A woman sits in an interior holding a book in her right arm, which is propped upon a ledge. She reads by the light of a torch held by a child standing next to her. Print trimmed to image frame. Image was previously folded at center (multiple folds). Paper size: lh 27 3/5cm & rh 27 4/5cm x tw 22 3/5cm bw 22 3/10cm.
This tranquil scene shows a sibyl, an ancient prophetess, reading by torchlight. The print is the first attempt by the artist Ugo da Carpi at reproducing a drawing by Raphael in an innovative medium known as chiaroscuro woodcut. Developed in Germany in the first decade of the sixteenth century, chiaroscuro woodcuts were the earliest images printed in color, produced entirely from carved wooden blocks printed sequentially upon a single sheet of paper. The muted tonalities of chiaroscuro woodcuts sought to capture the modulated effects of light and shadow, known by the Italian term "chiaroscuro" (literally "light/dark"), qualities that were prized in contemporary pen, ink, and wash drawings. In his "Lives of the Artists," first published in 1550, Giorgio Vasari wrote that Raphael produced a drawing "in chiaroscuro" to serve as a model for this print. The combination of a bright torch in a dark room was an ideal subject for this initial collaborative foray by the Renaissance master and Ugo da Carpi into the medium of chiaroscuro woodcut.
Two women on a settee dressed in elegant 19th century attire, one holding a fan and the other a parasol, while another richly clad woman leans in close beside them, in a lavishly decorated interior setting with ornately carved gilded walls, a large mirror above the settee, inlaid marble floor, and large vases to either side of the settee. In the center of the room is a sculpture of the Medici Venus on a pedestal with her back to the viewer, her reflection evident in the mirror. Between the base of the sculpture and the viewer is an elaborately carved gilt stool covered with rich red fabric. Beside the sculpture, another woman holding a book walks towards the cluster of women.
Elegantly dressed women in 19th century attire whisper and titter about the sculpture of Venus de’Medici in the center of the room, depicting the goddess in a fleeting pose as she unsuccessfully attempts to cover her nude body with her arms in a gesture of modesty. Gilardi, who places Venus’s back to the viewer, cleverly reveals her front side reflected in a mirror above a settee upon which the women are seated, enabling the viewer to see both the expressions of the women and what it is they are whispering about, creating a witty commentary on the prudish social mores of 19th century puritanical society.