Recording and re-creating John Baptist Jackson's chiaroscuro woodcuts
Remondini Collection, Palazzo Sturm
Bassano del Grappa, 2018-2019
Reviving Renaissance printmaking techniques in the 18th century
Palazzo Sturm in Bassano del Grappa has partnered with Factum Foundation to digitise and create new versions of a series of chiaroscuro woodcuts by John Baptist Jackson, a British artist and printmaker working in Italy in the 18th century.
The woodcuts form part of the Remondini Collection, which documents the illustrious history of the Remondini family of printmakers, active in Bassano del Grappa from the 17th to the 19th centuries. The collection focuses on print-making processes of the period and among other things comprises objects and documents relating to the production of books, decorated papers, religious and popular prints, games, optical illusions, etchings, and woodcuts.
John Baptist Jackson (1701-1780) was one of the most innovative printmakers of the 18th century, creating embossed prints using a rolling press of his own construction, and developing new oil-based inks for use in polychromatic prints. Amongst other experiments, he revived the Renaissance printing technique known as chiaroscuro, where the image is divided into several blocks that are then printed in different colours onto the same sheet of paper. This method gives a richer tonal range and a greater sense of depth than traditional wood stamping techniques.
Recording Jackson's woodcuts and woodblocks
The chiaroscuro woodcuts and corresponding woodblocks digitised by Factum Foundation at the Palazzo Sturm come mainly from Jackson’s book of prints Titiani Vecelii, Pauli Galiarii, Jacobi Robusti et Jacobi de Ponte opera selectiora. In this famous work, conceived in 1739 and completed in 1745, Jackson reproduced seventeen of the greatest Venetian paintings by Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese, Leandro da Ponte Bassano, Jacopo Bassano, and Francesco da Ponte Bassano.
Over the course of a week, Guendalina Damone from Lucida Lab Milano scanned the reliefs of 24 woodblocks from the collection with the Lucida 3D Scanner, a system specially designed by Manuel Franquelo in collaboration with Factum Foundation to record low-relief 3D data in high resolution.
In the same period, Oak Taylor-Smith photographed the corresponding chiaroscuro woodcuts at high-resolution. Other woodcuts at the Palazzo Sturm, part of the same series reproducing Venetian masterpieces, were also recorded in the same way. Amongst these was the Wedding at Cana by Venetian artist Paolo Veronese. Produced in 1740, the woodcut represents one of the most audacious experiments of the 18th-century engraving technique; its original reference point, Veronese’s painting, was also among the first paintings re-materialised by Factum Arte as a facsimile.
The images and 3D data have been processed and assembled into digital archives.
Guendalina recording the chiaroscuro woodcuts in Bassano del Grappa © Photo from Oak Taylor-Smith
Re-creating John Baptist Jackson’s woodblocks using CNC routing and traditional printing
After scanning the woodblocks with the Lucida Scanner, Factum Foundation rematerialised them using contemporary technology, routing blocks of wood into the shapes of the originals using a CNC milling machine. While CNC milling is often regarded as an imprecise reproduction technology, Factum's milling experts are able to program CNC milling machines to rout in far greater detail than is usual, returning to the same surface multiple times with smaller and smaller drill heads to eliminate almost all of the ‘noise’ created by the drill.
Finally, Factum Arte’s expert printmakers used the CNC-routed blocks to print facsimile versions of Jackson’s original prints.
The finished prints © Oak Taylor-Smith for Factum Foundation
This work represents an opportunity to openly discuss the potential of new technologies for the dissemination of the collections at the Palazzo Sturm and to stimulate reconsideration of the display and presentation of objects that are not normally exhibited.
Factum Foundation's version of Jackson's print of Veronese's Presentation of Christ at the Temple © Oak Taylor-Smith for Factum Foundation
List of woodblocks
(The corresponding woodcuts are illustrated at the top of the page.)
Paolo Veronese, Sacra Famiglia e Santi, 1739
Paolo Veronese, La presentazione di Gesù al tempio, 1739
Jacopo Bassano, Il trasporto di Cristo, 1739
Jacopo Bassano, Orazione nell’Orto, 1743
Francesco Bassano Il Giovane, Melchisedec benedice Abramo, 1743
Tiziano, La Pentecoste, 1745
Tiziano, La presentazione di Maria al Tempio, 1742
Paolo Veronese, Sacra Famiglia e Santi, 1739 © Photo from Oak Taylor-Smith
With thanks to Luigi Gollin from Palazzo Sturm and Roberto Dalle Nogare from the Museo Civico di Bassano del Grappa.
The Factum team consisted of Guendalina Damone, Oak Taylor Smith, Carlos Alonso Salamanca and Teresa Casado.