Art critics and amateurs tend to consider printmaking a minor art form, the value of which cannot be compared with the grandeur of architecture, painting or sculpture. However, its accessibility and commitment to this type of depiction by some of the greatest artists of the Renaissance led to the public recognition and popularity that medieval engravings enjoy to this day. Photos of various museum exhibitions, public and private collections serve as irrefutable proof.
In the sixteenth century, illustrated books were in great demand, while being objects of the highest art, keeping on their pages the works of such masters as Albrecht Dürer and even Raphael.
In art, the term "engraving" can be understood not only as the final result of the process. This is a somewhat ambiguous concept that refers both to the type of material and to the methods of execution and techniques. Thus, according to the type of material, an engraving as a final result can be a woodcut or a linocut, and depending on the technique, itmay be etching, aquatint, or mezzotint.
In turn, there are also divisions into types, which refer to the way a certain print is printed. There are two well-known procedures - embossing, or letterpress, when the image is obtained thanks to the high relief obtained by cutting the image (woodcut and linocut) and deep engraving on metal (etching, aquatint, mezzotint).
Another, more specific aspect of dividing engraving into types is the use of aggressive processing methods that determine the printing technology and are considered manual methods. For example, processing impressions with various acids or ferric chloride.
There are other technical engraving methods such as mechanical engraving, photochemical engraving, planographic engraving, buffering, etc., but these types go beyond engraving as works of art.
History of engraving
The development of engraving can be observed over fifteen centuries. Woodcut or woodcut is the earliest form of graphic art. For the first time, historical sources mention woodcuts in China in the sixth century. Woodcut techniques were used in China to print stamps and text.
The oldest engraving known today dates back to the ninth century, while the first engraving appeared in Europe only five centuries later.
With the advent of engraving, art became available to a wider segment of the European population. With the advent of printing pressesmedieval engravings began to be printed in books, which were published in a much larger circulation than medieval manuscripts.
Plots of engraving
The first engraved images were, of course, biblical motifs, just as bibles were the first printed editions for mass consumption. However, with time and the spread of printing presses, not only reader tastes have changed, but also the plots of images. Medieval erotic engravings appeared, although it was not easy to get them. Along with the biblical, everyday motifs have also become popular. Artists began to depict carnivals, village holidays, moments from life.
With the advent and spread of the Inquisition, the church found a new use for a simple and popular method of disseminating images, which became medieval engravings: torture, burning at the stake, the course of church courts - all this became a popular plot of prints.
As one of the oldest models and the forerunner of the printing press, woodcuts developed in two stages.
The first stage in the development of wood engraving was the method of longitudinal or edge engraving, the main element of which was a knife that cut the shape of the image.
The specificity of this engraving technique lies in the dominance of the black contour line, which forms the image and details. It was this method of obtaining printed engraving that was the most common in the East and during the European Renaissance. AtThere were also exceptions to the "black stroke" technique, especially common in Florentine editions of the 15th-16th centuries. Some masters used a white stroke or preferred to print the image in a "negative", as did the Swiss artist Graf Urs. However, these exceptions did not take root in European medieval engraving.
The second stage in the development of woodcuts was end or tone engraving on a cross section of hardwood. Working on a cross section allowed the craftsmen to achieve the highest accuracy and detail of images. This allowed the artists to use black gradation along with the usual black strokes. The end woodcut has significantly changed the quality of illustrations in printed publications.
European medieval engraving
The first European engraving, known as Le Bois Protat (Prot tree), dates from 1370-1380 and is named after its owner Jules Prot, a French editor who bought the engraved block in the 19th century, just after it was discovered in Burgundy. The print on paper is a fragment of the scene of the Crucifixion of Christ with a centurion and two Roman legionnaires, and on the obverse is the composition of the Annunciation.
The first medieval engravings in Europe - the work of anonymous masters of the late fourteenth - early fifteenth centuries. Their naive and slightly clumsy compositions depict disproportionate figures, exaggerated gestures and strange facial expressions.
Bible motifs were the first compositions engraved onwooden plates, however, they were far from the limit of what medieval engravings depicted: demons, torture, holidays, animals and birds - all this was popular among artists and publishers.
