Rome: [Calcografia della Camera Apostolica], ca. 1755.
The complete set of 10 engraved plates, assembled and mounted. Approx. 1,200 x 1,074 mm. States (from Lewis & Lewis): A II, B II, C II (of III), D II (of III), E II, F II (of III), G II, H II (of III), I and L both V (of VI).
GIORGIO GHISI’S TEN-PART ENGRAVING OF MICHELANGELO’S LAST JUDGMENT.
This issue, which bears the publishing information of Giovanni Giacomo de’ Rossi (de Rubeis), was printed ca. 1755 by the Calcografia della Camera Apostolica (established by Pope Benedict XIV), which had acquired -as its foundation- the de’ Rossi firm’s vast collection of copperplates, its unsold stock, presses, and other equipment in 1738.
Very fine condition, small holes repaired. Paper by Van der Ley (watermark Fleurs-de-lis over arms of Amsterdam). The plates in mixed states, as usual, with the addition of the lettering but before the addition of clothing. “As Bartsch remarks, the set is rarely found complete in equal impressions, leading to the utmost confusion for cataloguers. Bartsch did not attempt to describe states.”(Lewis & Lewis, “The Engravings of Giorgio Ghisi”(1985), No. 9., p. 56)
A masterpiece of 16th c. Roman printmaking depicting one of the masterpieces of Renaissance art. Completed fifteen years after the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment occupies the entire altar wall of the Sistine Chapel. Hailed as a masterpiece while still in progress, demand for images of the fresco -drawn, painted, and printed- was immediate and sustained. Giorgio Ghisi’s monumental engraving of the entire fresco, cleverly composed from ten individually engraved plates fitted together like a puzzle, was one of the most successful of the numerous prints of the painting executed within Michelangelo’s lifetime.
Lewis & Lewis (p. 53-56) give a descriptive account of the various states. While they argue that the plates were created in the mid-1540s, the earliest extant impressions are those published by Pietro Fachetti, which were printed after Michelangelo’s death in 1564. After Fachetti, the plates next passed to Nicolas Van Aelst, active at Rome 1585-1615, who issued an undated edition. Vincenzo Cenci printed the plates again in 1650; Giovanni Giacomo de’ Rossi’s impressions were printed after 1654. In 1738 the plates passed with the rest of the de’ Rossi plates to the aforementioned Calcografia.
This copy comprises second states of plates A-H and fifth states of plates I and L (the letter K was omitted when letters were added to the ten plates.) On plate I, an earlier inscription (praising Michelangelo) that had appeared on the second state of the plate has been replaced by a coat-of-arms, surmounted by a crown and framed by palm fronds, and a dedicatory inscription to the poet Matthijs van de Merwede, Lord of Clootwijck. These elements were added in 1650, when the plate was printed by Vincenzo Cenci. In this state, Cenci’s publisher information has been removed. The new publisher, Giovanni Giacomo de Rubeis (de’ Rossi) has added his name and address to the adjoining plate (L): "Io. Iacob. de Rubeis Formis Romae ad templ. S.a M.a de Pace cum privil. S. P."
“Giorgio Ghisi, one of the greatest Renaissance printmakers, was born in Mantua, Italy, in 1520. Besides his native town, Ghisi also worked in Rome, Paris and Antwerp. Ghisi made prints after several of the masterworks of the High Renaissance, including Raphael’s frescoes in the Stanza della Segnatura of the Vatican Palace and Michelangelo’s ‘Last Judgment’ in the Sistine Chapel. After returning to Mantua towards the end of his life, Ghisi also made a set of six large prints after Michelangelo’s Prophets and Sibyls, also in the Sistine Chapel. Ghisi died in 1582.”(Royal Academy, London)
“Ghisi's major work during the 1540s was his engraving of The Last Judgment after Michelangelo (1475-1564). Ghisi's was not the first print after the famous fresco, painted between 1535 and 1541; a large engraving, like Ghisi's in ten sections, was made in 1543 by Niccolo della Casa and published by Antonio Salamanca [It should be noted that Michael Bury has argued that Ghisi’s version predates that of della Casa. See references below.] Many other engraved versions were made before the end of the sixteenth century, but Ghisi's easily surpasses all of them. Only his print, the della Casa version, and one by Nicolas Beatrizet published by Antonio Lafrery (based on and later than Ghisi’s) are on a large scale. Compared to Ghisi's, however, della Casa's figures are crude and awkward. Ghisi's print is also closer to Michelangelo's fresco in the relative scale of the figures than is della Casa's; in the latter, the figures of the lower section are too large in relation to the rest. Many of the other versions also considerably distort or make outright changes in Michelangelo’s composition.
