First introduced in Italy around 1516, the chiaroscuro woodcut was the most successful early foray into colour printing in Europe. Taking its name from the Italian terms for ‘light’ (chiaro) and ‘dark’ (scuro), the technique involves printing an image from two or more woodblocks inked in different hues, employing tonal contrasts to create three-dimensional effects. A distinctive characteristic of the technique was the ability to print the same image in a variety of palettes. Over the course of the century, the chiaroscuro woodcut engaged some of the most celebrated painters and draftsmen of the time, including Titian, Raphael, and Parmigianino, and underwent sophisticated technical advancements in the hands of printmakers active throughout the Italian peninsula. The medium evolved in subject, format, and scale. Embraced as a means of disseminating designs and appreciated as works of art in their own right, these novel prints exemplify the rich imagery and technical innovation of the Italian Renaissance.
Organised by LACMA in association with the National Gallery of Art, Washington, this show brings together some 100 rare and seldom-exhibited chiaroscuro woodcuts alongside related drawings, engravings, and sculpture, selected from 19 museum collections. With its accompanying catalogue, the exhibition explores the creative and technical history of this innovative, early colour printmaking technique.
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