Engraving: concept, essence.
Engraving is the youngest type of fine art. If the origin of painting, sculpture, drawing, architecture is lost in prehistoric times, the time of the appearance of engraving is more or less accurately known to us: this is the turn of the XIV and XV centuries. In the East, in China, engraving appeared much earlier, in the VIII century, but there it remained a local phenomenon that did not go beyond this country.
Origin of the art of engraving in Europe
Despite the fact that the main types of engraving have their own technological prototypes that existed in earlier times (for woodcuts, these are stamps-seals and printing, for chisel engraving-this is the craft of goldsmiths, for etching – workshops of armourers), engraving in the true sense of the word, as an imprint on paper of an image cut on a special Board, appears only in the XIV century.
This unique phenomenon for history, the birth of a completely new art form, was determined by several reasons-technological, aesthetic, and social. In order for the engraving to develop, first of all there had to be a suitable and easily accessible material on which the engraving could be printed.
In history, there are cases when an engraving was printed on parchment, on satin, on silk, on canvas, but all these materials are either unsuitable for printing or expensive. Only with the wide spread of paper, engraving has found the basis of its technology, pliable, easy to take on various kinds of images, cheap material. And paper, the production of which in Europe was established in the XII century, became familiar by the end of the XIV century.
This coincided with the collapse of the medieval highly synthetic type of art. By the XV century, the desire for a more visually accurate reflection of nature and interest in a scientific perspective are increasingly growing in the visual arts; secular and worldly subjects are increasingly attracting artists. And visual art in a sense is polarized: the tendencies of naturalness, visual accuracy and persuasiveness are developed primarily by painting, while the newly appeared engraving assumes the qualities of symbolism and abstraction. In medieval art, these properties were inherent naturalistic traits, but with the departure of naturalism mainly in painting, they required new ways of implementation.
Engraving in the Renaissance
Finally, with the Renaissance, stable, often even static, human communities begin to move. Having previously been content with altarpieces in local churches and sculptural decorations in city cathedrals, people of the new era tend to have images of local and personal saints that not only adorn the walls of their homes, but can also accompany them on their travels and business trips. And this goal could not be better met by a cheap and portable engraving.
Engraving has a special property that most distinguishes it from all other types of fine art. This property is circulation. By its very definition — an imprint made from a specially treated wooden, metal, or stone Board — an engraving always exists in several, and often in many, copies. The question is often asked: does this deprive the engraving of originality, does it allow it to be listed among the main types of fine art, does it reduce it to the level of reproduction?
Here we must first note that the imprint on paper is the goal of the entire creative process of the engraver, the engraving Board itself plays a role comparable to the materials and tools in painting, no more. From the very beginning, engraving began to speak a special language, began to use specific tools that sharply distinguish it from drawing and painting. And even, in some epochs the frequent cases when the etching reproduces a pictorial composition of another artist, she simply reproduces it, but as it takes on its own, completely different language, not color, but tone, not smear, but the lines and the points; even the engraving is always, to use Pushkin’s word “perebiranie” picturesque prototype.
The significance of engraving in the history of art
The appearance of a replicated art form had a huge cultural significance Before the engraving was born, people had no other way to report a phenomenon, an object or device, an unusual appearance or the nature of the area, except to describe it all in words, with all the incompleteness of the verbal description. The engraving made it possible to use a visual image, and its inherent property of circulation allowed such an image to be widely distributed. In the second half of the XIV century, books appeared with illustrations showing various tools or devices of the Solar system, the specifics of certain plants, types of cities. The engraving gave mankind concrete knowledge and an idea of the world. And this continued until the middle of the XIX century, when photography and photomechanics appeared, replacing engraving in this sense.
Let us recall one, perhaps particular, but very significant shade of this phenomenon. Already at the beginning of the XX century, when art began to appreciate the individuality of expression, the personal handwriting of the artist, the uniqueness of stylistic features, from this time it became customary to treat with some contempt a reproduction engraving that reproduces the original of another artist, whereas before that, for several centuries, such an engraving was valued by connoisseurs no less than an original engraving made by a master from his own drawing. But all the knowledge about the works of world art until the end of the XIX century, both artists and ordinary Amateurs were given by engraving. Few people could afford to go around all the museums in Europe and get acquainted with the originals: engraving was a way for artists to communicate with each other. When the young Rembrandt was advised to go to Italy, he replied that you can get acquainted with Italian art in Holland: he was referring to engraving. Rubens was known in all European countries during his lifetime, primarily because he had a workshop of engravers who reproduced his paintings. Antique art, known only in Italy in originals before the XIX century, was known to all masters of Europe from engraved images.
Engraving as a tool of socio-political processes
It should also be noted the social aspect of printmaking. In moments of social upheaval, class unrest, religious uprisings, and political revolutions, it was the engraving that assumed the agitation role. With the almost universal illiteracy of the social lower classes, the engraved image, diverging in hundreds and thousands of leaflets, proclamations, portraits, and satirical pictures, was a kind of fermenting ferment of such social movements. Suffice it to mention at least the leaflets during the Peasant war in Germany in the early XVI century or prints during the English bourgeois revolution of the XVII century, or caricatures of the era of great French революцииXVIII century, or, finally, Russian folk pictures of the Patriotic war of 1812.
And the ego was possible precisely because of the print’s circulation.
But when we mean a purely artistic engraving, the fact that each work exists in several copies, and that people in different parts of the world can see it at the same time, only, perhaps, adds to the merits of this kind of art. Losing painting in rarity, uniqueness, engraving wins in democracy, it is as if she goes to meet the viewer. In addition, the absolute identity of all prints from the same Board is largely a fiction, an accepted Convention. Boards are erased when printing, and prints begin to differ in color saturation, in the General tone. Often engravers print impressions from the same Board with different colors, or even achieving a different effect, as did Rembrandt. And when we look at several copies of the same engraving at the same time, they are most likely perceived by us as light variations of the same image, and this gives them an additional dimension, a kind of figurative volume.
Techniques of printmaking
But circulation is only one of the properties of an engraving. Engraving is a special type of fine art and it has its own language, its own aesthetics, and its own capabilities that are different from other types of art. And to a very large extent, this originality of the engraving is determined by its technological side.
In engraving, there are a huge number of species, subspecies, varieties of technology. They are born in certain epochs, often die after a few decades, and are transformed and reborn at other times. And all this diversity is designed to expand the expressive possibilities of engraving, to enrich its language. After all, engraving in principle has a much more limited range of tools than, say, painting: line and tonal spot-only these elements are the basis of each engraving sheet. And the appearance of each new technique gives birth to a new shade in the use of these permanent elements. But in their totality, engraving techniques are extremely expressive. At the same time, each of them has its own special features. Let’s try to define these differences and specifics very briefly.