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ART. IV. - Manuel du Graveur, ou Traité Complet de
l'Art de la Gravure en tous Genres, d'après les Renseignemens fournis par plusieurs Artistes, et rédigé par A. M. Perrot, Membre de l'Athénée des Arts, de la Société Philotechnique, de celle de Géographie, de la Société d'Agronomie Pratique, etc. Paris. 1830. 12mo. pp. 255.
It is nearly four centuries since the art of Engraving was discovered, and a steady improvement may be discerned from that time up to the present day. The nineteenth century is rich in the productions of this beautiful branch of the fine arts. From every civilized land volumes are annually poured forth, illustrated and adorned in a manner which does indeed make antiquity appear rude. Men of genius are devoting themselves to the practice of the art, and do not disdain to perpetuate and spread over the world, by the burine, the inspired design which their pencil has traced. The noble works of the great masters are now no longer the exclusive property of a single spot, or a few individuals. They are given to the world, literally published for the benefit of society, and sent abroad into every land, to delight the taste and to inspire the genius of all nations.
The art of engraving is not, indeed, to be ranked on a level with that of painting. The conception of a piece, the sentiment, moral, or event to be represented, the grouping of the figures, the imagination of forms and countenances, all that belongs to creative power, is displayed in the original design. But still there is left a work for the engraver, demanding a high order of talent. How laborious, delicate, and minute is his labor ; how fine, how almost imperceptible, are the millions of strokes, to which the finest hair seems coarse ; how infinite the gradation from the deep and dark shadows to the delicate touch, on which the ink is to be laid so sparingly that the black shall literally appear white ! And yet how bold and decided must his touch be; life, and even a glow of fire, all the varied expressions of the “human face divine,” all the spirit that can light up the most gorgeous painting, must be transmitted through the graver. And more than this. The engraver is often called upon to improve upon his copy; to give, perhaps, to the rude, hard
outline of ancient and imperfect drawing the roundness, grace, and fire of life ; to supply strength and boldness, to give dignity and sentiment, to inspire the quaintness of ancient art with the grace of a better period, and at the same time to preserve the Gothic and sublime simplicity of the original. In addition to this, in most of the copies which engravers are called upon to make, they are obliged to diminish very greatly the size of the piece. And, in doing this, they must not only give a much greater degree of delicacy to the work, and devote much more time to minute detail, but they must carefully preserve the original proportions of the piece.
Finally, the engraver must, merely by the management of his lines, convey, in some degree at least, the idea of color. For engraving seems, in this respect, to be the point of meeting between painting and sculpture. It does not exclude the idea of color, like statuary, which consults form alone. It does not, like painting, give the detail of color. Yet it must convey the notion of different hues, because otherwise no small portion of its purposes would be unfulfilled. The variety of subjects is much greater for engraving than for sculpture. It is intended to represent familiar and domestic scenes. It is not confined to austere and dignified representations. It enters into every sphere of life, every occupation, from the splendid dramas of the palace and the gorgeous array of the church, to the interior of the hovel, the ale-house, and the stable. To exclude the idea of color from such representations would destroy the effect. Yet this can be conveyed in engravings only by implication or suggestion; by so managing the width and direction of the lines, that we suppose one color to be represented in one place, another in another place, and so on. This power of the art is remarkably displayed in engravings of landscapes, in which the various hues of nature may be readily suggested to the imagination. All the varieties of foliage, even blossoms and flowers, the clear stream or lake reflecting the heavens, the gleam of the parting sun upon the waters, even the gorgeous drapery of the sunset sky, may be pictured by this charming art.
In speaking of the power of engraving, we must not omit to notice its beautiful adaptation to imitate that most difficult branch of painting, the representation of flesh-color. Here engraving seems to achieve its highest triumph. Every
variety of the appearance of Aesh, the beautiful smoothness and delicacy of youth, the rough and wrinkled look of age, the hard and weather-worn visage of the seaman, the bright glow of childhood, and the softness of infancy, may be all conveyed by the engraver with scarcely less distinctness than in the finished painting
Another very important and difficult office of the art is to convey, in the copies from paintings, a correct idea of the style of each great master; for the capacities of the art undoubtedly are sufficient for this purpose. In effecting this important object, it is obvious, that the engraver must be more than a mere copyist. It is not enough to imitate the outline and the shading, to preserve on a smaller scale the just proportions of the original, to convey a notion of the coloring, to give the same expression to countenances, and the same finish to all the detail. A higher order of talent is required in the engraver. He must be able to comprehend and appreciate the genius of the master, whose work is before him. He must understand the feelings which inspired him at the moment when he was pouring out his soul upon the canvass. He must know the enthusiasm that stirred him up, the profound sentiment that filled his heart, the devotion, piety, and ardor, with which he applied himself to the work. He must catch a spark of that heavenly flame, which burned in the soul of the great artist, and kindled into life the portraiture upon his canvass. In this way alone can he give to his work that nameless and ethereal charm, which, more than any thing else, distinguishes the works of genius.
