517, since there was also a large print making circle in Rome and high demand for prints of Raphael’s work. There was a circle of engravers working around Raphael, whose prints were issued by a professional publisher, il Baviera. Ugo settled in Rome near Raphael's studio, but Ugo worked independently of il Baviera, both printing and publishing his blocks in his own shop.[8] It is clear in his work that he was influenced by Raphael's style.

The sack of Rome in 1527 forced Ugo to flee to Bologna.[4] Due to a number of prints that have technical and stylistic similarities to Ugo's work, but some notable differences, it is believed he may have run a workshop during his time there.[4] Also during his years in Bologna, he was associated with the famous carvers Antonio da Trento, Arrighi and Eustachio Celebrino.[9] In 1525 Ugo produced a writing-book, which were common in Italy in the 16th and 17th centuries. They were essentially manuals, which aimed to teach others how to write legibly and quickly, in a manner similar to Renaissance humanist manuscripts, via pages of letters printed using carvings.[9]

There remains no consensus about the date of Ugo da Carpi's death. Some scholars citing his death in 1523, since he is described as “fu Ugone” in a testimony by his daughter in 1523. A few months later, a different document references Ugo as being alive, indicating his family may have mistakenly thought he was dead. In January 1532, Ugo is referenced in records of attendants at daughter’s baptism, but in October of that year he is again described as deceased.[3]


There is no comprehensive list of the works that Ugo produced, but Ugo produced numerous works during his life.

One of his important early commissions was the Sacrifice of Abraham from the Venetian publisher Bernardino Benalius. It was a large black and white print on four joined sheets and it is thought to be designed by Ugo himself, containing clear stylistic elements borrowed from Dürer and Titian. It was following this first commission that he requested a patent for his technique.

Over the years his prints helped to translate and reproduce designs by numerous artists, including Raphael, Baldassare Peruzzi, and Parmigianino.[2] According to Vasari, Ugo da Carpi taught the print-making process to Parmigianino.[10] Ugo's engravings are not an exact reproduction of these other artist's works, but rather an interpretation of these artists' work.[6]

Diogenes (c. 1527-30), after Parmigianino, 4 blocks

Ugo's engravings were likely used as wall decorations and as other less expensive substitutes for paintings. This is suggested by the engravings' size, ranging from small to quite large, and the fact that they were printed on thick paper designed to sustain heavy wear.[6] Despite this, few prints have survived in good condition.]His best-known engravings include "Diogenes," "Aeneas Fleeing Troy with Anchises and Ascanius," "Sybil" and "Massacre of the Innocents."


Ugo's carving of Diogenes is especially notable. It is speculated that the Diogenes was carved in Bologna between 1527 and 1530.[8] The initial design for this print came from Parmigianino, who first asked Caraglio to engrave his drawing. He later asked Ugo to make a second engraving based on Caralgio's first interpretation of his work.[11] The stylistic transitions from the initial drawing, to Caraglio's engraving, to Ugo's engraving are interesting. Caraglio's engraving, and probably Parmigianino's initial drawing, included additional details, such as landscape elements and a lantern. Ugo substantially reduced these details, keeping the barrel, the fowl, the book, the movement and the swirling drapery.[11] Parmigianino Scholar Florence Kossof notes "He has reduced and simplified Caraglio's wealth of detail but has managed to increase the sense of vigor and energy."[11]

Vasari mentions the print twice in Lives of the Artist, where he praises it as a “most beautiful print.”[12] The print consists of a sophisticated four block design and intricate carving. The print is unique because the design is built up through areas of color instead of detailed line work, making it look more like a painting than a print based on an engraving.[8] In the Boston Museum of Fine Arts Bulletin from 1924, the author writes that the print is "a very powerful rendering exclusively by tones with no black outline."[6] The same bulletin includes Diogensis in a list of the "most historic and beautiful prints ever made in the medium."[6]

Ugo da Carpi (c. 1520), David Slaying Goliath, after Raphael, 4 blocks

David Slaying Goliath[edit]

This engraving is thought to have been carved around 152 and is based on a design by Raphael.[8] Marcantonio also created an engraving based on this print. It is unclear if the woodcut is based off the engraving, the engraving is based off the woodcut, or they are both based off of a since lost sketch by Raphael. This engraving is notable because Ugo reversed the composition of the initial painting, which speaks to his interpretive skills as a carver. He used four blocks to create this print.[8]

