Presentation Abstracts

‘The Handmade Blue Paper Project: Applying Interdisciplinary Experimental Archaeology to the Study of the Materiality of Historical Blue Papers,’ Leila Sauvage, University of Amsterdam; Rijksmuseum, Department of Conservation

Despite progress made in studying drawing media, supports are often loosely characterised as ‘parchment’ or ‘paper’ and, in the case of paper, by colour: ‘off white,’ ‘grey,’ ‘blue,’ etc. These descriptions are subjective and of limited use since the information such papers encode cannot be used comparatively to establish meaningful relationships between drawing supports.

In 2016, three conservators, a papermaker and a dyer began to investigate handmade blue paper. This paper will outline the interdisciplinary research methodology developed, with the aim of encouraging fuller characterisations of these papers.

Lacking substantial technical literature and analytical findings, this research began from visual assessments of the historical materials using non-invasive and photographic tools. Conservators gathered a corpus of blue papers, classifying them according to physical characteristics and function.

Reconstructions were undertaken at the Moulin du Verger (France). A skilled dyer prepared woad- and indigo-based blue rag fibres. The experienced papermaker formed sheets of the desired thickness, fibre furnish and distribution, look-through and surface texture, sizing and surface coating. The practise has enhanced understanding of interrelationships between papermaker, dyer and the rag trade before the industrial era. Comparison of blue supports with textual evidence will facilitate better comprehension of the historical significance of blue paper and enrich drawings scholarship.

In addition, this project has developed a Blue Paper Sampler to facilitate comparisons of blue papers across collections and in publications. Progress is enhanced by yearly workshops, where professionals can bring their own research questions for experimentation.

Carta azzurra: interpreting the material evidence, Venice circa 1500,’ Thea Burns, Queen’s University

This paper investigates physical characteristics of carta azzurra, the variegated blue paper that became popular in Venice around 1500. The colour, surface character and internal structure of painters’ blue drawing supports will be studied with even (normal illumination), raking and transmitted light and various magnification levels to reveal details of their materials and fabrication. Does a deeper understanding of carta azzurra’s physical nature enrich our interpretation of individual works and suggest why Venetian artists chose carta azzurra at this time? Sixteenth-century single-sheet prints on blue paper may also be introduced.

Aldo Manuzio, the great Venetian scholar-printer, committed his publishing house to the revival of ancient literature by printing elegant editions of the rediscovered classics in their original languages. From 1514, Aldo used carta azzurra for exceptional copies; this presentation will describe these blue papers and compare their characteristics with those of the white papers selected by the Aldine Press. Aldo’s blue paper will also be compared with the carta azzurra available to the Venetian publisher, Gabriele Giolito in the mid-16th century.

The early 16th-century album of Antonio II Badile, a unique record of early collecting in the Veneto, consisted of 14th and 15-century drawings adhered to blank blue paper sheets. Why blue? Whereas aesthetic considerations guided the choice of carta azzurra for drawings and single-sheet prints, they are less compelling for books and albums? Possibly Venetian publishers and the Veronese Badile family selected blue paper because it was available, functional and the right price. Yet, form and function are closely connected in early modern books. This presentation will suggest ways in which the colour blue conveyed meaning and conferred value on these artifacts.

‘Bartolomeo Montagna’s Figure Drawings on Carta Azzurra: Practice, Purpose and Presentation,’ Genevieve Verdigel, Getty Paper Project Fellow, British Museum

In July 2019, a drawing by Bartolomeo Montagna of a Standing Female Holding a Pear sold at Christies for £1,000,000. This princely sum was in part thanks to its illustrious provenance from the Harewood Collection, but it was also undoubtedly due to its striking appearance, produced through a combination of indigo wash and white heightening on blue paper. This sheet is not, however, the only drawing attributed to Bartolomeo Montagna to deploy such a media choice: some 20 depictions of single standing figures on carta azzurra are known to survive. The datings for these drawings range span the extent of Montagna’s career, between circa 1480 and 1520, yet are homogenous in their technique, scale and overall appearance.

