The 817 drawings that are conserved in the repositories of the Estense Gallery represent only a part of the original ducal collection, which at the end of the seventeenth century was considered one of the most significant and prestigious in Italy, comparable in terms of quantity and quality to the coeval collection of Cardinal Leopoldo de’ Medici. Although over the course of the following centuries, thefts, dispersal and deterioration led to partial loss, a fine selection of works has been preserved. They represent authentic masterpieces of modern graphic production, with a distinct prevalence of Italian artists, including Pordenone, Parmigianino, the Carracci, Correggio and Barocci.
The 208 prints that make up the current collection are the result of acquisitions datable between the nineteenth and the twentieth century, which are of particular interest in stylistic, formal and historic terms. Produced using different techniques (woodcut, etching, burin engraving), the prints can be identified with certain series and reproduce works by known artists, mostly seventeenth-century, from the Bologna milieu.
The Woodcut Blocks
The Estense Gallery has a collection of over 4,000 woodcut blocks originating from different sources. The first two groups, purchased in Milan in 1887 by Adolfo Venturi from the antiquarian Pietro Barelli, belong respectively to the fond of the ancient Soliani printing house in Modena, datable from the end of the fifteenth century, and from the Milan antiquarian’s own collection, made up of blocks found in various Italian and foreign cities. The third group belonged to the Mucchi printshop, which took over from the older Soliani house in the second half of the nineteenth century.