Subtitles prepared by human
Hello, and welcome to Insider Insights. I'm Emma Wagner, Associate Educator in Public Programs and Creative Practice at The Met. In this series, we're providing closer looks at objects from the collection and exhibitions as well as a glimpse behind the scenes of the work of Met experts who interpret and care for them. Today, we're joined by three of my colleagues from the Department of Drawings and Prints who will share with us some works from selections from the Department of Drawings and Prints: Materials and Techniques. The fourth and final thematic installation offered by the department in celebration of the museum's 150th anniversary in 2020. This installation explores the broad range of materials and techniques used by artists in Europe and the United States to create works on paper from the Renaissance to the present day. Associate curator Freyda Spira will begin our presentation by introducing the installation, as well as discussing the printmaking technique of engraving. Following Freyda, curator Perrin Stein will discuss drawing in chalk
and the wide variety of effects that artists can achieve with this deceptively humble and simple drawing material. We will end with associate curator Femke Speelberg who will explain the techniques and origins of mezzotint, an intaglio printmaking process that can achieve a wide range of tonality, texture, and depth. Thank you so much for joining us Freyda, Perrin, and Femke. I'll hand it over to Freyda to get us started. Emma, thank you so much for the introduction. To many visitors who come to the museum and its website, terms like gouache and lithograph are extremely unfamiliar, even the process of how a print is made or what charcoal is and how it can be manipulated to create different effects is not common knowledge. A basic understanding of materials and techniques, especially those used in the past, can provide access into a world of deeper engagement and appreciation for works of art and the artists who made them. To make this information available to the public,
we decided to build a digital feature on the various materials of drawings and the techniques of printmaking. Our idea was to take an old-school glossary of terms, and bring it to life with texts, images, and videos, all available in the palm of your hand. This project was a collaboration between various departments across the museum, including the Department of Drawings and Prints, Paper Conservation, Imaging, and Digital. In addition, the printmaking feature was made possible by the LeRoy Neiman Center for Print Studies at Columbia University. Currently on the museum's website, you can find explainers for the following processes: woodcut, engraving, etching, lithograph, and screenprint and the materials of metalpoint, charcoal, chalk, ink, graphite, pastel, and watercolor. We plan and hope to gradually expand the feature. Today, I'm going to focus on engraving.
Some of the most precise and pattern prints are composed by the demanding process known as engraving. It is a form of Intaglio printmaking in which the artist incises or cuts a composition directly into the surface of a metal plate, using a diamond-tipped tool known as a burin. The burin cuts away a thin layer of the metal to create a recessed line or groove in the plate. These grooves are what hold ink. To facilitate the process of cutting into the metal, artists place the plate on a sandbag or pillow so that they can more easily manipulate the plate. Different sizes of burins, and the pressure applied to them, affects the thickness of the lines. To enhance a linear composition with tone, artists apply a system of hatching, lines, dots, and dashes, among other kinds of markings. The closer the marks are placed together, the darker those areas will appear in the print.
Once the composition has been cut into the plate, ink is applied with a cloth ball or stiff paper tab. These same materials are used to remove most of the excess ink from the surface as part of the process called wiping. The printing of these metal plates relies on the pressure of a roller press to force dampened paper into the incised lines or areas to pick up ink. Like most printing processes, the resulting impression on paper displays a reverse image of the original engraved composition. This extraordinary print was executed by the versatile artist, Antonio Pollaiuolo, who trained as a Goldsmith and sculptor and became a celebrated painter. The largest single engraved plate produced in Florence in the 15th century, and the first Italian print to bear a signature, this battle scene displays the artist's prime concern with portraying the human body in complex poses. Pollaiuolo conceived his figures in the round
and he posed them from a variety of angles, including paired opposites, to provide the viewer with multiple viewpoints of the human form in action. Although the subject of this engraving is still debated, the men could be gladiators. Their nudity and choice of weapons, especially the chain, shield, and dagger, are all described in ancient literature. In addition, the most recognizable source for the composition of this engraving are the frieze-like spaces with embattled overlapping figures that can be found carved on Etruscan and Greco-Roman sarcophagi. Pallaiuolo's hatching technique, characteristic of Florentine engravers of the period, reflects a contemporary style of pen drawing. Deep flowing contours delineate the figures and vegetation, while a combination of fine diagonal zig-zag hatching and long parallel lines define the muscular figures and the forest of plants and vines in the background.
