THE ART OF ORIGINAL ENGRAVING

Acquaforte.it  is the most qualified centre for the promotion and diffusion of contemporary original Italian engraving on Internet.

Its catalogue includes all the contemporary Italian engravers.

Acquaforte.it 's aim is to make known the different engraving techniques as well as the variety of the works of artists quoted in graphic arts catalogues.


Bertarelli Declaration on original engraving, (Milan, 1994)

An engraving is considered "original" when it fulfils these characteristics:

  1. «Drawing made on a hard surface, either by hand using a sharp tool or chemically, using corrosives» (dictionary). The matrix must be engraved only by the artist's hand, with the exclusion of any photomechanical means.
  2. The print is made using a hand printing press.
  3. Each printed work is signed and numbered (numerator and denominator) by the artist's hand in pencil on a sheet of paper.
  4. The number of printed copies, for technical reasons of value, must never exceed a limited number.
  5. The print and the artist's proofs are always numbered.
  6. After the edition is finished the matrix must be slashed, in order to prevent the printing of other copies. The slashed matrices are kept at the publisher's.
  7. Every engraving bears the stamp of the publisher and is accompanied by a certificate of guarantee.

The significance of the Art of Engraving.


A short history of engraving - Contemporary Italian engraving.

The art of engraving owes its origin and success to its ability to duplicate images.

The main elements in this art, besides the matrices and the means used to print them, are: paper and ink, that is black and white. Both have the same relevance; they are inseparable, interacting together. The black gives body to the image, the white breath and vital vibration.

The engraving is not a drawing transferred onto wood, metal or stone; it is conceived in consideration of the material which is used to make it, its nature, resources and potentialities; this is the essential starting point for achieving a style. Because it is on the matrix and not on the paper that the artist puts his creative stamp, which will be revealed in the finished print.

The engraver, as opposed to the painter or sculptor, does not have constant control and a vision of his work, because he works in reverse order, at a close distance and in difficult and deceptive viewing conditions, proceeding amongst doubts and risks.

A thorough technical experience, although subordinate to the creative act, is the basis for visualising the effect of each single phase in the preparation of the finished product.

Engraving is an art in itself and has the same expressive force as painting. It is said to be original when creator and engraver are the same person. This is the only criterion that really matters and has always yielded works of art of remarkable strength.


A short history of engraving

The engraving technique was used especially in prehistoric times, either on stone (rock engravings) or on pottery (dry or raw engravingspottery ); in classical times it appeared on Greek black figure and in the decoration of metals and (Etruscan and Greek mirrors) and walls (the graffiti in Pompei Ercolanodecoration of ). It has been largely employed through the centuries till now especially in the artistic works and in architecture applied to the most diverse materials mixed with other , sometimes techniques.

Beside these general decorative uses, since the Renaissance engraving has acquired even more importance because it became the method for preparing the matrix for printing.

European engraving from the fifteenth
to the twentieth centuries.

The matrices are carved either in relief (xylograph or wood engraving, linocut or linoleum engraving) or intaglio (on a metal plate, copper, steel, zinc), depending on the method used to reproduce the image, either spreading the ink on the parts in relief or filling in the depressions.

Intaglio engravings can be incised directly by hand using various instruments (burin, drypoint, mezzotint); or inderectly when the plate used is prepared and treated with an acid solution, called "biting" (etching, aquatint, soft-ground etching or vernis mou). Finally there are techniques based on electrolysis and on a combination of techniques. All the different types of engraving share the "industrial" character of the technical procedure; based on the distinction between the moment of creation and the preparation of the matrix on one hand and the execution, that is the printing of copies in a limited series on the other, engraving is the first successful attempt to apply an industrial procedure to artistical representation.

Woodcut is the most ancient engraving technique, probably derived from printing on fabrics; examples from the fourteenth century are very rare, while the technique was largely applied in German and Italian book illustration in the following century.