“Ghisi's print was obviously based on a drawing of the finished fresco, as there are no significant differences between fresco and engraving, except for the changes (not seen in Ghisi’s print) made after the Council of Trent's decision in January 1564 to cover the parts of the painting deemed obscene, when draperies were added, and the position of the head of St. Blaise was changed to make him look toward Christ. In the original fresco, as in Ghisi's engraving, the figure looked down toward St. Catherine.
“It is probable that the drawing from which Ghisi worked was made, very soon after the unveiling of the fresco, by Marcello Venusti (1512-1579), an artist born in Como and educated in Mantua, who was in Rome in 1541. Venusti is probably best known for his painted copy of The Last Judgment, made in 1549 for Cardinal Farnese and now in the Musco di Capodimonte, Naples. Cardinal Ercole Gonzaga, who from 1540 to 1556 was regent of Mantua, almost immediately wanted a replica of Michelangelo's fresco, which had caused a furor when it was unveiled. In a letter from Rome dated December 4, 1541, Nino Servini, one of Ercole's Roman agents, recommended Venusti to Cardinal Ercole as the best among the many copyists of the fresco, saying that Venusti had begun to make a drawing but was proceeding extremely slowly. Two drawings of The Last Judgment said to be by Venusti were listed among the collection of the Gonzagas in 1627, when an inventory was made prior to selling most of the collection to Charles I of England; at least one of them is surely the image procured for Cardinal Ercole. It is more than likely that Giorgio followed one of these drawings, but since their whereabouts are now unknown, no comparison is possible.
“Several writers date The Last Judgment to 1556. It is clear from the style, however, that this is a much earlier work, in which the lines creating the illusion of planes in the woman's body are still tentative and somewhat haphazard. It is less accomplished than Ghisi’s The Visitation after Salviati, which in turn is less developed than the works Ghisi did for Hieronymus Cock in Antwerp beginning in 1550. Since a drawing of the fresco by Venusti for Cardinal Ercole presumably reached Mantua by 1543 or 1544 (allowing for Venusti's slow pace), Ghisi could have made the engraving as early as the mid-154os.
“Thus, we believe there must have been a state before the Facchettus edition, although we have not seen it. The inscription on the Facchettus edition is clearly a memorial to Michelangelo, who did not die until 1564, after Giorgio had done much of his finest work. In addition, Facchettus was not publishing prints until the 1570s, so it seems that Facchettus acquired the plate after Michelangelo's death and copied the inscription from Giorgio's memorial portrait of Michelangelo. All the other plates published by Facchettus had earlier editions with no publisher's name, usually larger editions than those of Facchettus, to judge by the relative rarity of the latter today.
“Vasari mentions Ghisi's engraving in the 1568 (second) edition of his Lives, paying it a grudging compliment: ‘And although many plates have been badly executed through the avarice of the printers, eager more for gain than for honor, yet in certain others . . . there may be seen something of the good; as in the large design of The Last Judgment of Michelangelo Buonarroti on the front wall of the Papal Chapel, engraved by Giorgio Mantovano.’ Vasari makes no mention of any other print of The Last Judgment.” (Boorsch in Lewis & Lewis, p. 56)
The Dissolution of the De’ Rossi Publishing Firm and the Creation of the Calcografia:
The year 1735 marked a crucial moment not only for the de’ Rossi printing house but also for the redefinition of the relationship between the Holy See and the printing industry. The papacy had long exerted its influence over the print market through the granting of permits and privileges, but with the acquisition of the material of the de’ Rossi firm and the establishment of the Calcografia, the papacy moved into the sphere of management and production.
