I visited the Renaissance Impressions exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts yesterday evening, which had a fascinating collection of Chiaroscuro woodcut prints from Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, by artists such as Hans Burgkmair, Lucas Cranach and Ugo da Carpi. It was amazing to see how much intricate detail the artists achieved by carving into wood, and you can understand why the prints took so long to complete! One of the first observations I made on entering the exhibition, mainly with the prints from Germany, was how they had a a kind of resemblance to old fairy tale illustrations. The subject of the prints ranged from accounts from the Bible, to myths and legends including Medusa and Hercules, which provided a range of interesting stories to base the designs on.
Dating from the 16th century, we can see that these artists and woodcut prints provided the foundation for all subsequent methods of printmaking. One of the factors I enjoyed most about seeing the woodcut prints was how they displayed strong contrasts between light and dark; listening to a talk about the exhibition, I learnt that the word ‘chiaroscuro’ in Italian means light and dark. Most of the figurative prints boasted a beautiful renaissance quality with the composition, perspective and use of bold lines creating depth and realism, as well as a sense of elegance, movement and strength. Many of the prints were also recognisable as the designs had either been taken from or inspired by other artists and painters. One of my favourite prints that caught my eye was the ‘Rape of a Sabine Woman’ by Andrea Andreani, as I recently saw the original sculpture by Giambologna in the Piazza Signoria in Florence. Both the sculpture and print demonstrate a strong sense of movement and seem very realistic and alive. The exhibition portrayed a lovely insight to this artistic style, of which I did not know much about before, as well as displaying some rare and fascinating prints.