History of engraving

The first evidence for humans engraving patterns is a chiselled shell, dating back between 540,000 and 430,000 years, from Trinil, in Java, Indonesia, where the first Homo erectus was discovered. Hatched banding upon ostrich eggshells used as water containers found in South Africa in the Diepkloof Rock Shelter and dated to the Middle Stone Age around 60,000 BC are the next documented case of human engraving. Engraving on bone and ivory is an important technique for the Art of the Upper Paleolithic, and larger engraved petroglyphs on rocks are found from many prehistoric periods and cultures around the world.

In antiquity, the only engraving on metal that could be carried out is the shallow grooves found in some jewellery after the beginning of the 1st Millennium B.C. The majority of so-called engraved designs on ancient gold rings or other items were produced by chasing or sometimes a combination of lost-wax casting and chasing. Engraved gem is a term for any carved or engraved semi-precious stone; this was an important small-scale art form in the ancient world, and remained popular until the 19th century.

Wood engraving
The woodcut is known since at least the 7th century China, the oldest traces are to Chinese western gates of the Silk Road, the Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang. They were originally used for sutras, books of Buddhist canons. The Chinese also invented paper (in 206AD, in the Western Han Dynasty), which allowed, with printing, rapid dissemination and cost of books of all kinds, and from the xi th century under the Northern Song dynasty, to print banknotes or advertisements, playing cards or various other everyday objects began to be printed.

The Mongols who conquered and led China under the Yuan dynasty, founded by Kublai Khan, the xiii th century also had access to this technology and they used to move technicians and technical one end to the other of their empire, the largest ever, extended to Eastern Europe and North Africa to the west, and to Korea and Siberia to the east.

Although many techniques from the Orient, including many discoveries in mathematics (so-called Arabic numbers, algebra), weapons (trebuchet, firearms, crossbow), paper, windmill and other oriental techniques arrived in Europe during the crusades and the exchanges that followed, there is no formal proof that this technique was introduced in the West by the Silk Road. Some specialists assume that the technique of xylographywas reinvented in the Rhine valley, in Northern Europe, locating it more precisely is impossible.

The Protat wood, the oldest western wooden matrix, is dated around 1380: more precisely, it is the fragment of a walnut wooden board (0.60 × 0.23 cm), which was executed in Laives, canton of Sennecey (Saône-et-Loire), in Burgundy, which represents, on one side, The Centurion and the two soldiers and on the other, The Angel of the Annunciation. We should also note the Saint Christopher found in the Buxheim library stuck on a manuscript from 1423.

The woodcut precedes the printing press. Engraving techniques are very much linked to the support, because it must be inexpensive for the use of a recopiable original to be interesting, hence the importance of introducing paper. The evolution of xylographic production will therefore follow the development of printing.


In Northern Europe
The woodcut develops parallel to the use of paper, to 1400. It makes it possible to reproduce prints in large quantities and reaches a popular audience. The copper engraving, allowing more detailed reproductions, is more expensive and is intended for cultivated sponsors. It became generalized in 1430 in the Rhine valley and took advantage of the techniques of goldsmithing: Schongauer and Dürer were goldsmiths by training.

It is difficult before Schongauer to attribute the works: these anonymous engravers are generally designated “by the name in their own way”:

