Monday, 19 December 2016

Early chromolithograph reproducing Michelangelo’s “The Madonna and Child with St John and Angels”


An early chromolithograph (1870) after Michelangelo’s “The Madonna and Child with St John and Angels” (aka “The Manchester Madonna”), c.1497.

Chromolithograph on smooth wove paper.
Note: at this early stage in colour lithography, each colour was printed from a separate stone plate. Michael Clapper (2002) in “’I Was Once a Barefoot Boy!’: Cultural Tensions in a Popular Chromo,” (American Art 16, pp. 16–39) offers the following interesting insight about the skill and discipline involved:
“To make an expensive reproduction print as what was once referred to as a 'chromo', a lithographer, with a finished painting in front of him, gradually created and corrected the many stones using proofs to look as much as possible like the painting in front of him, sometimes using dozens of layers.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chromolithography)

Size: (sheet) 39.1 x 26.7 cm
Lettered in three lines below the image borderline: “1475 MICHEL ANGE 1564 / LA VIERGE DE MANCHESTER / (Cavinet de Lord Taunton à Londres)”

Condition: rich colour and a faultless impression. The sheet is in very good condition but there are a few light spots and age-toning (i.e. darkening) towards the edge of the sheet.

I am selling this early chromolithograph for AU$25 but only in combination with the purchase of other prints. Please be aware that I do not consider this to be an original print although other writers may disagree.

This print has been sold


My motivation to feature this early chromolithograph is driven by a marvellous set of emails that I received from Professor Stan Rachootin (Biological Sciences at Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, MA USA) (some of his fascinating insights are revealed at the conclusion of my blog post on caterpillar muscles: http://www.printsandprinciples.com/2016/10/anatomy-of-caterpillars-muscles.html).

What interested me in our email discussions is the very real issue in early illustrations showcasing biological specimens that what is portrayed is often pictorial information gathered from sources other than the artist’s own close observation. Indeed, like Durer’s famous woodcut of the Rhinoceros (1515)—an animal that he had only heard about but had never actually seen—many early prints are embellishments of the truth (i.e. there are “bits” added) or details have been filtered out that are inconvenient and difficult to render truths (e.g. soft fur on a specimen may end up looking like coarse hair).

Regarding what may be termed “the incunabular period of chromolithography” when this print was created (1870), what viewers may assume to be understandable inaccuracies arising from the relatively crude processes available at the time may need closer study. To my eyes, there are many fundamental—and arguably inexcusable—differences between Michelangelo’s original painting and this beautiful, but far from identical, reproduction. For example, the lithographer has added faces to the angels on the left of the painting. There is also more than a hint of tonal modelling on the angels’ legs. Even the background is treated differently. In short, artists may desire to present the truth in an image, but the truth is often modified by artistic license.

Regarding scientific illustration, Professor Rachootin raises a critical issue: “one of the considerations has always been ‘what constraints will the mode of reproduction put on the nature of the observations?"  Some people see far more than can be reproduced—but their effort is officially aimed at providing a record for others, rather than capturing all that they have the skill and interest to obtain.”






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