Saint Veronica Altarpiece[edit]

There is one painting known to be Ugo's work: the Saint Veronica Altarpiece.[13] It is thought to have been finished between 1524 and 1527, and was originally located in Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome.[13] The painting was placed on an altar directly below the chamber that housed one of the most important relics in Saint Peter's, the "vera icon," or imprint of Christ's face.[13] Due to similarities between a sketch and the final product, it is was likely based on a sketch produced by Parmigianino. Vasari reported that Ugo painted this work using his hands, due to the fact that Ugo signed the painting: ‘Per Vgo / da Carpi Intaiatore / fata senza / penello" or "Ugo da Carpi, woodcut engraver, made without the brush."[12] The work does have what appear to be fingernail and finger marks, which scholars speculate was due to his lack of skill in painting; he used his fingers and fingernails to fix mistakes he made.[13] According to scholars, Ugo’s signature is also a deliberate nod to the fact that he was an engraver, and up until this point, hadn’t worked with a brush, but with his hands.[13]


Ugo's early works were created using the traditional two block technique, but he quickly progressed to working with three blocks. In three different prints of Hercules over the course of 1515, one can see his development; he uses increasingly flexible lines and more complex and nuanced shading.[4] "The Massacre of the Innocents" was his first work that contained 4 different blocks and he utilized between 3 and 5 blocks for the rest of his prints.

Ugo's own printings of his wood cuts use a distinctive palette of soft blues and greens. Ugo utilized translucent inks in similar colors, which created nuanced and fluid transitions from one block to the next.[8] Ugo printed his Diogenes carving was printed in green and gold.[4]

One of the most distinctive features of Ugo’s carvings, and why he is much better known than other carvers of this time, is that he signed his works. Ugo’s signature was often cleverly incorporated into his works, as can be seen in the Diogenes carving. In his right hand Diogenes grips a stick, directing the viewers’ attention to an open book where the names of both the designer and the printmaker are inscribed.[8]


  1. ^ a b Challis, Kate. "Ugo da Carpi". The Oxford Companion to Western Art. 
  2. ^ a b "Ugo da Carpi." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, 2011. Web. 24 Feb. 2011.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Johnson, Jan (1982). "Ugo da Carpi's Chiaroscuro Woodcuts". Print Collector. III and IV: 2–87. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Johnson, Jan (March 31, 2000). "Carpi [Panico], Ugo da". Oxford Art Online. Retrieved February 20, 2017. 
  5. ^ Takahatake, Naoko (2010). "Ugo da Carpi". Print Quarterly Publications. 27: 317–321 – via JSTOR. 
  6. ^ a b c d e H.P.R. (1924). "Chiaroscuro Prints". Museum of Fine Arts Bulletin. 22: 15–16 – via JSTOR. 
  7. ^ Fern, Alan; Jones, Karen (1969). [ "The 'Pembroke' Album of Chiaroscuro Woodcuts"] Check |url= value (help). The Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress. 26: 8–20 – via JSTOR. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Barryte, Bernard (2015). Myth, Allegory, and Faith: The Kirk Edward Long Collection of Mannerist Prints. Silvana Editoriale. 
  9. ^ a b Osley, A.S. (1972). Luminario: An Introduction to the Italian Writing Books of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Nieuwkoop, Netherlands: Miland Publishers. 
  10. ^ Trotter, William Henry (1974). "Chiaroscuro Woodcuts of the Circles of Raphael and Parmigianino: A Study in Reproductive Graphics". ProQuest Dissertations Publishing – via ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. 
  11. ^ a b c Kossoff, Florence (1979). "Parmigianino and Diogenes". The Sixteenth Century Journal. 10: 86–96 – via JSTOR. 
  12. ^ a b Vasari, Giorgio (2008). The Lives of the Artists. Oxford World's Classics. 
  13. ^ a b c d e Blackwood, Nicole (2013). "Printmaker as Painter: Looking Closely at Ugo da Carpi's Saint Veronica Altarpiec". Oxford Art Journal. 36: 167–184. 

External links[edit]

Media related to Ugo da Carpi at Wikimedia Commons