The Master of 1446, first engraving with a chisel in Germany (Flagellation, Kulturforum, Berlin).
The Master ES, active between 1450 and 1467 engravings on various themes. His alphabet will often be imitated by other engravers.
The Master of Banners, active from 1460 to 1467.
The Master of Playing Cards, perhaps more of a painter than a goldsmith, 9 develops shadows by parallel hatching, that is to say about sixty works kept at the Kupferstichkabinett (Dresden) and the National Library of France (Paris).
The Master of the Reason Book (Hausbuchmeister), also called Master of the Amsterdam Cabinet, was active between 1465 and 1505. It seems to inaugurate the drypoint on zinc or tin: 80 engravings are listed with “pictorial and chiaroscuro effects”.
Martin Schongauer, active between 1471 and 1491, was the first monogrammist to whom a name could be associated. He innovates in the chisel technique. His works are remarkable for the predominance of the contour line and the alternation of light and dark areas (La Montée au Calvaire, Fondo Corsini, Rome).
Israhel van Meckenem (1450-1503) “ was one of the most prolific burinists of the time with 600 engravings, three quarters of which were copies” (Jesus and the doctors of the faith, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna).
Daniel Hopfer.
Albrecht Dürer, influenced by Martin Schongauer, will be the most innovative of the Rhine engravers.
Hans Baldung engraved on wood Les Sorcières, in 1510. He distinguished himself by the sharpness of the line and the dramatic tone of his compositions. We owe him a portrait of Martin Luther in 1521 (Wild Horses, Fondo Corsini, Rome).
Urs Graf (1485-1528), originally from Switzerland, was one of the first to use etching, the process of which is attributed to Wenceslas d’Olmütz (1496). “Eager for experimentation, he takes up the” screened way “, new name for the interrasile opus”.
Albrecht Altdorfer (1480-1538), elevates the landscape to the rank of an autonomous artistic entity. He was the first to use etching to accentuate variations in light.
Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553) was a painter and engraver: he invented the technique of shades with two woods. The woodcuts will be used for Lutheran propaganda and for book illustrations (Rest on the Flight into Egypt, Fondo Corsini, Rome).
Lucas van Leyden (1494-1533) synthesizes Nordic and Italianizing elements (Saint Georges). He is also innovative in technique.
Pierre Bruegel the Elder (1525-1569) learned engraving in the workshop of Hieronymus Cock.

North-eastern Italy
The Veneto, the Dalmatian, the Emilia and Lombardia see woodcut and copperplate engraving to develop in the first half of the 15th century: see in this collection of devotional images of the notary Jacopo Rubieri (born in Parma in 1430).

The Italian Maso Finiguerra found, in 1452, the means of making a proof of a plate which he had engraved for the Saint-Jean church in Florence. “The first copper engravers, following Finiguera, were silversmiths, nielleurs, damasquineurs. They are located, on the one hand, in Tuscany, Padua and Veneto forming the other large sphere. ”
Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506) renews the subjects and the technique (Triumph of Caesar, Fondo Corsini, Rome).
Baccio Baldini (1436-1487) silversmith and nielleur (Dante, Virgile et la vision de Béatrice, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge [Massachusetts]).
Sandro Botticelli.
Antonio del Pollaiuolo (1431-1496).
Francesco Francia.
Parmigianino (1503-1540) dominates the etching process (The Tomb of Christ, Fondo Corsini, Rome). The thick lines cross and give a veiled appearance, all enhanced with a few touch-ups with a dry point.
Francesco Rosselli (1498-1513): representative of the “broad way”.
Nicoletto da Modena, recognizable by the hardness of the line and its rigid forms (Allegory of Fortune, Fondo Corsini, Rome).
Girolamo Mocetta (1454-1531) works on chromatic effects and in a monumental style. It is characterized by a fine line, sometimes curved.
Benedetto Montagna works in the style of Dürer: cross hatching and curved lines. He seeks to translate the sfumato on his plates.
Giulio Campagnola (1482-1515) introduced the dotted technique. With him, engraving becomes an autonomous artistic genre.
Titian (1490-1576): his woodcuts are monumental (The Passage of the Red Sea in 12 blocks, 1549). ” The Mystic Weddings of Saint Catherine present cross-hatching made by a deep, delicate incision, closer to what is done at the same period for etchings. ”
Marc-Antoine Raimondi (1470 -1534). The first engravings are inspired by the nielle, and his work will evolve towards a mastery of chiaroscuro (Le Songe de Raphaël, 1507). His collaboration with Raphaël marks the birth of the translation print. “Technically, the way to use the chisel appears revolutionary, because the simple hatching is accompanied by cross hatching, which creates a much more real chiaroscuro with the addition of incisions to the chisel and dotted lines. ”
Hugo de Carpi, mediocre painter, but genius engraver. He innovates with shades or chromatic xylography (Raphaël and his lover, Albertina, Vienne). It was during his Venetian years that he experimented with various methods: in 1516, he begged the Senate and the Doge to protect his process against counterfeiters.

The baroque
During this period, the engraving oscillates between reproduction and the autonomous genre which draws most of its inspiration from libertinism and parties.

Two precursors of the baroque movement:

Cornelis Cort (1533-1578), born in Holland, he settled permanently in Rome in 1572. He revolutionized the chisel technique by obtaining tonal modulations (Noces de Cana, Bibliothèque nationale, Paris), thanks to the variations in shape and the thickness of the lines.
Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617) known for his engraved work; around 500 engravings engraved with a chisel (Icarus, Fondo Corsini, Rome).

