Engraving goes back to cave art, executed on stones, bones and cave walls. The duplication of engraved images goes back some 3,000 years to the Sumerians who engraved designs on stone cylinder seals. Academics think that the Chinese produced a primitive form of print, the rubbing, as far back as the 2nd century AD. The Japanese made the first authenticated prints, wood-block rubbings of of Buddhist charms, in the late-middle eighth century.
Printing from a metal engraving was introduced a few decades after the woodcut, and greatly refined the results. Restricted at first to goldsmiths and armorers, it soon became the most popular form of serial reproduction. The earliest dated printed engraving is a German print dated 1446, "The Flagellation," and it was in Germany that early intaglio printing developed before passing to Italy (Mantegna, Raimondi, Ghisi) and the Low Countries (Lucas van Leyden, Goltzius, Claesz, Matsys). From makers of playing cards the metal engraving technique passed to artists where it probably reached its apex in the hands of Albrecht Dürer in the 16th century. Albrecht Dürer represented a watershed in the history of printmaking, and, since he travelled to Italy, his influence was felt there in a direct way.
printmaking center of gravity moved to Italy in the 18th century, beginning
with Tiepolo who, it is said, exercised a significant influence on Francisco
Goya. Then came Canaletto, the chronicler of Venice and Piranesi,
allegedly the most important architectural printmaker of all time with
some 3,000 large arquitectural etchings. The tradition of distinguished
English printmaking dates only from Hogarth in the 18th century, but he
was quickly followed by the satirical Rowlandson and then William Blake,
the crown jewel among British printmakers. Blake's
contemporary in Spain was Goya,
who stretched the limits of printmaking to new heights and depths.
Though we have barely touched upon Japanese printmaking here, special mention must be made of the master of woodcut, Katsushika Hokusai, who in the last half of the 17th century and the first half of the 18th produced some 35,000 drawings and prints, many of them recognized masterpieces, many of which were to exert an important influences on European printmakers.
Nineteenth century English printmaking highlights an Englishman, Francis Seymour Hayden, and an American, James McNeil Whistler. The other notable American printmaker at this time, though more in terms of natural science than art, was James Audubon.
In England Henry Moore, besides working in sculpture, also created a powerful series of lithographs, and Graham Sutherland did noteworthy work as well, along with Anthony Gross. In the United States in the 20th century the tradition of distinguished printmakers includes George Wesley Bellows in lithography, John Sloan and Reginald Marsh in etching and Milton Avery in drypoint. But perhaps the most noteworthy of American painter/printmakers of this period are Edward Hopper with his excellent and highly personal work and Ben Shahn, who excelled in a variety of print media.
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