Original print : art and culture of the past
To retrace the
origins of the art of printmaking, we have to go far back
in time when primitive men engraved the walls of their
caves with sharpened tools.
But it was only in the middle of the xv century that a
printing process, invented in Europe, gave birth to this
new form of art. This method combined the use of ancient
goldsmiths’ instruments, such as the “burin”
and the “niello”, with the introduction of
a new support material – the paper – and the
printing press, a mechanical device conceived for the
Francesco Milizia gives a concise definition of this complex
technique, that brought about a radical change in man's
"Engraving is the art that reproduces the shapes,
lights and shades of the objects by drawing them or carving
their main features on hard material and can multiply
their imprints through the impression technique".
The original print is the image, engraved or drawn, created
by the artist and usually struck on paper in one or more
copies. It is the creation of the peintre-graveur –
the painter-engraver – or, even better, of the artist-engraver.
La Sacra Famiglia
The concept of original must not be intended too strictly
– if so, we were to exclude from the idea of “creation”,
which is inherent in the word “original”,
alongside with many engravings also a number of paintings,
sculptures and drawings.
Therefore we will consider as “original” not
only a print whose drawing was created by the artist exclusively
for the final engraving and whose printing process was
carried out by someone else, but also a print whose design
was inspired by other paintings or drawings. Even folk-print
The development and spread of the art of engraving highlights
the great changes in culture and history, of which engraving
itself represents a fundamental aspect.
Fighting metaphorically against the material he carves
his images on, the engraver expresses his most inner feelings.
At the same time he describes the main historical event
he has either lived or witnessed. Political and religious
struggles, conquests and social revolution, geographical
discoveries, technological and scientific progress –
any fact can draw the artist’s attention..
Some great masters of the past gave up easy earnings and
devoted themselves to this free and spontaneous if demanding
art. Though engraving has usually been considered inferior
to painting, it deserves great attention, and indeed the
very first form of artistic expression was achieved through
the burin and only later through the brush.
Piazza S. marco
Engravers contributed to the diffusion of their art by
opening schools and workshops where apprentices could
learn the basic techniques, developing their own artistic
Thus printmaking began to flourish and to be known worldwide.
By the XVII century, when the first great collectors date
back, the trade of prints was already thriving.
few notes about printmaking >>