In Italy
With the following artists, the baroque asserts itself both in subjects and in technique:
Federico Barocci dit le Baroche (1528? -1612) associates etching and chisel (L’Annonciation, Fondo Corsini, Rome). “The Baroche applies a varnish with wax, after the first bite, on the part of the landscape formed by fine lines, almost calligraphic. It thus gives up several acid passages which would dig the grooves in the matrix. The result, called the “multiple bite process”, is completely revolutionary. To this is added a particular way of engraving: the parallels cross the transverse in several directions, with the addition of dotted lines, to obtain vibrating light effects. ”
Agostino Carracci (1557-1602) is considered one of the greatest writers of the 17th century Italian (Adoration of the Magi in seven engravings, 1579). The work of the chisel is reminiscent of Cort and Goltzius. From 1590, he undertook etchings: the Intermezzi in honor of the wedding of Ferdinand de Médicis and Christine de Lorraine.
Jusepe de Ribera is considered a great master of engraving of the 17th century; however, his production spanned a very short period of time (1616-1630). His favorite area is etching with a predominance of irregular lines (Le Poète, 1620, Rome, ING).
Stefano della Bella (1610-1664) has an impressive production: more than 1,000 engravings, most of which are etchings enhanced with chisels and drypoint (Les Caprices de la mort, vers 1648).
Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione (1609-1665) has always been considered a self-taught man. “His engraving technique is focused on the line… He would be the inventor of the one-design technique, perhaps linked to his attempts to create light effects. ” Castiglione not used the monotype on black, but the one design on a white background (Allegory of the Eucharist).

In Northern Europe
Antwerp and Flanders are veritable nurseries for artists; almost all of them will travel to Italy in order to perfect their technique.

Among them, let us retain:

Pierre Paul Rubens (1577-1640). “He has the great merit of having founded the school of burinists in Antwerp… For him, the print is a means of dissemination and knowledge… He essentially uses engraving as a means of translation. » Two prints with the inscription of P. Paul Rubens fecit (Old woman by candlelight, Rome, Fondo Corsini).
Cristoffel Jegher (1596-1652) is a great specialist of wood engraving in the 17th century, while technical declining (The Garden of Love, Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire).
Pieter Claesz Soutman (1580-1657) developed the technique of stippling with a chisel, which made it possible to create chiaroscuro.
Hercules Seghers (c. 1590-1638) invents the colored etching and aquatint with black varnish.
Rembrandt Van Rijn (1606-1669) first uses etching then the dry point. Finally, he mixes the two techniques and plays with paper effects (Japanese paper or parchment).

In France
acques Callot (1592? -1635), trained in Florence, developed etching in important series (Les Foires, Les Supplices, Les Miseries de la Guerre). He wanted to exploit the maximum of possibilities of technique and ” he decided to replace the traditional “soft varnish” of aquafortists with the “hard varnish” of master Florentine cabinetmakers. The surface expands, the details appear within large perspectives which create the illusion of three-dimensional space”.
Abraham Bosse (1604-1676), engraving theorist, is the archetype of the French Baroque engraver. His book is a sum of the engraving techniques of the time: everything is described in detail from “how to make soft varnish”, through “how to handle the stalls” and “to use water- strong”, with finally “ the way to print the intaglio boards together with the means of building the press”.
Nicolas Arnoult (1650-1722).
Jean-Baptiste Réville (1767-1825).

The enthusiasm of collectors 18th century to the views of Italian landscapes directs the production of such writers Vanvitelli (1653-1736), Giuseppe Vasi (1710-1782), Luca Carlevarijs (1663-1730), Marco Ricci (1617-1730). The latter, in his etchings, will introduce tiny and jagged lines in order to translate the effects of light and the movement of the foliage.

Canaletto (1697-1768) tries to translate the vibrations of light into his etchings (Caprice with balcony and gallery on the lagoon, 1763, Windsor Castle, Royal Collection).
Giambattista Tiepolo (1696-1770) and his son Giandomenico (1727-1804), are fabulous technicians: hatching, counter-size, curves with parallel undulations, pointillism, parallel lines.
The workshop of Giuseppe Wagner (1706-1786) is important both in terms of the artists who will frequent it (Brustolon, Baratti, Zucchi…), as well as the new techniques which will be developed there: in particular, the beautiful way of engraving on chisel with a soft point capable of producing a clean, deep line.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi known as “Piranese” (1720-1778).
The illustrations of the Encyclopedia of Diderot and D’Alembert show how this art helped to popularize the cultivation.

