1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Marcantonio
MARCANTONIO [Marcantonio Raimondi], the chief Italian master of the art of engraving in the age of the Renaissance, and the first who practised it in order to reproduce, not designs of his own invention, as earlier craftsmen had commonly done, but those of other artists almost exclusively. The date of his birth is uncertain, nor is there any good authority for assigning it, as is commonly done, approximately to the year 1488. He was probably born some years at least earlier than this, inasmuch as he is mentioned by a contemporary writer, Achillini, as being an artist of repute in 1504. His earliest dated plate, illustrating the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, belongs to the following year, 1505. Marcantonio received his training in the workshop of the famous goldsmith and painter of Bologna, Francesco Raibolini, usually called Francia. “Having more aptitude in design,” says Vasari, “than his master, and managing the graver with facility and grace, he made waist-buckles and many other things in niello, such being then greatly in fashion, and made them most beautifully, as being in truth most excellent in that craft.” The real fame, however, of Marcantonio was destined to be founded on his attainments, not in the goldsmith’s art generally, but in that particular development of it which consists of engraving designs on metal plates for the purpose of reproduction by the printing press. This art was not new in Italy in the days of Marcantonio’s apprenticeship. It had been practised, in a more or less elementary form, for not less than forty or fifty years in the workshops alike of Venetia, the Emilia, Tuscany and Lombardy. But the technical aim of the Italian engravers had not hitherto been directed, like that of Schongauer or Dürer north of the Alps, towards securing such freedom and precision in the use of the burin as should impart to the impressions taken from their engraved plates both a striking decorative effect and a power of suggesting to the eye a complex variety of natural objects and surfaces in light and shade. The Italian masters had been satisfied with much more rudimentary effects. The Florentine primitives had been content either with very simple cloudy patches of cross-hatching in fine straight lines, or with broad open shadings in the manner of a bold pen-drawing. Mantegna and Pollaiuolo, the two chief original masters who practised the art, had used the latter method with great power but at the same time great simplicity.
By the beginning of the 16th century a desire for a more complicated kind of effects was already arising among the followers of the art in Italy. Both backgrounds and passages of foreground detail were often imitated, inartificially enough, from the works of the northern masters. Marcantonio himself was among the foremost in this movement. About eighty engravings can be referred to the first five or six years of his career (1505–1511). Their subjects are very various, including many of pagan mythology, and some of obscure allegory, along with those of Christian devotion. The types of figures and drapery, and the general character of the compositions, bespeak for the most part the inspiration, and sometimes the direct authorship, of Francia. But the influence of German example is very perceptible also, particularly in the landscape backgrounds, and in the endeavour to express form by means of light and shadow with greater freedom than had been hitherto the practice of the southern schools. In a few subjects also the figures themselves correspond to a coarse Teutonic, instead of to the refined Italian, ideal. But so far we find Marcantonio only indirectly leaning on the north for the sake of self-improvement. It must have been for the sake of commercial profit that he by-and-by produced a series of direct counterfeits on copper from Albert Dürer’s woodcuts. These facsimiles are sixty-nine in number, including seventeen of Dürer’s “Life of the Virgin,” thirty-seven of his “Little Passion,” on wood, and a number of single pieces. According to Vasari, Dürer’s indignation over those counterfeits was the cause of his journey to Venice, where he is said to have lodged a complaint against Marcantonio, and induced the Senate to prohibit the counterfeiting of his monogram, at any rate, upon any future imitations of the kind. Vasari’s account must certainly be mistaken, inasmuch as Dürer’s journey to Venice took place in 1506, and neither of the two series of woodcuts imitated by Marcantonio was published until 1511. The greater part of the designs for the “Life of the Virgin” had, it is true, been made and engraved seven years earlier than the date of their publication; and it is to be remarked that, whereas Marcantonio’s copies of the “Little Passion” leave out the monogram of Dürer, it is inserted in his copies of the “Life of the Virgin”; whence it would, after all, seem possible that he had seen and counterfeited a set of impressions of this series at the time when they were originally executed, and before their publication. But the real nature of the transaction, if transaction there was, which took place between Dürer and Marcantonio we cannot now hope to recover. Enough that the Bolognese engraver evidently profited, both in money and in education of the hand, by his work in imitating in a finer material the energetic characters of these northern woodcuts. He was soon to come under a totally different influence, and to turn the experience he had gained to account in interpreting the work of a master of a quite other stamp. Up till the year 1510 Marcantonio had lived entirely at Bologna, with the exception, it would appear, of a visit or visits to Venice. (A few of his early engravings are from drawings of the school of Giorgione.) Very soon afterwards he was attracted, for good and all, into the circle which surrounded Raphael at Rome. Where or when he had first made Raphael’s acquaintance is uncertain. His passage to Rome by way of Florence has been supposed to be marked by an engraving, dated 1510, and known as “The Climbers,” Les Grimpeurs (Bartsch, 487), in which he has reproduced a portion of the design of Michelangelo’s cartoon of the Soldiers surprised bathing, and has added behind the figures a landscape imitated from the then young Dutch engraver Lucas of Leiden. Contemporary or somewhat earlier than this is a large engraving done by him from a design by Baldassare Peruzzi, a Sienese artist drawn about the same time into the Raphael circle. The piece in which he is recorded to have first tried his hand after Raphael himself is the Lucretia (Bartsch 192). From that time until he disappears in the catastrophe of 1527, Marcantonio was almost exclusively engaged in reproducing by means of engraving the designs of Raphael or of his immediate pupils. Raphael, the story goes, was so delighted with the print of the Lucretia that he personally trained and helped Marcantonio afterwards. A printing establishment was set up under the charge of Raphael’s colour-grinder, Il Baviera, and the profits, in the early stage of the business, were shared between the engraver and the printer. The sale soon became very great; pupils gathered round about Marcantonio, of whom the two most distinguished were Marco Dente, known as Marco da Ravenna, and Agostino de’ Musi, known as Agostino Veneziano; and he and they, during the last ten years of Raphael’s life, and for several years following his death, gave forth a great profusion of engravings after the master’s work—not copying, in most instances, his finished paintings, but working up, with the addition of simple backgrounds and accessories, his first sketches and trials, which often give the composition in a different form from the finished work, and are all the more interesting on that account.
The best of these engravings produced in the workshop of Marcantonio—those, namely, done by his own hand, and especially those done during the first few years after he had attached himself to Raphael—count among the most prized and coveted examples of the art. In them he enters into the genius of his master, and loses little of the chastened science and rhythmical purity of Raphael’s contours, or of the inspired and winning sentiment of his faces; while in the parts where he is left to himself—the rounding and shading, the background and landscape—he manages his burin with all the skill and freedom which he had gained by the imitation of northern models, but puts away the northern emphasis and redundance of detail. His work, however, does not long remain at the height marked by pieces like the Lucretia, the Dido, the Judgment of Paris, the Poetry, the Philosophy, or the first Massacre of the Innocents. Marcantonio’s engravings after the works of Raphael’s later years are cold, ostentatious, and soulless by comparison. Still more so, as is natural, were those which he and his pupils produced after the designs of the degenerate scholars of Raphael and Michelangelo, of a Giulio Romano, a Polidoro, or a Bandinelli. Marcantonio’s association with Giulio Romano was the cause of his first great disaster in life. He engraved a series of obscene designs by that painter in illustration of the Sonnetti lussuriosi of Pietro Aretino, and thereby incurred the anger of pope Clement VII., at whose order he was thrown into prison. Marcantonio’s ruin was completed by the calamities attendant on the sack of Rome in 1527. He had to pay a heavy ransom in order to escape from the hands of the Spaniards, and fled from Rome, in the words of Vasari, “all but a beggar.” It is said that he took refuge in his native city, Bologna; but he never again emerges from obscurity, and all we know with certainty is that in 1534 he was dead. (S. C.)