Printing on a metal surface, especially on a copper plate (chalcography), was perfected in the middle of the fifteenth century, in Italy and in Germany at the same time. As Vasari points out, the inventor of the technique was Maso Finiguerra from Florence, and although his theory is not completely reliable, certainly the engravers of metals with burin and niello were the first to develop the copperplate technique. Pollaiolo ("Fighting Nudes") and Mantegna ("Bacchanals") used this technique, and achieved remarkable results, exploring all the possibilities of an art that has been preferred over the centuries by great artists for its ductility and at the same time rigorousness. Beside the Italian experiences, the German painters Master E.S., M. Shoangauer and U. Graff used this technique, although only Dürer investigated thoroughly the intrinsic descriptive potentialities of engraving and woodcuts.

In the sixteenth century etching spread throughout Europe, and its great variety of effects was experimented by artists like Parmigianino and Barocci, followed by Reni, Guercino and S. Della Bella in the seventeenth century, to reach its height with Rembrandt.

Between the end of the fifteenth and the early sixteenth century, one of the main uses of the engraver's art emerged in the work of Marcantonio Raimondi. The reproduction of paintings by the great masters is due to the great number of copies that can be produced from one matrix; the great paintings became the visual property of the vast public. Engraving lost its role of populariser of art when the photomechanical technique of reproduction was invented and, in turn, became the basis for the revival of the art of original engraving in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

In the second half of the XVI century, Bologna and the Barraccesca Accademy played a leading role in improving the engraving technique in Italy. In France, after a hesitant beginning, engraving reached its height in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with the works of the great Jacques Callot and portraits done with a burin by Gerard Audran.

In Italy, in the seventeenth century, besides works of art such as those by Tiepolo (Caprices, Divertissements, Fantasies) the genre of the engraved view flourished in Rome (Vasi) and in Venice (Canaletto, Bellotto, Ricci). Fantasy views reached an unsurpassed height with Piranesi ( Prisons). In England original engraving had its major representatives in Hogarth, Rolandson and Blake while Bewick revived the woodcut technique by inventing wood-engraving, which used a block of wood sawn across the grain, giving a harder and smoother surface that yielded a finer-detailed results. The prevalent technique used by the English school in the eighteenth century was mezzotint.

Etching and aquatint were used by the great painter Goya at the end of the eighteenth century. Later etching became the technique used by nineteenth century artists for preparing matrices, when the original etching, considered an artistic expression in its own right, experienced a revival.

To maintain the engraving's commercial value for collectors, limited editions and numbered copies were made and the matrix slashed afterwards to prevent further use.

Nearly all the great modern and contemporary artists experimented with this technique; from Chagal, Dérain, Léger and Nolde to Kokoschka ; from Picasso, Mirò and Dalì to Carrà, Morandi, Campigli, Guttuso. Thus it is impossible to separate the history of etching from its cultural period and from the overall activity of the artist who practiced it.



Contemporary Italian engravings

Contemporary Italian engravers are among the best known in the world.

Historically, the art of original engraving has (with a few notable exception : Boccioni, Martini, Viani, Severini) taken on new characteristics since the second world war ; during the first half of the century it was still bound to the rigid conventions of nineteenth century reproduction. At the same time it was not able to conform to the new ideals of European avant-garde painting, except in the most superficial ways, as in the case of engraving for illustrations, which was influenced by Art Nouveau.

Since the end of the second world war, original engraving has become an academic subject. The great masters of the art, appointed to teach it in Italy's art academics, gave rise to schools distinguished by their particular style and technique.

The spread of this neo-Renaissance phenomenon of schools brought about a differentiation between schools characterised by regional aspects, while maintaining the tradition established by the Master engravers. Several schools that acquired their own style are worthy of note, such as the Piemontese school, working according to the rules of the Accademia Albertina in Turin and referring to the artistic ideals of such teachers as Marcello Boglioni and Mario Calandri. Characterised by strict respect for tradition, this school fostered the development of the contemporary masters of pure etching Vincenzo Gatti and Daniele Gay, and the leading mezzotint artist Alberto Rocco.

