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Albrecht Dürer and Printmaking

Albrecht Dürer and Printmaking

Author: Ian McConnell
Description:

This lesson will describe the process of printmaking and consider the work of Albrecht Dürer, one of the most skilled printmakers of all time.

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Tutorial

An introduction to Albrecht Dürer and Renaissance printmaking.

Video Transcription

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Hello, I'd like to welcome you to this episode of Exploring Art History with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell, and today's lesson is about Albrecht Durer and printmaking. As you're watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as often as you feel is necessary. And as soon as you're ready, we can begin.

Today's objectives, or the things you're going to learn today, are listed below. By the end of the lesson today you will be able to identify and define today's key terms, explain the influence of the printing press on printmaking, describe the difference between relief and intaglio printing, and identify examples of relief and intaglio printing.

Key terms, as always, are listed in yellow throughout the lesson. First key term is relief printing, a technique used in printmaking where a print is made from the raised images of a surface, includes embossing and letterpress. Intaglio printing is a technique used in printmaking where an image is cut into the surface of a copper or zinc plate with a special tool called a burin. Woodcut, a printmaking process were an image is carved on to the surface of a piece of wood, removing parts of the wood. The carved, raised part of the wood is covered with ink and pressed onto a surface, transferring the image on to surfaces such as a piece of paper or fabric.

Engraving, an important process in Renaissance printmaking that flourished with the invention of accessible paper and the printing press where a design is cut onto a flat surface with a tool called a burin. Halftones a are gradations of tones, shades of gray in between black and white. Hatching, the use of parallel straight lines, particularly in printmaking and drawing, to indicate shadow and depth. And cross hatching, the use of lines that cross over, particularly in printmaking and drawing, to indicate shadow and depth.

Big idea for today is that the invention of the printing press led to innovations in printmaking and the proliferation of this form of artwork beginning in 15th century Europe. And the time period that we're looking at today is from 1491 to 1523. And there's the Reformation as a point of reference. Albrecht Durer originated from the city of Nuremberg in the Holy Roman Empire, or the modern day country of Germany.

Printmaking was strongly influenced by perhaps the most important invention of the modern era, that of the printing press with movable type by Johannes Gutenberg. Although movable type had been invented by the Chinese during the Song dynasty centuries earlier, the adaptation of wine and olive oil presses into printing presses using movable type was an invention of Gutenberg. He eventually perfected his invention's design, an invention that wouldn't have been possible without the development of oil-based inks and the availability of paper from China.

This single invention was a catalyst in countless areas of human development and was integral in the development of the Renaissance as well as the spread of literacy and ideas throughout Europe and beyond.

Now for intaglio and relief printing, the processes are similar to each other, but have essentially one fundamental difference. In relief printing, such as wood block printing, a raised image is carved out of a block of something, usually wood. Ink is applied to the surface, and the block is then pressed onto a piece of paper, basically identical to the way in which a rubber stamp works.

Intaglio printing, which includes the processes of engraving and printing, an image is etched into a block of material, such as a zinc or copper metal plate, with a tool called the burin. And it sort of looks like an awl used to leather work or an ice pick. Let me show you what a burin looks like. There you go. So ink is then placed on top, and is poured into the recesses of the plate. Paper is then moistened so that is flexible enough to be pressed into all the little recesses. And then it's pressed onto the plate. Albrecht Durer was a master artist in both areas of printing.

Durer began his career under the tutelage of Michael Wolgemut in his hometown of Nuremberg. Now it's under Wolgemut's instruction that Durer refined his skill in the areas of wood cutting. But Durer was also influenced by the artist Martin Schongauer's work in etching and he became a master in both.

How do you tell the difference between the two types? The trick is by looking at the areas of shadow on the prints. In woodcut prints like this image of the Tarvisium page from The Nuremberg Chronicles, there are no areas with true halftones, which are shades of gray, because of the thickness of the lines in relief printing. It looks simply black and white. A higher level of detail is possible in etching and intaglio printing, in which true halftones created by the careful application of thin lines and hatching and cross hatching are possible, resulting in the possibility of creating a much more realistic sense of form and depth.

This sense of realism and depth is clearly depicted in this image of Saint Anthony Tormented by Demons by Martin Schongauer, in which the hellish creatures are trying to tempt poor Anthony tin committing sin. Schongauer, like Durer, was an accomplished painter as well. And Schongauer's body of print work is considered to be the finest example of etchings before Durer. Etchings where the application of a painter's skill and eye for detail is clearly evident.

As I mentioned before, Albrecht Durer was a very accomplished artist. And although known primarily for his work in printmaking, he was an extremely talented artist as evident in this painting and self portrait that he did himself. In fact, he's regarded by many to be the greatest artist of the Northern Renaissance.

One of the most enticing aspects of printmaking was in the ability to sell numerous prints. The work of art itself was the plate or block that the image was carved into. However, every printing made from the master carving was considered an original. So Durer took full advantage of this and made a very comfortable living selling multiple prints of his work. When he died in 1528, his estate had been estimated to have been worth somewhere around 1 and 1/2 million dollars.