National features of European engravings
Different engraving techniques begin to develop in Europe in the fifteenth century. During this period, engraving begins to be popular not only in Germany, but also in France, the Netherlands and Italy, each country, in addition to common technologies, gave its engravings small but significant national differences. During this period, an almost universal division of labor appeared: the artist created the image, and the engraver transferred it to metal. There were also artists who studied and developed engraving techniques on their own. Images entirely created and engraved by one person were called autogravures.
The art of engraving and its specific features take on special significance after the invention of the printing press in 1440. In 1490 illustrated books began to be published. In Nuremberg, in the workshop of the great artist and master of medieval engraving Albrecht Dürer, a unique discovery takes place - a technology for simultaneous printing of text and images has been created. The application of this discovery comes in 1493, when the first illustrated book Welchronick ("General Chronicle") was published with images by Mikael Wohlgemuth.
Woodcut in Germany
The first engraving created in Germany is dated 1423 anddepicts Saint Christopher with the baby Jesus in his arms. However, the generally recognized master of engraving was the representative of the German Renaissance - Albrecht Dürer, who created several cycles of images by engraving on wood: the Apocalypse (1499) and the Life of the Virgin (1511). In addition to these cycles, Dürer created a lot of individual images, the most famous of which is Melancholia (copper engraving, 1514).
Dürer's masterful work elevated engraving to the rank of the highest art of medieval Europe. His work was crucial to further developments in woodworking and beyond.
The magnificent works of Dürer were followed by the works of such representatives of the Northern Renaissance as Albrecht Altdorfer, Hans Baldung, Lucas Cranach, Graf Urs, Hans Holbein and others.
In European countries, numerous bibles for the poor, encyclopedias, chronicles and other publications, illustrated by famous artists of that time, appeared.
At the same time in Italy (XV century), against the backdrop of the brightest flourishing of painting in the history of mankind, engraving is not particularly popular. Only a few illustrations for Savonarola's sermons, Malermi's illustrated bible and Ovid's Metamorphoses were created and printed by unknown artists and engravers.
New woodcut techniques in the Netherlands
In the Netherlands, the history of medieval engraving began with Lucas van Leyden, who first applied perspective, scaling, different shades and tones that affect the intensity of light. The most important advances in engraving technique in the second halfof the sixteenth century was demonstrated by Hendrik Goltzius, who replaced the clear lines of graphic work, playing with form, volumetric variations, chiaroscuro and combining lines through various intersections.
One of the most effective methods of engraving in art is considered to be metal engraving. Originating in the fifteenth century and practiced by many famous artists of the time, this technique and its creation are disputed by Germans and Italians.
The most famous engravings on metal belong to German masters, the earliest of them date back to 1410. In Giorgio Vasari's book, the creation of the metal engraving technique is attributed to the Florentine jeweler Mazo Finiguerra (XV century). However, there are images engraved on metal prior to Finiguerra's experiments, made in 1430, by anonymous Scandinavian craftsmen.
Ukiyo-e is a type of woodcut practiced in Japan. Japanese medieval prints most often depicted landscapes, historical or theatrical scenes.
This art genre. It became popular in the metropolitan culture of Edo (later Tokyo) in the second half of the 17th century, and most often depicted this medieval city. Engravings of this style depict a "changing world" in which natural landscapes give way to urban ones. At first, only black ink was used, with some of the lithographs hand-coloured. In the next century, after Suzuki Harunobuinvented and popularized the technique of polychrome lithography, starting in the 1760s, the production of color engravings became the general standard.
Popularity of prints
The specificity of engraving on metal or wood differs from other techniques in the field of fine arts. If a drawing or a painting can be changed in the course of work, even at the very end of the work, then changes in the engraving process are extremely limited or impossible. The artist is forced to be concise and precise in the process of engraving the composition on the plate.
Another aspect of this genre of art is the division of workflow. On all European engravings, after the signature of the artist who created the composition, the names of the masters who engraved it follow.
Interest in engraving was originally due to the easy way to obtain a huge number of images with minimal cost. One engraving could be published in large numbers. It was this that served as one of the main factors in the constant development of engraving techniques. Even in the twentieth century, with the advent of thick cardboard and linoleum, new types of engravings appeared. It is easy to imagine that this form of fine art has not only a long past, but also a long future.