The Venetian school, on the other hand, is characterised by engravings of landscape; its major teachers are Lino Bianchi Barriviera and Giovanni Barbisan. The school of Bologna had its forerunner and point of reference in the great Morandi; it developed a more intellectual ideal of original engraving, creating more surreal and contemplative atmospheres; Paolo Manaresi and Gino Gandini represent the school at its best. The Scuola del Libro in Urbino and the Istituto d 'Arte in Florence are historically very important, because they addressed their teaching attention to the development and spread of the art of original engraving, under the direction of Masters such as Luigi Servolini and Leandro Castellani in Urbino and Francesco Chiappelli in Florence. They also pointed the way to artists such as Arnoldo Ciarrocchi, Nunzio Gulino, Renato Bruscaglia, Walter Piacesi and Alberico Morena in Urbino, and Pietro Parigi, Renato Alessandrini, Mario Fallani, a Enzo Faraoni in Florence.

Besides the Istituto d'Arte in Florence, the Accademia has played an important role since the earliest years of our century. After the initial boost given by the famous twentieth century engraver Giovanni Fattori and the guidance of Celestino Celestini, this school encouraged the development of many great artists, including Vairo Mongatti and Gianni Cacciarini . Together with Gabriele Orselli and Maurizio Mariani they founded a group called Academia Nova, supporting the revival of the purity of classical lines.

Among the Italian Academies where renowned contemporary engravers developed their art, Brera Academy in Milan (Lombard school) should be mentioned , where Paolo Petrò studied, and the Academy of Genoa (Ligurian School), where Mario Chianese teaches. This last artist is included not only in our catalogue, but also in the most famous international catalogues.

Italy is today a country where the art of original engraving is flourishing and spreading. The contemporary Italian "Maestri" are in the most important catalogues of the world, together with the greater engravers of the past, as practitioners of an art quite autonomous from painting, and certainly not inferior to it.


The techniques of original engraving

Etching - Aquatint - Soft-ground etching or Vernis Mou
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Burin - Drypoint - Mezzotint - Stipple engraving
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Woodcut - Linocut

Copper plate printing

According to how the matrix holds the ink, two different methods are used for engraving: the relief (woodcut, linocut)and intaglio; this latter process falls into two groups: direct engraving (burin, drypoint, mezzotint and stipple engraving) and indirect engravings (etching,aquatint and soft-ground etching or vernis mou ).

Relief type printing includes the engraving techniques that create a matrix inked at the moment of printing on the raised parts, while the depressions, the furrows, are not inked. The artist engraves the parts of matrix that will be white on the paper; while the parts in relief are inked (like a rubber stamp) so that only they will be printed on the paper.

The word intaglio defines all those engravings whose matrices hold the ink in the furrows and yield it to the paper during printing. The furrows can be carved directly on the surface with special tools - direct method- or using an acid which bites into the metal- indirect method.


ETCHING


Etching is the first indirect technique of engraving used as an expressive means since ancient times, as it gives the artist great creative freedom, without the long apprenticeship that characterises other means of artistic expression.

Its origin most plausibly dates back to the middle ages, when nitric acid (aqua fortis, as the medieval alchemists called it) was used to etch decorations into weapons and armour. Later, in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century , the technique and name were adopted by engraving artist.

The sequence of engraving is as follows: after cleaning and smoothing the surface, the artist covers it with a thin layer of special wax, which will be darkened with lamp-black to make the wax more resistant to the acid and the engraved lines more visible.

Then the artist uses a stylus to press through the wax and uncover the metal, drawing the lines that will compose the image. Once the edges and the back of the plate are protected, it is immersed in a basin containing some diluted acid.

The most commonly used types of acid are nitric acid and perchloric acid. Nitric acid is almost always used on zinc plates, and perchloric acid on brass and copper. During the "biting", that is the acid's corrosive action, the acid creates small bubbles that settle on the carved drawing. As they form, the artist removes them using the feather of an aquatic bird ( which are the most resistant type), in order to obtain a regular line.

