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Cherubino Alberti after Rosso Fiorentino, The Martyrdom of St Stephen

Engraving, 1575, 39 x 28 cm. Baillieu Library Collection, The University of Melbourne, Gift of Dr. Orde Poynton, 1959, Accession No. : 1959.2148.000.000.
This engraving by Cherubino Alberti is based on a drawing by Rosso Fiorentino, as the inscription below the main group “Rubeus Florentinus inven” acknowledges.  Christopher Ewart Witcombe (1989, pp. 160-9) has shown that Cherubino Alberti owned many of the plates that he engraved but this one belonged to the publisher Giovanni Orlandini, as is shown by the presence of his name (“Ioannes Orlandi formis roma 1602”, trimmed from our example) on the print. This was unusual for Alberti, as publishers only owned around ten percent of his plates (Witcombe, 1989, p. 162). Witcombe’s article (1989, p. 166)  gives an insight into the market for prints at the time and he is able to extrapolate from the data about Alberti’s prints: “Very probably, once the plate was engraved, the market determined which prints would be printed, how many, and when”.The Martyrdom of St Stephen gives us a very rare insight into the process of creating a print, as a reworked offset from a trial plate exists (Franklin, 1999, p. 256). This proof, in the reverse direction from our final print, is only partly engraved with the  main figures, only the bases and shafts of the columns, the domed temple building and the  sunburst through the clouds shown. Additions have been made to this engraved proof in black chalk and pen and ink, including the Corinthian capitals and entablature, the stairs, bridge, castle and church with tower in the background. The foot of the soldier with the largest stone has also been reworked. 

David Franklin (1994, pp. 256-7) interprets these additions as suggesting that Rosso’s drawing included only the main group, indications of the columns, the domed temple and perhaps the clouds. He also corroborates this theory with reference to Giorgio Vasari’s painting of the subject in Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri in Pisa. The group in this painting is arranged in the same direction as the proof engraving, not that of our final version. Vasari’s painting emulates only Rosso’s figure group  and not the architectural setting seen in the Alberti print.

Bartsch (1978-, vol. 34, p. 170, cat. no. 52) identifies this print as the second state, the first state has an inscription at the left. The copy in the Istituto Nazionale per la Grafica in Rome shows this inscription, but it is very faint and not legible from photographs (see Fondazione Federico Zeri, n.d.). While the tablet in the right hand side foreground of both versions of the print bears the inscription “Roma A- 1575”, presumably the year the plate was engraved, the publisher’s credit below it gives the date of printing as 1602. Like the present copy, the Rome copy is trimmed, so the 1602 date is not visible.

Further details to follow.

Bartsch, 1978-

Bartsch, Adam, et al.,  The Illustrated Bartsch, New York: Abaris Books, 1978- , vol. 34, p. 170, cat. no. 52 (68).

[Fondazione Federico Zeri], n.d.

Istituto Centrale per il Catalogo e la Documentazione: Fototeca Nazionale , Roma Gall delle Stampe. Cherubino Alberti o Franc. Alberti. Martirio di S. Stefano Accessed 13 January 2011.

Franklin, 1999

Franklin, D., Rosso in Italy: The Italian Career of Rosso Fiorentino, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1994.

Witcombe, 1989

Witcombe, C., ‘Cherubino Alberti and the ownership of engraved plates’, Print Quarterly,  Vol. 6, issue 2 (June) 1989, pp. 160-9.


Tim Ould


Tim Ould is a PhD candidate in Art History at the University of Melbourne, and completed this entry in January 2011 for a developmental version of the website.

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