In the 18th century, copperplate engraving in its various forms (intaglio, etching, etc.) predominates. Wood engraving is confined to popular imagery.

The modern era
On the one hand, the invention of lithography by Aloys Senefelder. Lithography, based on a completely new principle (the water-fatty ink antagonism, and no longer the relief), allows you to draw directly, without having to learn an arduous engraving technique. Many painters and illustrators will thus access the print, widely distributed in Germany, Italy, France and Great Britain.

On the other hand, the Briton Thomas Bewick brings wood engraving up to date, by developing engraving on “end grain” (or “standing”). Wood is engraved with a chisel, like copper, which allows all the finesse, and which has the advantage of being a technique in relief: one can therefore print the engravings on a letterpress, at the same time as the text.

Introduced in France by Charles Thompson, around 1818, this technique is universally used by publishing and the press. Hundreds of engravers, from which stand out big names, like Héliodore Pisan, François Pannemaker et fils, Hippolyte Lavoignat, work daily to interpret the works of great illustrators like Honoré Daumier, Gustave Doré, Grandville, among others. With the growth of the press, wood engraving tends to become a reproduction industry, served by virtuoso technicians, but often devoid of creativity.

The attempts to return to an original woodcut, with writers such as Auguste Lepere, arrives too late at the end of the 19th century, the etching being supplanted by techniques based on the photograph (halftone).

The creation of companies representing the recorders is one of important events in the second half of the 19th century: Society of etchers in 1862, Society of French painters and engravers in 1889. The model is the Society of Engravers, founded in London in 1802.

The Barbizon School is at the initiative of the journal Eau-forte, and is experimenting with new techniques such as the glass cliché 16. Millet and Corot will adopt this new technique (Le Petit Berger, Corot, Milan, 1855, A. Bertarelli). Antonio Fontanesi rediscovers the etching of invention: he uses repetitive bite (light effects). He also uses the glass cliché.

Giovanni Fattori (1825-1908) is one of the great masters of etching, which will make Baudelaire say: “Among the expressions of plastic art, etching is the one that comes closest to l literary expression and which is best made for spontaneous man. ”

Rodolphe Ackermann (April 20, 1764 in Stollberg, Electorate of Saxony – March 30, 1834 in Finchley, London) is a bookseller, lithographer, publisher and one of the pioneers of illustration of art books. He has helped democratize the technique of aquatint or aquateinte, etching process with the etching.

Whistler (1834-1903) was initiated into engraving with Fantin-Latour, Courbet, and Legros. He began with etching and then worked on the drypoint in 1871 (Portrait of the Leyland family). Francis Hayden (1818-1910), will mix techniques to translate the effects of atmosphere: dry point, burnishing, bite, aquatint.

The impressionists, like Manet will use engraving and lithography in order to translate an atmosphere (La danseuse Lola de Valence, Paris, Bibliothèque nationale). Degas will do the same by adding the monotype (Woman to his toilet, 1885, Paris, library of Art and Archeology). Pissarro is more fond of wood engraving (Women making grass, 1895). We must not forget Pierre Renoir, Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh. As for Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), he had a predilection for wood engraving (Te Faruru, 1893, Chicago, Art Institute).

Rid of its utilitarian constraints, engraving returns to a pure artistic domain, rediscovering and modernizing traditional techniques. The 20th century rediscovered the wood of thread, its simplicity and its expressive value, with artists like Félix Vallotton (La Manifestation, Lausanne, Vallotton gallery) and Edvard Munch.

The artists of the Die Brücke and Blaue Reiter movements are attracted to wood engraving where they can play with the simplification of forms.

Matisse experiments with all techniques: woodcut, etching, drypoint (Henri Matisse engraving, 1900), lithography (Large odalisque with bayadere pants, 1925, Bern, EWK collection), aquatint and linocut.

Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964) “manages to merge a light which generates form, a volume which constructs it plastically and a color which makes it possible to distinguish it by placing itself as tone or “color position”. Mastery of the line, unique bite thanks to the Dutch bite allow him to transcribe the waves of light.