Moreover, during the chemical reaction perchloric acid deposits in the furrows a rust-coloured pulp which impedes the biting; so that plates are often washed or held upside down so that the pulp falls into the basin.

Using a different concentration of acid and varying the biting times different kinds of lines and results can be achieved.

Types of biting:

1) simple - after one immersion in the acid, the lines have all the same strength: the shades and color gradations are created by the more or less dense network of lines.

2) layered - after successive multiple immersions. The engraver immerses the plate in the acid a first time, then covers with a protective wax the lines that must be thinner and lighter in the print. Then the plate is immersed again to obtain thicker lines and the procedure is repeated as many times as required to obtain wider and deeper lines. In the print the sharp edges due to the different moment of biting will be clearly visible.

3) addition - when the darker lines are the first to be engraved and thinner and lighter lines are added step by step through a series of immersions. This method creates not only sharp lines, but also areas of soft shades and nuances, because the artist can change any part of his work until the moment of biting.

Among the first to use this technique are Urs Graf, a goldsmith from Basil and the author of the first dated print (1518), and Dürer, who engraved six iron plates, including The Cannon (1518). However, it was Parmigianino who realised the possibilities of the technique and brought it to perfection.

Original etching spread quickly throughout Europe, taking the place of xylography and partly of the burin, with Rembrandt its major artist. It has to be stressed that original etching is different from reproductive etching, started in the school of Raffaello da Marcantonio Raimondi and created to reproduce the master's works.

Among the major engravers of the seventeenth century are the landscape painters Jacques Callot and Claude Lorrain in France and Stefano della Bella and Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, called the Grechetto, the inventor of the monotype, in Italy. In the seventeenth century, engravings provided bitter and ironic comments on social miseries and contrasts. (Hogarth, G.B. Tiepolo, Piranesi, Goya, and others). In the eighteenth century lithography, a new technique, was preferred to engraving until Corot, Millet and other impressionists (Pissarro, Manet ...) rediscovered its possibilities. Many modern painters such as Picasso and Braque reached remarkable results with etching, but especially the German impressionists used it, together with lithography, for its graphic expressive strength. As all with the other engraving techniques, etching is today greatly appreciated by both artists and the public.

On our catalogue

GIANNI CACCIARINI Ombre e Ombrelli Etching 49.5X33


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AQUATINT


The aquatint is an indirect process of engraving and can be considered a technical variant on etching, as the engraving is made with an acid.

It follows the same procedure as the one described for etching, but the final effects, obtained with a porous plate, are similar to water-colours. The texture is created by dropping grains of bitumen onto a hot plate, which melt and stick to the surface, forming a more or less thick ground.

Aquatint is a tone process rather than a line method : instead of forming an image with an organised series of lines, it creates areas of controlled shapes and contrasts.

To do so, the matrix is specially treated to obtain a rough surface able to hold the ink. This roughness is called granulation.

The picture shows the procedure of traditional granulation.

The biting operates in the hollow spaces. The longer the biting time, the darker the background, thus achieving different nuances of gray simply by varying the time of immersion.

On our catalogue
aquatint GIAMPAOLO DAL PRA L'Ulivo


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Burin or line-engraving


This engraving technique is the most ancient procedure; its name is linked to the tool used to engrave metals. Dating back to the first half of the fifteenth century, it derives from techniques adopted by medieval goldsmiths, who used the burin to engrave thin layers of metal, usually silver, then filled the carved lines with a black substance called niello (nigellum) to bring out the design.

When to check the chiselling a sort of thick ink was poured into the carved lines instead of the niello, it was discovered that the drawing could leave its print on a wet sheet of paper producing the first burin impressions. Niello means both the engraved thin layer of metal and the print on paper. The chalcographic technique, called line-engraving, envolved when the engraved matrices were printed on a sheet of paper using a printing press.

The burin is a thin steel bar with a sharp end cut crosswise and having different types of sections: square, triangle, rhomboid etc. A wooden handle shaped like a half-sphere can be adapted to the artist's hand so that he can exert a constant pressure with his hand and press the tool with his finger at the same time. The inclination of the burin on the surface depends on the kind of tip used.