This paper will address these consistencies within the context of Montagna’s artistic training and working methods. It will consider what factors led to Montagna’s uptake of blue paper in light of his engagement with artists working in Venice and Padua and his development of a depiction of drapery that deployed white heightening to create highly ornamental surface texture. The appearance and recurrence of figural models within the output of the Montagna workshop will provide an insight into how Montagna retained drawings for future reference. Comparison of some of these highly finished sheets with prestigious commissions will also shine light on the taste for presentation drawings within humanist circles in Vicenza and across the Veneto circa 1500.

‘“La strada vera” – Tintoretto’s drawings on carte azzurre and art theory,’ Iris Brahms, Independent Art Historian

When Jacopo Tintoretto used blue paper for his drawings, his reasons must have been more than merely conventional. The use of blue paper began in Venice around 1500 and may still have been regarded as modern in his times. Tintoretto’s choice may also – and no less significantly – have been informed by material affordances of blue paper (its relatively rough surface), the issue of its lower cost, as well as the reduced effort of preparing it as a substrate because it was already colored. Furthermore, these preconditions of blue paper favor the use of chalks as drawing tools, which again adds to the convenience and efficiency on terms of drawing method.

If we want to relate these practical issues to the art theory concerning Tintoretto, the topos of his speed in painting seems to match this drawing technique. Even though Marco Boschini, beside others, claims that Tintoretto did not draw much – which again takes up a topos rather than being true, in view of the fairly large amount of preserved drawings – he asserts that drawing on blue paper with black chalk is ‘la strada vera.’ In my paper I will investigate the specific use of blue paper by Tintoretto, his working processes based on this material, the function of this drawing method with regard to his paintings, and its aesthetics, alongside art theoretical sources.

‘In Between Aldus and Giolito: Venetian Imprints on Blue Paper (1514–1543),’ Paolo Sachet, University of Geneva

This paper aims to provide a fresh insight into the sixteenth-century practice of printing books on blue paper. Drawing from an on-going census of extant blue paper copies printed in the Cinquecento, I will focus on some fifty specimens of Venetian publications issued in the first half of the century by printers other than Aldus Manutius and Gabriele Giolito. The first famously brought blue paper into play within the Gutenberg Galaxy in 1514, while the second frequently employed this material, to begin with a few copies of his 1543 Ariosto illustrated edition. During the thirty intervening years, other reputed and lesser-known publishers based in Venice – including Nicolini, Gregori, Stagnino, Vidali, Zoppino and Marcolini – also embraced blue paper printing at times. To date, our knowledge of the phenomenon relies on conventional wisdom built on very partial data and mostly outstanding cases related to Aldus and Giolito. Dwelling on a larger and varied poll of actors and editions will help broadening our horizons and challenge many of the present assumptions, from the allegedly small number of sixteenth-century books on blue paper to their supposed use as dedication and association copies as well as the literary genres frequently connected to them.

‘Aldus, Bomberg, and the Origins of Blue Paper in Hebrew Printing,’ Brad Sabin Hill, George Washington University

Dabbling with Hebrew type just before and after 1500, Aldus Manutius entertained the idea of printing a triglot (Hebrew, Greek, Latin) Bible of which he produced no more than a single specimen sheet.  His booklet primer for the Hebrew alphabet, reprinted and imitated throughout Europe, had a lasting influence on Renaissance Christian Hebraism.  Less known is another Aldine contribution, albeit indirect, to Hebrew booklore:  blue paper.  Aldus’ use of this deluxe medium was copied by the Christian printer-publisher Daniel Bomberg, whose pioneering Hebrew press at Venice issued books for over 30 years. 