The areas in the foreground have fewer and finer lines, while in the shadows, the parallel lines are placed closer together and in denser concentrations. One of the most important engravers and print publishers of his time, Hendrick Goltzius is most widely known today for the Mannerist engravings that he and his workshop produced during the period between 1585 and 1589. Ambitious throughout his career, he intended from the beginning to produce engravings of high artistic and technical quality for an international public and to break the monopoly on print publishing that had been held since the mid-16th century by print producers in Antwerp. He trained a number of engravers to work in his style and a large part of their production was centered around prints after the master's designs and in his very distinctive engraving style. A print by Goltzius doesn't simply try to mimic the world as it appears to us,
or to duplicate what other artistic media can do. It trumpets the special virtues of the engraved black line, almost to the point of making it the subject of the work. Instead of the even grid of fine crosshatching that had dominated engraving before Goltzius, the modeling in the Hercules is built from curving fragments of line that begin thin, thicken as they reach the top of their arc, and then thin out again as they trail off. Goltzius' famous swirling lines echo the curving forms and bulging muscles of the figures, so that the macrocosm of the scene depicted is reflected in the microcosm of the marks that build it up. One of the key figures associated with Abstract Expressionism, Jackson Pollock spent several months in the fall and winter of 1944 and '45, experimenting with engraving and drypoint at Stanley William Hayter's print studio,
Atelier 17. The internationally acclaimed Atelier was originally located in Paris, but with the outbreak of World War II, the British émigré, Hayter fled to New York City. Atelier 17 was characterized by a collaborative environment in which artists freely discussed their work and shared in the development of different printmaking processes. There, Pollock created eleven engravings, including this one, that exemplify his early artistic development and experimentation with printmaking. Some of the imagery can be traced to Picasso's epic painting on the subject of war, Guernica, from 1937. Yet even as Pollock's work engages with the history of art and offers a statement on the universal horrors of war, it also has a personal dimension, drawing on the psychological language of Surrealism that fueled his early works. Pollock developed his own interpretation
of the Surrealist practice of automatic drawing, in which the hand moves unfettered by the conscious mind, and created a balance between chance and intention. Here, the monstrous destruction of war is conveyed both by the fierceness of the graphic execution and by the nightmarish imagery, much of which is camouflaged by the many linear marks that cut across the surface of the plate. A face seems to materialize from dense scribbles, under the foot of a standing figure, letters and words such as art are scattered into the plate next to a fork, an arrow, seemingly meaningless doodles. And in the center sits a cat in profile, calm amidst the chaos. Pollock confronts the viewer with a maelstrom of swirling angular lines and broken forms, all pressed up to the front of the picture plane, an allover effect later seen in his drip paintings.
And now I will turn it over to my colleague Perrin who will take us into the realm of drawings. Thanks Freyda. In the drawings section of the installation, we chose five different media to feature, but the one I'd like to highlight today is chalk. It's the most basic and straightforward of all the drawing materials, which makes the effects certain artists have been able to achieve with it, all the more amazing. In the pre-modern era, chalk was simply chunks of mineral deposits found in the earth. Small pieces were broken or cut off, often clipped into a stylus to make handling easier. Today we have a broad range of manufacture chalks. Even the sidewalk chalk used by children comes in a rainbow of colors. But in earlier centuries, there were essentially three colors available, red, black, & white. Red chalk is an iron-oxide pigment that, depending on its components, can come in shades ranging from orangey to brick red.
Black chalk, which has been in wide use since the Renaissance, is made from shale or schist, minerals that contain carbon, and can produce a range of tones from soft gray to deep black. White chalk is made from the mineral calcite, a type of limestone, and, unlike the first two, is still abundant today. Red chalk was a popular drawing medium in the 18th century, especially among young artists-in-training, who would use it for their studies of ancient statues, male nudes, and landscapes. Hubert Robert, like many French artists of his time, spent years in Rome honing his skills. Here, he depicts two young artists at work, probably at the French Academy in Rome, where the daily curriculum included hours of drawing. The standing artists has his piece of chalk clipped into a drawing tool called a porte-crayon and, in a fun drawing-within-a-drawing effect, Robert shows finished studies casually tacked
to the wall behind them. Today, we think of chalk as an ephemeral material. Chalk on a blackboard is erased at the end of a class. Sidewalk drawings wash away in the rain. But red chalk on paper is actually difficult to erase or remove, so one needs to get every line in just the right place. If you look closely at an 18th century drawing, you can often see signs that the artists first made a very light sketch of where they wanted the forms to go, before they committed with firmer and darker strokes. You can see that here, just above the figure's head, where Robert tried out different positions for the hat. You can also see, along the figure's back, an earlier placement of the contour line. You also see this initial underdrawing in the figure's bent knee and along the right edge of the portfolio, which initially extended further, closer to the table leg. This subject, which groups three large-scale figures
