A History of Printmaking: The First 100 Years
A History of Printmaking: The First 100 Years
Viewing rooms seem to be designed for the stark emptiness of concrete-floored contemporary galleries. We are happy, however, that the install shot that introduces our first attempt at this platform is not the only way that small-to-very-tiny old master prints can be presented and would like to take you on a brief journey through the first hundred years of printmaking.
Textiles were imprinted with woodblocks in China at least since the third century CE, both the Incas and the Aztecs practiced textile printing before the Spanish arrived, and the oldest examples in Europe date from the twelfth century. However, it took until the early fifteenth century for prints as we know them today to be made. Two preconditions were required: one was paper which began to be more widely available starting only around 1400; the other was, with regards to engraving (and later also etching), a conceptual leap that encouraged artists to apply techniques used for the adornment of exquisite vessels, weapons, and armor to plane sheets of metal. Usually made of copper, those plates became the matrix from which one could print images on multiple pieces of paper. Thus began the new era of the reproduceable work of art.
Albrecht Dürer, Nativity (Detail)
Martin Luther (after LUCAS CRANACH)
DANIEL HOPFER (ca. 1470 Kaufbeuren - Augsburg 1536)
229 x 156 mm
etching; Bartsch 86; Hollstein 96 first state (of two); Metzger 102 first issue (of four)
John Postle Heseltine, London (Lugt 1508); C.G. Boerner, Neue Lagerliste 75 (1981), no. 7 (our stock no. 10339)
An exceptionally fine early impression printed in Hopfer’s studio. It predates the issues of the plate printed by Kilian in the early seventeenth century and shows no signs of wear (the corrosion marks appear on the plate early on and caught ink in this impression due to its generous inking.
attributed to DANIEL HOPFER (ca. 1470 Kaufbeuren - Augsburg 1536)
The Franciscan Monk Frater Ossváld Pelbart Reading in a Garden
178 x 118 mm, the roundels averaging 38 mm in diameter
white-line woodcut from five blocks
title-page of Pomerium de Sanctis fratris Plebarti ordinis sanctis Francisci. These title-pages are the earliest datable examples of white-line woodcuts.
ALBRECHT DÜRER (1471 - Nuremberg - 1528)
Der zwölfjährige Jesus im Tempel – Christ among the Doctors
297 x 209 mm
woodcut; Bartsch 91; Meder 203 proof before the text; Schoch/Mende/Scherbaum 181. WATERMARK: high crown (Meder 20)
Josef V. Novák, Prague (cf. Lugt 1949); Robert Scholtz, Budapest (Lugt 2241); Dr. Gottfried Eissler, Vienna (Lugt 805b); C.G. Boerner, Leipzig, sale 136, 1921, lot 322; Charles H. Watkins, Boston (stamp verso, not in Lugt); private collection, Switzerland (acquired from N.G. Stogdon, Inc., New York, 1987); N.G. Stogdon, catalogue 8, 1991–92, no. 18; private collection
HANS BURGKMAIR THE ELDER (1473 - Augsburg - 1531)
Des kunig von Schotten begrebnus – The Burial of the King of Scotland
221 x 197 mm
woodcut; Muther 854, no. 139; Hollstein 527; Petermann 207 second state (of six); Geissler 197 fig. 171
Princes of Liechtenstein (Lugt 4398)
This new cultural technique was used – and its products were used up. It took at least half a century until prints were not just “consumed” as indulgences, as playing cards, or as models in artists’ workshops. Only toward the end of this first “century of the print” collectors started to treasure them for their artistic value, and it is therefore fair to say that fifteenth century prints were generally rare already during Dürer’s lifetime. Examples are the two tiny engravings featured here. Both are unique, no other impressions are known and they have, until now, not been recorded in the scholarly literature. Martin Schongauer is perhaps the first printmaker whose work found a wider distribution and appreciation. He was the model which Dürer followed when he decided to concentrate a large part of his artistic production on printmaking. Dürer is the first printmaker who sees himself as an artist and not merely as an artisan.
Dürer’s most important “target group” were humanist scholars – today we would call him intellectuals – as well as wealthy patrician interested in culture and supporting the arts. Engravings such as his Hercules are not only a technical tour-de-force. The composition incorporates a multitude of motifs that might (or might not) allude to classical texts or that derive from examples of Italian art which in turn reflect works from classical antiquity. The complexity of both content and form is meant as an invitation to the learned viewer to open up a discourse. How successful he was can be seen in the fact that this discourse still continues in today’s art historical attempts to find convincing interpretations of Dürer’s Denkbilder (images to think about).
The “older” technique of the woodcut was also developed further. The first years of the sixteenth century witness the appearance of so-called white-line cuts. Here, the way images were usually conveyed is reversed. The inked block provides a black background from which only the lines defining the composition have been cut out to allow for the white of the paper to remain visible – a technique that was also used in so-called metal cuts. Again, it was Dürer who brought a technical sophistication to the previously rather simplistic woodcut medium. His elaborately carved woodcuts were meant to rival the image-making of the engravings. Other artists followed suit as can be seen in a proof impression of a woodcut by Hans Burgkmair that was meant for one of Emperor Maximilians ambitious memorial projects.