Bomberg’s use of carta azzurra was in turn imitated by other publishers, mostly non-Jews, who dominated Hebrew book printing in Italy for most of the sixteenth century.  Repercussions of this affectation elsewhere in Europe in later centuries, especially in the bibliophilic revival at Amsterdam in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and then for less aesthetic reasons in Eastern Europe in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, resulted in blue paper figuring more widely, longer, and more consciously in Hebrew books than in the printing traditions of any other language or alphabet.

‘Blue Paper for Drawings and Etchings in the Veneto and the Manner of Parmigianino,’ Alexa McCarthy, University of St Andrews

The drawing materials of chalk, ink and wash, and white heightening, and the intaglio printing methods of etching and drypoint provide the opportunity to heighten the tonal effects of a composition through a limited chromatic scale. These effects are enhanced by the material of blue paper.  In addition to drawing, blue paper was used for relief and intaglio prints by sixteenth-century artists in Italy and north of the Alps, though overall, impressions are comparatively rare.

The significance of blue paper in its relationship to drawing and printing is particularly evident in the oeuvres of Venice-based artist Andrea Meldolla, called Schiavone, (ca. 1500–1563) and Master F.P., an Italian artist known only through his monogram, once thought to signify Francesco Parmigianino (1503–1540). The resonance of Parmigianino’s compositions has been noted in the drawings, paintings, and prints of these two artists for centuries. Indeed, etchings by Veronese artists including Angelo Falconetto (1503–1540) and Battista del Moro (ca. 1515–1573 or later) after Parmigianino are printed on blue paper. Parmigianino was inventive in his drawings, etchings, and chiaroscuro woodcuts, exhibiting a facility with both line and colour. His manner was disseminated through his own works on paper, as well as etchings by Master F.P. Vasari described Parmigianino’s drawings and etchings as graceful (graziosissimi; molto graziose). Schiavone, who we understand to be largely self-taught after prints and drawings by Parmigianino, made use of blue paper, prepared paper, coloured ink, and white heightening for his drawings and prints, which display a sense of fluidity through tonality. Etchings by Master F. P. in which he closely emulated Parmigianino’s manner of execution are printed on blue paper. Primarily using drypoint, Schiavone copied prints by Master F. P. after Parmigianino. With blue paper as the point of focus, this presentation considers the material’s efficacy for the execution of drawings and prints that reflect techniques and styles first practiced and popularised outside of Venice.

‘From Venice with Blue: The spread of blue paper in the Marches around 1550,’ Luca Baroni, Scuola Normale Superiore

Between 1540 and 1560, the Duchy of Urbino was crossed by a myriad of artists, many of which had direct contacts with Venice. After the incidental presence of Francesco Menzocchi (c. 1502-1600), native of Forlì but active in Venice during his youth, new links between the Marches and the Lagoon were established by Battista Franco (ca. 1510-1561), who was in Urbino between 1545 and 1546, and Lorenzo Lotto (1480-1556/7), who moved to Loreto in 1549.

The impact of the Venetian manner, reinforced by the Dukes’ explicit passion for Titian, originated long lasting changes in the Duchy and in the Marches. Since 1550, three local artists began to follow the Venetian example and make extensive use of blue paper: Taddeo Zuccaro (1529-1566), Gherardo Cibo (1512-1600) and Federico Barocci (1533-1612). Blue paper was produced in local mills (Fabriano and, most likely, Fermignano) and in 1575 the first book ever printed in Urbino (De gli elementi di Euclide by Federico Commandino) had a luxury edition in blue paper, supporting Saverio Bettinelli’s later account (1774) about the presence of books printed on blue paper in the celebrated Montefeltro/Della Rovere Library.

The paper will discuss the results of a two-year research conducted on the four ancient drawings collection of Northern Marches (Urbino, Urbania, Pesaro, Fossombrone) and takes advantage of the technical data (papers, watermarks) collected during the parallel redaction of Federico Barocci’s catalogue raisonné.

The analysis of key drawings executed by the artists mentioned above will allow to reconstruct the diffusion of blue paper in the Marches around 1550, showing how the Venetian influence supported the development of original techniques and subjects like pastel and landscape drawing.