around a table, was an unusual one for Robert, who is primarily known for his landscapes. To depict this indoor scene, with natural light flooding in from the right, he employed a technique called hatching, in which evenly-spaced parallel lines create effects of tone, similar to the engraving technique Freyda discussed. For areas of deep shadow, Robert went over the area again with lines in a different direction, a technique called cross-hatching, to cover even more of the paper. Finally, because red chalk was very friable, that is dusty or flaky, artists would take a counterproof. They would place a damp sheet of paper over a finished red chalk drawing and run them together through a press. Some of the loose chalk would transfer to the new sheet, leaving the original drawing less easily smudged, which was important, as drawings were typically kept in portfolios, like the one we see here. Artists would sometimes combine all three colors of chalk,
red, black, and white, in a technique known by the French term, "Trois Crayons". Rubens and other 17th century artists used this method to achieve painterly effects on paper, but it was in the 18th century in France that the technique reached its high point of popularity. Jacques André Portail held the official position of Draftsman to the King and was often seen at Versailles, making detailed drawings of court events and gardens. Royal mistress Madame de Pompadour was one of his biggest fans, and for patrons like her he would also create highly finished drawings of humble subjects, in this case, an old man saying grace before a simple, rustic meal. The delicate precision of his technique created breathtaking effects of naturalism. He details the veins and wrinkles of the man's devoutly clasped hands, the numerous stray hairs framing his head,
and the fraying threads and seams of his clothing. Like Robert, Portail creates tone with hatching, but his touch is so light that the figure's ruddy hands and cheeks stand out against the silvery shadows. Portail had a special talent for depicting still-lifes, as we can see here in the minute observation of the rumpled folds of the tablecloth, the reflections on the jug, and the blending of red and black chalk to give the bowl the appearance of brown earthenware. He even left mostly untouched the area just above the bowl to create the illusion of steam rising from hot porridge. Another way to expand the effects of chalk was to use a colored sheet of paper. Most common was the combination of black and white chalk on blue paper. Peter van Lint, who drew this sheet, was a Flemish painter who lived in Rome from 1632 to 1640.
While there, he made many studies after antique statues. In the case of the Venus de Medici, then housed at the Villa Medici, he made at least three, studying the marble sculpture from different angles. With the blue paper functioning as a middle ground, the artist needed only to add the darker shadows in black chalk and the highlights in white chalk. Van Lint's soft application of the chalk produces an effect more suggestive of flesh than stone. Our last example, by an Italian artist, Giuseppe Cades, is a portrait of two young boys, both princes of the Borghese family, in 17th century dress, an image that celebrates their family's power and patronage. One, standing, holds up a drawing of the facade of St.Peters, while the other indicates the portrait bust of his ancestor, Pope Paul V by Bernini. Cades has found a way to add a fourth color to the Trois Crayons technique.
In addition to the lines drawn in black chalk, he used a simple tool called a stump, which is a stick of rolled paper or fabric. Rubbed in black chalk, it can lay down broad swaths of smudged chalk on the sheet, which read as areas of soft gray tone, seen here in the translucent shadows on the base of the sculpture and behind the boy's legs. Trois Crayons was especially admired for its ability to evoke the full range of tones for flesh, hair, and eyes. The faces of the two young boys have a fresh glow that suggests they were drawn from life. If you look closely, you can see that each head is drawn on a separate sheet of paper that was cut out and pasted down onto this sheet. They echo, in their positions and expressions, the heads of the same two boys in a more conventional group portrait executed in the same year It seems plausible that the artist made studies
from life for that group portrait, but once the studies had served their purpose, he cut out the heads and affixed them to a new sheet, where, in a virtuoso show of re-invention, he created a whimsical conceit where the two boys played at the roles of powerful benefactors. And now my colleague Femke Speelberg will take us back to the world of printmaking. Thank you Perrin. Like engraving and etching, mezzotint is a so-called intaglio technique. This name comes from the Italian word intagliare, which means incising or cutting, in this case, carving a design into a printing plate. But rather than creating a composition based on line, as one would generally do in an etching or engraving, as my colleague Freyda explained, a mezzotint is composed chiefly of tone. The process begins by laying in the ground, which entails roughening the entire surface of the printing plate by using rockers or roulettes. You see these tools illustrated in the image on the left,
which is taken from volume V of the Encyclopédie, published in 1767 by Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Alembert. The names of these tools explain their use. Rockers, which are the tools with the wider palette on the upper left, are rocked back and forth, back and forth to create a dense network of lines across the surface. It is illustrated in the lower half of the image. Roulettes have a circular tip outfitted with small studs or grooves, which create a dotted pattern, not unlike modern-day pixels, when rolled back and forth across the printing plate. Both tools create a densely textured relief on the plate, which, if printed, forms a velvety dark field. The level of tone can be manipulated by adjusting the pressure on the rocker or roluette. The more pressure, the darker the tone. To bring forth the desired composition, the printmaker then works from dark to light, using tools such as burnishers and scrapers to smoothen the textured surface in areas that are meant to appear lighter.
