Sunday, May 31, 2020

Rape of the Sabine Women in Art

The ancient legend of the abduction of the Sabine women by the men of Rome has inspired artists for centuries. Upon finding the city bereft of women, Rome’s founder, Romulus, invited the neighboring peoples to a festival as a pretense to the abduction. Each Roman youth carried off an unmarried woman from the Sabine contingent as his bride. When the Sabines later attacked Rome to reclaim their females, the women ran onto the battlefield and secured peace between their fathers and husbands.

Here we see two dramatic treatments of the subject by Italian artists Andrea Andreani and Giambologna.  Andreani, an Italian engraver, revived the technique of the chiaroscuro print, the use of light and shadow to define three-dimensional objects, at the end of the sixteenth century and created a number of ambitious works including a reproduction of Andrea Mantegna's "Triumph of Caesar".  Some evidence exists that ancient Greek and Roman artists used chiaroscuro effects but the technique was first brought to its full potential by Leonardo da Vinci in the late 15th century.  Andreani's 1585 woodcut, Rape of the Sabines,  reproduces, to scale but with slight adjustments, the plaque that was intended to clarify the subject of Giambologna's celebrated marble group in the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence which had been unveiled in Florence in 1583 to public acclaim.

The original woodcut is printed in three sections on six sheets of paper. To make a chiaroscuro woodcut, the key block was inked with the darkest tone and printed first. Subsequent blocks were inked with progressively lighter tones and carefully measured to print in register with the key block. Chiaroscuro woodcuts are usually printed in only one color, brown, gray, green, or sepia being preferred. The process attempted to imitate wash and watercolor drawings and also became popular as an inexpensive method of reproducing paintings. The print in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a rather harsh orange.  Whether this was intended to be brown or sepia I'm not sure.  I thought the color obscures the details, though, so I have converted it to black and white and adjusted the saturation and contrast to showcase the intricacies of Andreani's work. 

The sculpture is the original work of Gaimbologna's "Kidnapping of the Sabine Women" on display in the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence that the woodcut is based upon. The full length image is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Thermos.  The detailed closeups are my own images taken in Florence in 2005.

Rape of the Sabines chiaroscuro woodcut by Andrea Andreani, 1585

Kidnapping of the Sabines by Giambologna, 1574-1582

Detail of Kidnapping of the Sabines by Giambologna, 1574-1582

Kidnapping of the Sabines by Giambologna, 1574-1582

Kidnapping of the Sabines by Giambologna, 1574-1582

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