We'll take a look at four examples of prints by Durer to compare and contrast the elements of relief and intaglio prints. So this first image is the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. It is a woodcut, or relief printing, from Durer's book on the apocalypse, which is a collection of 14 woodcuts depicting scenes from the for Book of Revelation. And the first book published it was entirely produced by an artist.

Although quite detailed, notice the absence of halftones, or shades of gray. It's either black or white. And this is the consequence of using woodcuts. The resulting lines are thicker, which hold more ink, which creates a darker print. Now also notice the signature initials of Durer located on the bottom of the print. The letter D set within a capital A.

Now this engraving of Knight, Death and the Devil, you can see the effects that the finer details and resulting halftones have on the overall image. A sense of depth and form are much more clearly and realistically conveyed such as the musculature of the horse and in the shadows of the foreground. It's an impressive and masterful example. Remember every single line of this print is the result of the artist scraping away material meticulously on the plate of metal.

This image of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden demonstrates the effectiveness of halftones in depicting the musculature and definition of the human body. Now the scene takes place just before the fall of man. Eve is holding an apple and is being coaxed by the serpent, symbolic of the devil, into taking a bite. It's another impressive example of how refined the art of printmaking had become, and how the finest examples of prints could rival paintings in their ability to effectively depict depth and sense of form.

Now for comparison, let's take one more look at an example of a woodcut so that you can get a sense again of how halftones can strongly impact the overall look of an image. Although the sense of depth and roundness of form are convincing here, it's less realistic looking comparison to the previous images of Adam and Eve and The Knight. If you look carefully, you can see why. The image is only black and white. Without the subtle shades of gray that convey a sense of shadow and three dimensionality, the image, for lack of a better term, essentially flattens.

So that brings us to the end of this lesson. Let's take a look at our objectives to see how we did. Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify undefined today's key terms, explain the influence of the printing press on printmaking, and describe the difference between relief and intaglio printing, and identify examples of relief and intaglio printing?

Once again, the big idea for today is that the invention of the printing press led to innovations in printmaking and the proliferation of this form of artwork beginning in 15th century Europe.

And that's it. Thank you very much for joining me today. I'll see you next time.

Notes on "Albrecht Dürer and Printmaking"

Key Terms

Relief Printing

A technique used in printmaking where a print is made from the raised images of a surface, includes embossing and letterpress.

Intaglio Printing

A technique used in printmaking where an image is cut into the surface of a copper or zinc plate with a special tool called a burin.

Woodcut

A printmaking process where an image is carved onto the surface of a piece of wood removing parts of the wood. The carved raised part of the wood is covered with ink and pressed onto a surface transferring the image onto surfaces such as a piece of paper or fabric.

Engraving

An important profess in Renaissance printmaking that flourished with the invention of accessible paper and the printing press where a design is cut onto a flat surface with a tool called a burin.

Halftones

Gradations of tone (shades of grey) between black and white.

Hatching

The use of parallel straight lines, particularly in printmaking and drawing, to indicate shadow and depth.

Cross Hatching

The use of lines that cross over, particularly in printmaking and drawing, to indicate shadow and depth.


Citations

Tarvisium; Public Domain: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/99/Schedelsche_Weltchronik_d_039.jpg;  Torment of St Anthony; Public Domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Schongauer_St._Antonius.jpeg The Last Supper; Public Domain: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Albrecht_D%C3%BCrer_-_The_Last_Supper_-_WGA7259.jpg Adam & Eve; Public Domain: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Albrecht_D%C3%BCrer_-_Adam_and_Eve_-_WGA7290.jpg Knight, Death, & the Devil; Public Domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Albrecht_D%C3%BCrer_-_Knight,_Death_and_the_Devil.jpg Four Horseman; Public Domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Durer_Revelation_Four_Riders.jpg; Image of Holy Roman Empire Map Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Holy_Roman_Empire_ca.1600.svg; Image of Durer Public Domain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Durer_selfporitrait.jpg

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Relief Printing

    A technique used in printmaking where a print is made from the raised images of a surface, includes embossing and letterpress.

  • Intaglio Printing

    A technique used in printmaking where an image is cut into the surface of a copper or zinc plate with a special tool called a burin.

  • Woodcut

    A printmaking process where an image is carved onto the surface of a piece of wood removing parts of the wood. The carved raised part of the wood is covered with ink and pressed onto a surface transferring the image onto surfaces such as a piece of paper or fabric.

  • Engraving

    An important process in Renaissance printmaking that flourished with the invention of accessible paper and the printing press where a design is cut onto a flat surface with a tool called a burin.

  • Halftones

    Gradations of tone (shades of grey) between black and white.

  • Hatching

    The use of parallel straight lines, particularly in printmaking and drawing, to indicate shadow and depth.

  • Cross Hatching

    The use of lines that cross over, particularly in printmaking and drawing, to indicate shadow and depth.