Printmaking in early modern Italy went through an extraordinary growth that impacted both the history of European art and even more broadly the exchange of images and ideas in western culture. With more than 100 examples from the British Museum's unrivalled collections, "The Print in Italy: 1550-1620" is the first exhibition to present a broad and representative survey of printmaking in Italy during this period.
The period between 1550 and 1620 saw the emergence of large-scale commercial print publishing in Italy and a prodigious increase in the quantities of prints being produced. The range of subjects and ideas represented in prints of this period was enormous: exquisitely rendered mythological and devotional images (which were the artistic match for any painted equivalent and as eagerly collected), maps, allegories, erotica, records of antiquities and depictions of street brawls and of the tradesmen and artisans who crowded Italy's urban centers. Sold at fairs and festivals, pasted on tavern walls, collected in albums, displayed outside print shops and framed in homes, printed imagery became increasingly visible to every rank of Italian society and central to the way its people pictured the world and their place in it.
The exhibition explores how and why Italy, through the activities of domestic and international practitioners such as Giorgio Ghisi, Federico Barocci, Annibale and Agostino Carracci, Cornelis Cort, Aegidius Sadeler and Francesco Villamena, became such a dynamic center for print production. Divided into three main sections, the exhibition examines the actual printmaking processes, from design preparation to the making of the plate and the packaging of prints for sale; the people involved in publishing prints, including designers, engravers, printers and print dealers, and the places where the printmaking business flourished, most importantly Rome and Venice, but also Bologna and Siena. In addition, the exhibition demonstrates that prints, which have long been classified as merely reproductions of other artists' designs, are better understood as complex and creative graphic interpretations, often highly prized in their own right.
A fully illustrated catalogue, "The Print in Italy 1550-1620," by the exhibition curator, Michael Bury, accompanies the exhibition and includes brief essays, discussions of each work and biographies of approximately 100 participants in the print trade.
In conjunction with the exhibition the gallery will host a symposium entitled "The Print in Renaissance Italy," on March 14, from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. Speakers will be Suzanne Boorsch, curator, Yale University Art Gallery; Patricia Emison, associate professor of art history, University of New Hampshire; David Rosand, Meyer Shapiro Professor of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia, and Leo Steinberg, Benjamin Franklin Professor of Art History, University of Pennsylvania.
The exhibition is organized by the British Museum and circulated by the National Gallery of Canada / le Musée des beaux-arts du Canada. The showing at the Wallach Art Gallery is made possible, in part, through the generosity of the Parnassus Foundation, courtesy Jane and Raphael Bernstein.
The exhibition will run from Feb. 6 through March 30 at Columbia's Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, Schermerhorn Hall, 8th floor. The Gallery is open Wednesday 1:00 to 5:00 p.m.; Thursday 1:00 to 8:00 p.m., and Friday-Saturday, 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. Admission is free.