These are some of the leading characteristics of the art of engraving; an art, which we consider perfect in its kind, that is, accomplishing all the objects which it professes to undertake, as completely as any of the fine arts. The editor of Horace Walpole's “ Catalogue of Engravers” remarks, that so want of coloring is the capital deficience of prints.” But we think he is entirely mistaken in this respect. Engravings, as we have endeavoured to show, do possess the property of coloring by suggestion, and this is one of the distinguishing beauties of the art. To color a fine engraving, which is fully finished with all the depth and variety of shading, seems to us little less barbarous than to paint a fine statue.
Though wood engraving is very different from copperplate, it seems worth while to notice it in treating of this sub
ject, as it has recently become an object of considerable altention, and has undergone great improvement. Wood engraving is much like printing, the figures being raised from the surface like those on printers' types. In this respect, it is exactly opposite to engraving on copper or steel, and it was in use a considerable time before the process of taking impressions from copper plates was discovered. It has been asserted, that a series of drawings, representing the exploits of Alexander, were designed and executed in wood by Alessandro Cunio and his twin sister, in the latter part of the thirteenth century. But this has been disputed. It is certain, however, that the art was practised a few years later, as there is a print from a wood-cut in the possession of Earl Spencer, representing St. Christopher, and bearing the date of 1423.
The discovery of the art of engraving on metal, for the purpose of making impressions on paper, is generally ascribed to Finiguerra, a goldsmith of Florence. He excelled in an art, then much practised in Florence, called niello. It was the custom with jewellers, in those times, to engrave the outlines of Scripture subjects upon the vessels which they made for the use of the church. When this engraving was completed, they filled the lines with a black substance composed of a mixture of lead and silver, in solution with borax and sulphur; and impressions were taken from this in clay or sulphur. The black substance used was called niello ; and hence the name of the art. The same process was also used when pieces of armour, household plate, and other articles were engraved for the purpose of being inlaid with metals, wood, or ivory. Painters were employed to make designs for this kind of engraving, and impressions were taken in clay or sulphur, both for the convenience of the artist as he proceeded in his work, and for distribution among his friends. It occurred to Finiguerra, that the impression might be made on paper instead of clay ; and he proceeded to make the experiment, wetting the paper and applying it gently with a roller. Impressions are still preserved in some of the museums of Italy, taken upon paper, and easily recognised by the inscriptions being reversed; and the Abbé Zani discovered at the Bibliothèque du Roi at Paris, in 1803, a print entitled ". The first impression from an engraving by Maso VOL. XLIX. — No. 104.
Finiguerra in 1452.” Some Italian writers, with considerable show of reason, place the epoch of Finiguerra's invention as early as 1440, or a short time before.
German writers claim the honor of the invention for a citizen of Antwerp, Martin Schoengaur, asserting that he practised the art before Finiguerra. It seems probable, that it appeared nearly simultaneously in both countries. The earliest distinguished engravers after the discovery of the art, however, were Italians.
It does not appear, that Finiguerra pursued his invention any further than to take impressions on paper instead of clay. A contemporary, of the same profession and city, Baccio Baldini, improved upon the invention by engraving on plates for the express purpose of taking impressions. He was greatly assisted by a distinguished painter, Antonio Pollajuolo, who furnished him with designs for his engravings, and also by another artist, Sandro Botticelli, who made a set of drawings, from which Baldini engraved plates for an edition of Dante, published in 1488, and supposed to be the first book ever embellished with copperplate engravings; though this notion has been proved false by a German writer.
The works of Baldini attracted the attention of a Roman engraver, Andrea Mantegna, who had already become distinguished as one of the most successful of the niellatori.
This artist not only assisted Baldini with original designs, but also turned his own efforts to the promotion of the newlydiscovered art, in which he soon became a proficient. Roscoe says of him, that his prints display considerable power of invention and expression of character, even bordering upon grace and elegance. The drawing is generally correct, and sometimes exhibits great freedom and spirit. His engravings are distinguished by the shadows being formed by diagonal lines, not crossed as in more recent prints.
In our notice of the early days of the art, we must not omit mentioning Albert Durer, one of the earliest Dutch engravers. Some knowledge of the art seems to have been previously possessed in Holland by Martin Schoengauer, who is thought by some German writers, as we have seen, to have invented it, and who was certainly a contemporary of Finiguerra. The works of Martin, and his disciple Wolgemuth, inspired the genius of Albert Durer, who did much for the improvement of the art, excelling equally on copper and on