artist Giorgio Ghisi Mantovano (Mantova 1515  - 1582) Cerere con due dee e due putti

Artist Giorgio Ghisi Mantovano (Mantova 1515 - 1582) "Cerere con due dee e due putti"

History of engraving


Engraving was born as a technique for reproduction. In China, in the eighth century AD, sacred images or decorative patterns were engraved on wood tablets and later reproduced on fabric (xylography).

In Italy, in 1300, xylographic illustrations were made on wood for religious manuscripts and for the print of playing cards.

Around the first half of 1400 in Italy, almost at the same time in which it was happening in Germany, engraving technique on metal by burin replaced as a print process the one realized on wood.

Vasari writes that from the 1450 in Italy, pieces of work of "ageminatura" and "niellatura" were made in the Florentine goldsmith’s shops.

They were similar to small silver plaques engraved by burin and used for the decoration of weapons, sacred objects, medals, caskets and more. These engravings were then filled with a black enamel called "nigellum". To check the right execution of the work, goldsmiths pressed on these engravings a light piece of paper on which the image was transferred.

These artisans, thanks to the proof carried out on wet paper, checked the image that they engraved and judged the quality of the finish of the work. Maybe this exact process suggested to a Florentine goldsmith of the time, a guy named Maso Finiguerra, the possibility to use it as a print technique more immediate and rich of possibilities than the one used on wood (xylography) since that time.

We can state that engraving on copper by burin was born in goldsmiths’ shops and it presents virtuosic characteristics typical of the goldsmith art. Then, some artists of the time approached this technique earning authentic and original expressive possibilities.

The first masterpiece of the engraving on metal in Italy is the Pollaiolo’s piece of work: "Il combattimento degli ignudi". In the northern Italy the greatest engraver of the 1400 is Andrea Mantegna. A. Mantegna We can attribute to him seven engravings.

Engraving had the function to spread the artists’ piece of work, by reproducing them. The Bolognese engraver Marcantonio Raimondi was famous for his engravings which reproduced Rafael’s pieces of work. Among other famous artists who used this technique, we have Brunelleschi, Verrocchio and Francia.

At the same time in Germany there was a great engraver by burin: Albrecht Durer.

In 1500 the artist Francesco Mazzola, known as "il Parmigianino" tested a new method of engraving on metal, thanks to his passion for alchemy, using an acid that had the power to corrode metal. This acid was the nitric acid and it was called “Acquaforte”.

Numerous artists got interested in this new technique to create "original engravings" (hand-made) like: Agostino Carracci, Veronese, Correggio, Canaletto, Tiepolo, Rubens and Van Dick.

It’s important to mention Rembrandt’s engraving art, he was the master of acquaforte. He freed it from the imitation of the engraving by burin.

In 1700 we can mention Tiepolo, Canal and Piranesi’s engraving production. Piranesi has engraved not less than 1000 plates.

In 1800 the acquaforte slowly disappears as a print technique and a new rapid technique comes on the scene: lithography (engraving on stone).

Artists continued to test engraving techniques using acquaforte as a way to reach impossible expressive results with drawing or painting. "Calcografie" were born in this period.

They were shops where the artists could engrave their plates and preserve the matrices. The greatest calcografia known today is in Rome. It has been founded in 1738 and it’s called "Calcografia Nazionale", full of famous matrices.

Marco Dente, masterpiece of engraving- Venere e amore portati dai delfini

MARCO DENTE da Ravenna (Ravenna c.1493 - Roma 1527) Venere e amore portati dai delfini