Picasso (1881-1973) engraved enormously: no less than 2,000 known works. Initiated by Roger Lacourière in 1933 with a chisel and aquatint with sugar, he created the Vollard Suite. He tries all the processes and renews them: the different states show us a perfectionist artist.

Georges Gimel (1898-1962), from 1921, produced numerous woodcuts with chisels and salt aquatints for illustrations: Musicians, preface by André Cœuroy, portrait of Déodat de Séverac, retained by the Bibliothèque nationale de France. He developed woodcuts with which he produced printed fabrics for decoration and for haute couture.

Valentin Le Campion (1903-1952) specializes in bookplates.

Claude Jumelet (1946-) is a former student of the Estienne School. He is a highly awarded engraver and doweler, master engraver at the Postage Stamp Printing House in Périgueux and member of the Art of Stamped Engraving.

Jacky Larrivière (1946-) Same as above.
The use of new materials and new processes, notably in the works of Jean Fautrier, Raoul Ubac, Johnny Friedlaender, Stanley Hayter, Henri-Georges Adam, George Ball, Roger Vieillard, Marcel Fiorini, Louttre.B or Pierre Courtin, frees engraving from any subordination to drawing or painting and, engaging it in the recognition of its specific means, ensures complete autonomy of its expression.

Contemporary engraving
Examples of contemporary uses for engraving include creating text on jewellery, such as pendants or on the inside of engagement- and wedding rings to include text such as the name of the partner, or adding a winner’s name to a sports trophy. Another application of modern engraving is found in the printing industry. There, every day thousands of pages are mechanically engraved onto rotogravure cylinders, typically a steel base with a copper layer of about 0.1 mm in which the image is transferred. After engraving the image is protected with an approximately 6 µm chrome layer. Using this process the image will survive for over a million copies in high speed printing presses. Some schools throughout the world are renowned for their teaching of engraving, like the École Estienne in Paris.

Renewal of engraving
Engraving workshops, such as that of Stanley William Hayter (Atelier 17), Joëlle Serve (atelier 63), printing like the Lacourière-Frélaut workshop will participate in the revival of engraving. Philippe Mohlitz, George Ball or Érik Desmazières put the chisel back in the spotlight, Mario Avati the black way, Philippe Favier the dry point, and many artists, young and old, are interested in engraving for the variety of techniques and their multiple combinations. An outlet exists in the intaglio engraving of certain postage stamps with former students from the Estienne School.grouped in the association Art engraved stamp.

In the 1960s, there was another type of engraving that appeared in France for the funeral art industry. This engraving probably coming from the Eastern countries, in Paris there were two Yugoslavs and a Russian.

This engraving technique is carried out on fine black granite, polished like a mirror, using diamond tracing points. In principle, it is Marlin, Zimbabwe, China, there is also a fine black granite from Sweden which is the most expensive of the granites.

This engraving has two designations, because it is done on granite, it is a lithogravure, the technique is said to be drypoint.

It is a unique lapidary engraving where mastery of the drawing and knowledge of the material to be engraved is compulsory, as well as having a good artistic sensitivity. In the interstices of this engraving you have to put paint to give all its brilliance to this engraving and that it resists bad weather since it is made for funerary art (See the Virgin of the Lilies, opposite, by Michel Robardet, signature lower left).

With modern techniques, there is engraving by sandblasting, electric milling cutter, laser and whose operators use computers, which removes the artistic side of freehand engraving.

Cinema engraving
2012: Goltzius and the Pelican Company by Peter Greenaway, tells the story of the Dutch painter and engraver Hendrik Goltzius.
2014: Visit to Hokusai by Jean-Pierre Limosin. 51-minute documentary produced by Arte and Zadig Productions.

Engraving as crafts
Elements of the technique, as well as a significant part of the tools, came in engraving from jewelry, from metal processing techniques, from wood engraving – from engraving that has been used since ancient times in the manufacture of weapon overheads, or directly on swords, halberds, armor themselves, etc., – in jewelry themselves. The fundamental difference lies in the understanding of tasks: in engraving, as in the easel form of visual art – due to the need to obtain a high-quality, expressive impression – according to the plastic characteristics intended by the artist, and in applied art – the product itself must have these characteristics.