In October 1732, Pope Clement XII learned that Lorenzo Filippo de Rossi was thinking of selling the whole body of his stamparia to some Englishmen. In order to prevent the de Rossi materials from leaving Italy, the pope issued an injunction against their foreign sale -under the penalty of forfeiting their value- and decreed that before the pope would give de’ Rossi license to sell his possessions abroad, he had to offer to sell them to the papacy. It took six years and several valuations before the publisher and the papacy came to an agreement on a price (45,000 scudi for the plates, prints, and furnishings) but on 13 March 1738 the transaction was accomplished. The de’ Rossi publishing house, the most well-established and well-equipped of all Roman publishing houses, which had been in business for four generations and more than 100 years, was no more; and the Calcografia della Camera Apostolica was in business.
The de Rossi copperplates numbered more than 9,000, among them a number of plates depicting works by Michelangelo, including the ten matrices of Ghisi’s Last Judgment (and Ghisi’s later portrait of Michelangelo), Beatrizet’s Last Judgment, Ghisi’s Prophets and Sibyls of the Sistine Chapel, and Cherubino Alberti’s and Thomassin’s “nudes” from the Sistine Chapel.
Our impression of Ghisi’s Last Judgment was printed while the Calcografia was under the management of its first director, Giovanni Domenico Campiglia, who served from 1738 to 1773. On 10 May 1823, Pope Leo XII ordered “obscene” plates in the Calcografia collection to be censored. 224 plates were either modified or destroyed. In compliance with the papal decree, clothing and drapery were added to the nude figures depicted in Ghisi’s Last Judgment.
In 1870, the Calcografia della Camera Apostolica became the Regia Calcografia, which in turn became the Calcografia Nazionale in 1945. Since 1975 the collection has been part of the Istituto Nazionale per la Grafica. The Ghisi plates for The Last Judgment are still part of the collection; they are among the few select copperplates showcased on the Istituto's website: https://www.grafica.beniculturali.it/2_matrici
How was such a large print assembled, stored, and viewed?
“It must have been the case that some buyers of the complete set had difficulty arranging them since later printings of both Ghisi’s and Beatrizet’s sets include letters on the individual plates to aid assembly… The assembled prints might be mounted on walls, as was the case with the example in the Benavides collection in Padua. They could also be folded for storage. Giovan Andrea Gilio, writing in 1564, describes how a large print was brought out and unfolded so that a group of men could discuss it in detail. (A folded example is in an album in the Marucelliana in Florence.) Not all collectors went through the trouble of gluing the pieces together. Many collections have the individual pieces mounted on pages of albums.”(Barnes, “Michelangelo in print”, p. 105).
References: Michal and R. E. Lewis, “The Engravings of Giorgio Ghisi”, with an introduction and entries by Suzanne Boorsch (1985), No. 9, p. 53-56; “‘Indice delle stampe intagliate in rame a bulino e in acqua forte esistenti nella stamperia di Lorenzo Filippo De' Rossi’: contributo alla storia di una stamperia romana”, Ministero per i beni culturali e ambientali, Istituto nazionale per la grafica (1996). Includes a facsim. of the 1735 ed. Indice with commentary on facing pages; Francesca Consagra, “The De Rossi family print publishing shop: a study in the history of the print industry in seventeenth-century Rome”(1992). Michael Bury, “Niccolò della Casa's ‘Last Judgement’ Dissected”, Print Quarterly , March 2010, Vol. 27, No. 1, pp. 3-10; Bernadine Ann Barnes, “Michelangelo in print : reproductions as response in the sixteenth century.”(2010)