During engraving, the plate is laid on a leather cushion filled with sand to keep it from shifting under the pressure of the artist's hand but so that he can move it as he works. To create curves, he holds the burin stationary and rotates the cushion. As the burin gouges the metal it raises shavings called burrs, that are removed at the end of the work. The engraved lines hold the ink for printing. The result is a drawing with sharp clear lines that constitute the main characteristic of this technique.

In the fifteenth century, artists such as Mantegna, Schongauer and Dürer engraved their drawings directly onto the copper giving the burin an autonomous expressive role.

In later centuries it was mainly used to reproduce great paintings, and in the nineteenth century to illustrate historical events and customs.

Only at the end of the last century was engraving as a means for creating art discovered again, and the burin acquired artistic autonomy.


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DRYPOINT


Drypoint is a direct intaglio technique for engraving metal without the use of acids.

The tool usually used is a sharp stylus with a steel or diamond point.

Varying the pressure on the tool causes a variation in the depth and width of the lines, that after printing will yield a more or less rich effect on paper.

In this technique, the burrs crested by the pressure of the point are left to hold the ink, giving a soft, thick printed line which is the main characteristic of this style.

The burrs are soon removed during the cleaning of the plate or flattened by the press. Thus the marks lose their printing strength after only a small number of copies.

Because of this last characteristic, drypoint has never been used as a reproductive technique.

On our catalogue

BARBARA VACCARI "Robur" Original etching - aquatint - drypoint - 29.6x23.7


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STIPPLE ENGRAVING


Stipple engraving is an indirect technique of engraving, that is without acids, used especially on copper or zinc plates. Differently than in the chalcographic technique, a stippling tool is used to create images with dots.

The stippling forms a ground of burrs on the plate and, as in the dry point technique, the artist can either remove or leave them, depending on the effect he wants to achieve.

On our catalogue

COSTANTE COSTANTINI "Fanny sul tappeto" Original stipple engraving - 38X48


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MEZZOTINT


This technique was invented by the German Ludwig Fon Siegen (1609-1680) and saw its greatest development in England in the eighteenth century.

It achieved its full formal perfection when the engraver Blooteling invented the rocker, wiegen in German, berceau in French, a tool that ever since has represented the classical means for covering the plate with a mesh of small burred dots.

The mezzotint emerged in a period when reproductive engraving techniques were very popular and it was primarily used to reproduce paintings, because it permitted subtle effects of shading and highlights .

It flourished throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, until its place was taken by the more sophisticated photographic techniques for reproduction. Today only few engravers use it as an autonomous means of artistic expression, because it is a tiring and slow method of engraving.

After preparing a perfectly smooth plate of annealed copper; the artist prepares the ground with the rocker invented by Blooteling. This is a small steel blade with a curved edge and sharp pointed ends. Holding it by its central handle, the engraver rocks it slowly forward with a waving movement, so that it leaves small dots like those created in drypoint on the copper.

The matrix is ready when the plate is completely covered by dots. In mezzotint, the painter-engraver inverts the order of the creative act, which usually is a process of addition. Here instead he removes bit by bit the black from the rough ground, moving through shades of grey toward white.

He uses two tools : the burnisher and the scraper for the ground. The burnisher is usually made of hard tempered steel and is shaped like a small blade.

The number of copies printed that can be made from a mezzotint plate is limited to no more than forty.

On our catalogue
mezzotint ALBERTO ROCCO I vasi Galle



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VERNIS MOU - SOFT-GROUND ETCHING


This is a particular variety of etching; instead of covering the surface with the usual resin, the artist spreads a composition of warmed resin and tallow using a brush or roller, creating a softer ground.

He than places a thin sheet of paper on the plate and draws on it with a sharp pencil.

Under the pressure the soft wax sticks to the back of the paper, and comes off with it when the sheet of paper is removed.

This technique is also called crayon or color-engraving because it produces an image similar to drawing. Different kinds of pencils and paper yield a variety of effects.

