Woodcuts, both as single sheets and as book illustrations, are the ‘Cinderella’ of printmaking research, a discipline that particularly in Italy has benefited from very important, but discontinuous studies.
These now ‘invisible’ prints – many of which are also unknown to cataloguers – contain a wealth of information that would enrich our knowledge of Renaissance art and culture, above all in relation to history and the evolution of style: it is well known that during the early Renaissance the principle of unity of the arts prevailed in many workshops and that some of the great masters engaged simultaneously in different artistic practices, also supplying drawings for the new art of printmaking in all its forms. A catalogue of comparative images would moreover make it possible to construct figurative categories and group styles into families, thus recognizing new artistic personalities or enriching the catalogue of already known masters and monogrammists.
The project aims to recover and inventory woodcuts produced in Italy between the invention of the medium and 1550, and include them in a database to be made available online. We will examine all the single-leaf prints and woodblocks belonging to the most important museums, libraries, archives and in private collections in Italy and abroad, those put up for sale by dealers and auction houses, as well as more unexpected storing places such as churches, where prints can be found glued to liturgical furniture. The digital archive will also serve as a basis for creating an active, constantly updated network for the benefit both of the institutions that possess the material in the Census and of scholars in the field: it will be a “place” for coordinating and disseminating materials useful for the study of woodcuts. The digital archive will be bilingual (Italian and English) and will be accessible using different search terms: it will collect very rare works difficult to date and to assign. Each item will be accompanied with images and up-to-date descriptions, and supplemented by links to the entries for any realated works (blocks, others impressions) and links for collector’s marks, watermarks, etc.
Ultimately, the project aspires to create a veritable portal of Italian Renaissance prints, where they are illustrated and shared to increase our knowledge of the wealth preserved by many scattered institutions.