Pure mezzotints are entirely tonal in character, but the technique can also be combined with other intaglio methods to add line and stipple effects to the composition. On the right, we see how the contemporary artist Vija Celmins has used the stark contrast between light and dark that can be achieved through this technique to create an image of the night's sky in her 1983 work "Strata". While Vija Celmin's Strata depends on contrast, the mezzotint technique is also suited extremely well for capturing a range of tones and textures. It therefore quickly became a favorite means to reproduce paintings. As such, in the late 1820s, the British landscape painter John Constable began collaborating with the printmaker David Lucas to create a series of prints based on his paintings that would celebrate his artistic achievements. Constable's work is known for capturing the changeable, and sometimes dramatic English weather patterns with dark skies overtaking a sunny day, or a faint rainbow appearing against the clouds. The print "Summer Morning", created by Lucas around 1830,
illustrates perfectly how well-suited the technique of mezzotint was to convey Constable's so-called chiaroscuro of nature, or the play of light and shade on the richly textured English countryside. The ability to closely capture tones and textures also meant that the technique of mezzotint was frequently adopted for reproducing of portraits. Here, we see one of the earliest mezzotints to have been created. A representation of "The Great Executioner" holding the head of Saint John, the Baptist. While it reproduces a painting, now in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich, the work is first and foremost celebrated for its printmaker, the Bohemian-born Prince Rubert of the Rhine. He was the third son of the Elector Palatine Frederick V and Elizabeth Stuart, the eldest daughter of James I of England, and grew up in the courts of The Hague and London. At age 14, he fought in the war against the Spanish, which would be the start of a turbulent military and naval career. After the execution of King Charles I in 1649, Rupert live din exile on the Continent,
and during his time in Germany, he began to make mezzotints. While he was one of the first practitioners of the technique, he famously overexaggerated his involvement in the invention of the mezzotint to his international circle of acquaintances, which caused the lie to be perpetuated in early books on printmaking, While Rupert was not the inventor of the technique, The Great Executioner is nevertheless celebrated as one of the most ambitious and beautiful mezzotints to have been made during the 17th century. The energetic sweeping marks of the rocker show the rough, experimental nature of the mezzotint technique in its early stages. The Met's impression of the print found quick recognition by one of the most illustrious collectors of prints, the Parisian print dealer Pierre Mariette, who had it in his possession only six years after the print was created. The iconic status of Rupert's print is also reflected in "Mezzo Fist #1 and #2", two prints created by the American artist Susan Rothenberg, who passed away almost exactly a year ago on May 18th, 2020.
Barely distinguishable from the dark ground, Rothenberg's silhouette mirrors Rupert's executioner, although the loss of Saint John's head and any narrative elements turn the focus inward to the psychological state of her protagonists. While the figure in "Mezzo Fist #1" almost appears to be hitting themselves, here the compositing conveys the sitter in a brooding, pensive state, raising fist to head in a gesture not unlike Auguste Rodin's "Thinker". About a century after the technique was invented, it was taken to new heights by the French artist Jacques-Fabien Gautier Dagoty. Not only was he a very skilled printmaker, but he printed his mezzotints in color. He had learned this from his teacher Jacob Christoph Le Blon who has developed a process of working with three color plates. Dagoty expanded this process to include a fourth, to ensure more definition. While he also made prints that reproduced paintings, he had a special interest in scientific subjects, including anatomy, botany, and zoology. In 1746, he published a book on the muscles
in the human body, which reproduced different parts of the body at full scale and in full color. A revolution in scientific illustration, it also pushed contemporary color printing to its absolute limits. Not until the introduction of lithography, about 50 years later, would anything like it be created. This concludes our Insider Insights on Making Prints and Drawings. If you want to learn more, we invite you to come see the exhibition "Selections form the Drawings and Prints: Materials and Techniques", which will be on view from April 29 until July 26, in the Robert Wood Johnson Jr. Gallery on the second floor of The Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue. In addition, we invite you to visit our online web feature "The Materials of Drawings and Prints". You can find it on the Museum's website, www.metmuseum.org by clicking on Curatorial Departments and selecting Drawings and Prints, where you will find this special feature alongside many other blogs, videos and special content that highlight the collection of works on paper.
Watch, read, educate! © 2021