This technique dates back to the eighteenth century (J.- Charles Françoise 1717 - 1759) and was invented to imitate the rough line of the pencil as well as the softness and gradation in shade of pastel-colours. Today it is almost always combined with other techniques.



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THE LINOCUT


A characteristic of modern relief printing is the use of materials other than wood to create matrices, including linoleum.

Linoleum is made of a combination of linseed oil, ground cork, and gum spread on a canvas or burlap backing, creating a smooth, compact surface that can easily be engraved using gouges. This technique is not different from woodcut as the finished prints have the same aspect, but linoleum is easier to work than wood, as there are no knots and it is flexible, offering itself to fluid, spontaneous drawings. This material was patented by F. Walton in 1863 and has been used to make matrices for relief printing since the first years of this century.

Kandinsky and some Expressionists engraved on linoleum. Matisse was fascinated by its ease in working and used it in the simplest terms possible, creating a series of engravings of pure white lines on a black ground. Picasso too used linoleum to do a number of coloured linocuts between 1958 and 1964. In Italy, M. Maccari is a major exponent of linoleum engraving.

The evolution of linocuts is particularly interesting; it was developed in Poland after the second world war, where Grabowski and Starczewski analysed the structural elements of its graphic language, while Gielniak and Fijalkowski exploited it to evoke surreal and sometimes metaphysical atmospheres.


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WOODCUT


Woodcut is a relief process. The matrix is a block of wood that can be cut either longitudinally as planks, or cross-grained, when it is cut transversally. Longitudinal blocks are softer and give a less precise line while the wood of the second kind, made by uniting various carefully selected pieces, is fine-grained and harder. Its thinner and closer lines produce a design rich in detail.

The drawing on the block is cut in relief. The parts cut away with the gouge are white in the finished print while those standing in relief are black.

The first prints on paper done from wood blocks were made in China and date from the eighth century. According to some documents, in Europe the first woodcuts-simple images of saints, and playing cards - date back to the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. The ancient religious prints were essentially linear, often embellished by hand colouring.

The invention of movable type printing, which applied the relief process to the letters of the alphabet, and the subsequent development of publishing represented a field of applications and uses for woodcut. In the late fifteenth century the production of books illustrated with woodcuts spread especially in Italy and Germany.

However, even the most sophisticated images were anonymous or done by artists who can be identified only hypothetically, until Dürer, with the aid of the technical progress of the printing press, was able in just a few years to develop an idiom for the new art. He renewed the technique's possibilities for representation using the rules of Renaissance art, creating compositions of great openness and complexity.

The end of the eighteenth century was another period of renewal, when the new technique of engraving on cross-grained blocks brought about a radical change in the way woodcuts were conceived, and again when Gauguin ushered in the modern era in woodcut.


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COPPERPLATE ENGRAVING


Copperplate prints are made using a sticky kind of ink, with the plate being warmed on a stove.

The pictures below show the eight basic stages of copperplate engraving.


spreading of the ink


daubing the ink


removing the excess ink


cleaning and burnishing the plate


cleaning the corners


immersion of the sheet of paper

The paper for the intaglio process of engraving is of a special kind: it contains little glue and no wood fibres. It is similar to blotting paper and must be wet in order to adhere better to the inked depressions.


positioning of the plate


The printing process

The plate is inked before the printing of each sheet of paper. The printing process is done with a hand press on a movable plane passing between two metal rollers.

Between the cylinders pass :

a) the plane

b) the inked plate

c) the wet sheet of paper attached to the plate

d) d) a blotter to absorb the water from the paper squeezed out by the cylinders.

By pulling a lever, the entire rolling process is set into motion.


the hand press


THE PRINTING OF WOODCUT AND LINOCUT

The printing of wood- and linocut is done using a vertical printing-press which works like a normal press.

The ink is deposited on the relief. Wood- and linocuts can also be printed manually by mounting the matrix on a board, placing a sheet of paper over the parts in relief and rubbing the back of the paper with a spoon or a bone stick.


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