Engraver and painter, Paolo Toschi was born in 1788 and died in 1854 in Parma
Very few details of his life can be gathered to outline Paolo Toschi biography. He was born at Parma in 1788, his father was cashier of the post-office and his mother’s name was Anna Maria Brest.
Early in his youth he studied painting in Parma under Biagio Martini and in 1809 he went to Paris, where he learned the art of engraving from Bervic and of etching from Oortman. After ten years he returned to Parma, where he established a company and school of engravers with his friend Antonio Isac.
Marie Louise, the then Duchess, under whose patronage the arts flourished in Parma , soon recognised his merit and appointed him Director of the Ducal Academy of arts. He then formed the project of engraving a series of the whole of Correggio’s frescoes. A vast undertaking as both the domes of St John and the cathedral, together with the vault of the apse of St. John and portions of the side aisles, and the so-called Chamber of St Paul, are covered by frescoes of Correggio and his pupil Parmigianino.
These frescoes had suffered so much from neglect and time, and from unintelligent restoration, that it was difficult in many cases to determine their true character. Yet Toschi did not content himself with selections, or shrink from the task of deciphering and engraving the whole. He formed a school of disciples, among whom were Carlo Raimondi of Milan, Antonio Costa of Venice, Edward Eichens of Berlin, Aloisio Juvara of Naples, Antonio Dalco, Giuseppe Magnani and Lodovico Bisola of Parma, and employed them as assistants in his work.
Death overtook him in 1854, before it was finished, and now the water-colour drawings on display in the National Gallery of Parma prove to what extent the achievement fell short of his design. Enough, however, was accomplished to place the chief masterpieces of Correggio beyond the possibility of utter oblivion.
Paolo Toschi, then, consecrated a lifetime to the task of translating frescoes by Correggio, the master whose greatness is so evident in Parma, into engravings. Toschi’s skilful and faithful labour respected Correggio’s handiwork with scrupulousness, adding not a tone or touch of colour to the fading frescoes; living among them on scaffoldings, face to face with the originals he designed to reproduce. Toschi was able to see clearly through the mist of cobweb, mildew and altar smoke and what he discovered he faithfully committed first to paper in water colours, and then to copperplate with the burin.
Yet under his touch Correggio loses somewhat of his audacity and ecstasy, approaching an ordinary standard of graceful beauty. The Diana of the Chamber of St. Paul, for instance, has the strong calm splendour of a goddess while the same Diana in Toschi’s engraving seems about to smile with girlish joy. The engraver was, in a word, a more conventional man than the painter.